From PhD to PMP: training and support in Ireland


In our latest guest post, Meadhbh Hand explains how researchers can get access to training courses, support services and hands-on experience in Ireland – very helpful when making your transition out of academia. Meadhbh runs a Dublin-based meetup group for doctoral graduates seeking non-academic jobs.

After completing my PhD I decided to return to the career I had before I began it, namely project management. I soon discovered that the job market had changed a lot in the intervening four years and employers, in Ireland at least, seem hung up on certifications like PRINCE2 and PMP (Project Management Professional). Fortunately the Irish government has a number of free courses available for jobseekers through Funded by the National Training Fund through the Department of Education and Skills they offer a variety of courses to jobseekers and employers. They fund groups of training networks for shared sectors and regions to subsidise training courses for employers and eligible unemployed people.

Through Skillnets over the past two years I have accessed a number of short-term courses including PMP Exam preparation, Digital Marketing Skills, Scrum Master and Train the Trainer. Because the courses are offered to employers as well jobseekers it is an opportunity to network with non-academic employees. This can lead to slightly surreal moments like being in a room full of vets for the Train the Trainer course – I learned almost as much about equine vaccination schedules and how to test cattle for mastitis as I did about training. Occasionally places for courses become available to jobseekers at short notice. I attended a half-day’s training on Creative Problem Solving (for the Aviation and Aerospace Training Network) after finding out about it the day before. I try not to think about the fact that no one from the Aviation industry turned up for the course when I’m on a plane waiting to take off at Dublin Airport.

Most of the Skillnets courses are short, from a half-day to three or four days in total although the Digital Marketing Skills course was longer at two nights a week for 12 weeks. There are a huge variety of courses available throughout Ireland including Presentation Skills, Lean Sigma, Advanced Excel and Animation. In most cases you can book directly onto the course without contacting your social welfare office, but check the website first just in case. If you do decide to go for the PMP exam you should be aware that you will have to pay the exam fee, at $555 for non-members of the Project Management Institute it’s not cheap.

In addition to the Skillnets courses, there are plenty of courses available through Solas (previously known as Fás). Some of these are available online, for example the European Computer Driving Licence course, while others are offered in training centres with other jobseekers. I took the PRINCE2 Practitioner course, one day per week over five weeks, with the foundation level exam in week 3 and practitioner exam on the final day. Both of the exams are multiple choice, the practitioner one is an open book exam. I didn’t find them too tough although some of the people on the course failed the exam. You are given another chance to take the exam if you do fail it first time. The Solas website is not as easy to navigate as the Skillnets one and you need to get referred by your local social welfare office to access the courses.

If you want to use some of your transferable skills in a positive way while job-seeking, then putting a profile on is worthwhile. The website is a matchmaking service for non-profits and charities seeking new board members. And while the board roles are unpaid they will give you a chance to network and to contribute your talents to a deserving cause. You can search for an opportunity based on your interests, location and the expertise you have to offer. The time commitment varies depending on the organisation, more established charities tend have board meetings less frequently. Through Boardmatch I joined a non-profit which is in a start up phase with monthly board meetings. I’ve applied my project management training to develop project plans for the organisation and I’m enjoying getting to know the other board members who have very different professional backgrounds to mine.

Finally, if you are considering self-employment as a career option there is plenty of support available. Bank of Ireland Workbench branches (currently located in Trinity College, Grand Canal Dock, Montrose, Limerick and Galway) offer hot desks with free WiFi for start-ups. Depending on the branch they may also host events for your organisation and have a meeting room available for use, free of charge. Other practical support is also available through Local Enterprise Offices which regularly run information sessions and start your own business courses. They arrange mentoring to match newly self-employed people with established business people, there is a nominal charge for this service. If you are based in Ireland and would like to join a group of PhDs who are transitioning to non-academic jobs you can find us on

Meadhbh Hand holds a PhD from Trinity College Dublin and recently qualified as a PMP certified Project Manager.

Discover the 20+ transferable skills that make PhDs totally employable

Discover the 20+ transferable skills that make PhDs totally employable

As a PhD or post-doc you get very used to thinking about yourself as a specialist within a specialism – for instance I studied within the Arts and Humanities Faculty, but focused on the Literature and Drama of Medieval England.

What many doctoral graduates don’t appreciate is that they’ve also acquired valuable transferable skills and knowledge which are highly sought after by today’s employers. In fact by undertaking a broad range of activities during your PhD, you develop over 20 transferable skills, making you a very attractive employee!

Let’s take a look at the four main skill areas that a well-rounded PhD student will have:

Project skills:
Project management
Managing budgets
Team working
Problem solving
Organising meetings and events

Thought leadership
Bidding for funding
International experience

Communication skills:
Public speaking
Stakeholder management
Web, email, content creation and social media

Knowledge and information skills:
Teaching and training
Managing data and information
IT applications and programming languages
Writing reports

Capturing the transferable skills you have is a different way of thinking about your capabilities compared with say how many academic papers you’ve published. Yet as you start to think about yourself in this way, it can be surprisingly liberating and empowering!

In my experience of working with groups of PhD students, there is often a ‘light-bulb moment’ as they appreciate the fantastic portfolio of transferable skills they possess. It helps them to make a connection with the mainstream world of work and understand how they can market themselves to employers – as a capable generalist or as a professional ‘________’ (fill in the blank), rather than as an academic specialist. Of course, if your subject is relevant to the jobs you’re interested in, so much the better, but for many jobs your subject is less important than your transferable skills.

Further reading – transferable skills

Many thanks to Dr Ioanna Iordanou for her helpful feedback on this post! Check out Ioanna’s own blog post on PhD skills for more information and analysis.

This page was updated in January 2017 with improved further reading links.

How to convert a scientific CV into a business CV


Seán is back with another guest post, this time on the tricky subject of turning your scientific CV into a business CV! Seán explains how to make a good first impression with your cover letter, and shares some tips and tricks for making your CV more business-friendly.

A huge problem that many scientists feel when leaving the lab is having insufficient business experience to make the transition out of science. And so with little business experience, what kinds of jobs can they apply for? However, every day many scientists do make a successful transition into the world of business, without a sniff of an MBA on their CV. Most of my friends have now gone on to work in sales, marketing, business development, IT, consulting and project management, just to name a few professions and roles.

Like everything (not even science unfortunately), there is no magic formula to make your CV appear as a business masterpiece. However, tailoring your CV for an HR department and a business manager can definitely make a big difference to whether you get to the interview stages of the job process or not.

Below are some of my tips and advice that may help you when making that transition out of science:

The first impression

From your cover letter the HR department and employer will make a judgement on whether you are a candidate who is truly interested in working for their company, or someone who has just sent another job application hoping that they make it to the interview stages. Therefore, it is critical that you tailor your cover letter to suit your prospective company, including how you align with their interests, how you understand the competition, how you have excelled to get where you are and how you’d be an asset to work for their company. Furthermore:

  • Give a brief description of their competitors and where they stand within the market;
  • Describe how X, Y, Z of your experience directly relates to the role and makes you an ideal candidate;
  • Describe the highlights of your career, what successes you have achieved, and how your determination to succeed would directly align with their business goals.

Your CV will give the HR department and your prospective manager an insight into how you structure your thoughts, your experience and exactly what your role was during your PhD and post-doc. So clearly outlining your exact roles, and how you excelled in these roles, is critical to getting through to the interview stage.

More tips for a business-friendly CV

Project management is a phrase that many PhDs and post-docs use in their CV to describe the skill of managing a research project. However, this can be taken as a given in many cases and thus expanding more on how you managed your project will set you apart from other candidates. Expanding on the objectives, goals and outcomes of your projects, and what experience you gained, provides valuable information for your CV. A little more detail will give your prospective employers a lot more insight into how great you really are!

Managing grad students and undergraduates during your PhD and post-doc alerts the HR department and your manager to your experience in working as a senior in a team, and displays that you are ready to take on responsibility, no matter what the position is. Highlighting how you managed these grad students, took their projects to completion and how you helped troubleshoot their issues along the way shows that you’re a team player and ready to take action.

Use some business terminology. It’s very likely that your new employers will been out of the lab a few years, or may not have any scientific background at all. Therefore, speaking the common language of business will resonate and allow them to see you as a business person (Chris says: my free guide on how to translate your skills into language employers can understand can help you with this).

Demonstrating further training and outreach will show whoever reads your CV that you have an interest in life outside of the lab. Further training and outreach will also show an employer what steps you’re taking to make yourself successful and useful in a career outside of the lab. If you haven’t taken any training courses yet in business, consult with your University’s career advice counsellor and see what courses you can take up for free.

Awards. You may not have won an Oscar or Olympic gold (yet!), but nothing screams success like winning an award, no matter what it was. If your peers had to compete to win this award and you beat them to the post, place it on your CV. Winning awards also shows employers that you can get things done, within a timeframe and be successful at doing it. Furthermore, it shows that you are competitive and likely to succeed within their company.

Putting some of these tips and tricks into your CV will help you to stand out from the crowd. Getting through the interview stage is the next part of the process, but with such a great CV, you’re sure to get the job!

About Seán:
Seán was a PhD student at University College Dublin and a post-doc at Cambridge University, where he studied mechanisms of cell division. Currently Seán run an ELISA assay company where you can find some great information on ELISA assay protocols and ELISA kits.