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Narrow research focus and employability


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I suppose this question really comes down to breadth vs depth. For those pursuing fairly narrow research foci as graduate students, how do you broaden your employability? My biggest fear upon graduating is being pigeonholed into such a specific skillset/position that my resume will end up in the trash more often than not.

Would be curious to know thoughts from anyone who's already graduated or nearing graduation.

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14 hours ago, fuzzylogician said:

Employability in academia or industry? 

Doh, of course I would forget that detail. I'm thinking primarily for those looking to go into industry, where there is obviously a greater breadth of opportunities.

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Hi! I work in industry now (during my PhD) and my company employs only people with PhDs (that were, as almost all PhDs are, in very narrow areas).

None of them is doing exactly what they studied, which can be considered good or bad. Sometimes, we end up on a project (it's a consulting firm) that is somehow relevant to their expertise. But in general, no one is pigeonholed; they are all generalists who know about their entire area and who are learning the business fundamentals and soft skills as they go.

This is obviously one example, but all across consulting as an industry I know it is similar. No one is pigeonholed, but they rarely end up doing what they studied. I, personally am okay with that, because I see extremely wide-ranging applications for my interests and because I have been in various subfields already.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I work in industry as well.

You need to show that you have broad, generalizable research skills. The way to do that is to get involved in a variety of projects that showcase your skills. One thing I did was statistical consulting, which allowed me to work with researchers across many different fields, most of which were unrelated to my own. I wrote about this in my cover letter as evidence of being able to apply my skills to a variety of different areas. You can also co-author papers with people who are not in your narrow area or start a side project that's tangentially related to your major area.

As for the skillset - you can take classes or workshops that help you learn in-demand skills, even if you think you won't use them in academia. Maybe you can develop a secondary specialization or "minor." Does your university have concurrent MAs you can complete in useful areas, like statistics? Something like that could help too.

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