Four Essential Skills Every Postgraduate Student Should Have

By Mel Sim

Hone these skills during your postgraduate studies and you’ll become more employable at the end of the day

When you finally graduate from your postgraduate study, you are armed with a very important piece of paper that adds value to your qualifications. But that is not the only thing you should leave with. Throughout your time in grad school, you should take the opportunity to develop some concrete skills that are easily transferable to your working life, making you a more valued employee who is a notch above the rest with the same qualification as you.

Unlike your undergraduate years, your postgraduate studies focus primarily on developing specialised knowledge, advanced critical thinking and innovative research skills. It also involves soft skills like maintaining a professional front and understanding the art of communication. All that said, you will need to hone skills of all sorts to make you a well-rounded individual who is not only well-versed with your speciality but also in tune with those around you. A postgraduate study lays the foundation of a career in a specialised manner, committing you to an area of focus. It also helps you develop skills that are marketable and will help you advance in your career.

What are the skills you should be focusing on? Here are four basic ones to nurture while in your postgraduate studies that will not only improve your chances of employment but also make you a star employee.

Let’s face it – a postgraduate study is a world apart from your undergraduate study, which may now seem like child’s play once you’ve gotten yourself deep into your postgrad years! A lot of times you will find yourself being asked for your opinion or analysis on a certain topic. This requires you to be critical. Make no mistake though, it doesn’t mean that you are negative or just pointing out what is wrong with something. Critical at your master’s level means being fully informed and capable of supporting with in-depth analysis and assessment.

Why is critical thinking important? For one thing, it affects your academic success as a bulk of your postgraduate studies depends on your ability to demonstrate knowledge of your subject and giving opinions supported by evidence. It also affects your employability: One of the main reasons why many people undertake postgraduate study is to improve their employment prospects. Your postgraduate study is ideal in helping you develop your higher-level thinking and reasoning skills, which can be applied across many areas of work. Being able to demonstrate this will convince prospective employers that you are the right person for the job.

Having a laid-back attitude may be forgiven when you are an undergraduate student. But all that changes as a postgrad where you are expected to adopt a more professional personality. What do we mean by professional? For starters, ditch the informal wear and dress for the professional part you want to play. Keeping to your deadlines and commitment is also a big part of being professional; it demonstrates efficiency and dependability on your part.

Another huge aspect of being professional? Don’t be disrespectful and don’t play the petty game. Regard your fellow postgrad students as equal peers and treat them with respect. Gossip, complaining or just being plain rude won’t do you any favours.

Take your professional persona one step forward by having mentors who can guide you in your decisions, now and later. Create a professional relationship with your mentor (it can be a professor or a more mature student) and make sure you take advantage of the lessons, feedback and information that you receive. This may very well impress your mentor, who might just be the person to get you that dream job after all.

"A postgraduate study lays the foundation of a career in a specialised manner, committing you to an area of focus. It also helps you develop skills that are marketable and will help you advance in your career."

You’ve heard it many times and you will hear it again: Being able to work effectively with others – regardless of the difference in opinions – is a good skill to have, whether you are an undergraduate, a postgrad or even in your working life. Many of your postgraduate courses will require you to work in teams, whether it is working on case studies or presentations. Team work is a vital professional skill that you should continue developing as often times, you will also be required to work with others in a team in the work environment. Businesses these days are increasingly encouraging collaborative thinking to derive at the best business decisions. So start developing your ability to work – and sometimes play – well with others to give you that advantage.

A piece of paper is only useful if you have the chops to back it up. Being able to articulate your thoughts and ideas well both on paper as well as verbally will take you far not only in your postgraduate studies but also in the working world. There are many ways to work on your written and communication skills but as with everything else, practice makes perfect. Write often and speak up always. Learn how to organise and communicate your thoughts and ideas effectively. Volunteer to speak during presentations so you can get over the fear of public speaking quickly as well as become more comfortable in addressing a crowd, regardless of size. Fine tune the way you explain things – be concise and use logic when persuading others. Finally, learn to listen before you speak. This way, you not only give the chance for others to express their views but also give yourself time to collect your thoughts so you can present them more efficiently.

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