Going from Ph.D. straight to an industry job usually means that you enter the workforce in a somewhat senior position. And justifiably so. After several years of training, you will be an expert in the area of your Ph.D. However, for me, it meant that I missed learning how to actually grow my career. What is a personal development plan? How do you think about it? What is the difference between training, development, and promotion?

Training, Development, and Promotion are very different and only loosely related concepts that you need to master to grow your career. This definitely was not part of my Ph.D. curriculum, but in a world where your career will adjust and pivot many times and will likely involve a stint in industry, I think it should be a more standard part of education.* Even more so for Ph.D. students since those are more likely to become responsible for someone else's career as well. This is why I thought I would put pen to paper and describe how training, development, and promotion differ for me in terms of scope, timeline, effort, and what is actually in my control. Here it goes:


… is usually a skill you learn to address an immediate challenge. It can be taught in a class and/or you can actively work on it either by yourself or learning from others. Steps to success are usually well defined and a timeline is available. A lot of activities during your Ph.D. are training such as classes you attend in and around your subject matter expertise, online courses you take to improve your data science skills, presentations you prepare for journal club or your group meeting, etc.


… is your long-term development and not measured in concrete steps. It's the journey that matters - you improve mindset and behaviors to better address the challenges in front of you as a whole. While the skills you learned in training contribute to that, it is the experience you gain while applying the skills in the real world that makes a difference. The goal is not to have to tell yourself to do it but to just naturally do it—to adjust your behavior. Thus it takes more time and does not follow a strict timeline. 

The Ph.D. in itself is "development" as you prepare for your job to come (at least that is the intention). You add to your skills while learning from others through your lab work, group meetings, and conferences. You experience new challenges and discover novel ways of working on problems and with colleagues. Over time, you apply all this knowledge towards your thesis and it becomes the way you work.


… is the next step in your current job. Getting your Ph.D. is the promotion you work towards in grad school and the path towards it is well defined. You have to complete a certain amount of training, complete research that is acceptable to your supervisors, and write one or several papers, and you are able to graduate. It is basically a checklist that you can complete to get to your promotion. The interesting thing in academia is that after you get this promotion you are expected to find a new employer. And that’s where the challenge starts because there are not as many Postdoc positions as there are Postdocs. Basically, academia is promoting you without having the need for it.

This is radically different when you have a job—a promotion includes many factors outside of your control which are usually not clearly defined. There is usually no checklist to work off of. Yes, of course, skills contribute, but it is much more about your development and behaviors and if there is a need for a senior person. This last aspect is one that most people forget. Even if you do the senior job already, the company needs to acknowledge and agree that there is a need for it. So don’t expect a list of tasks to complete to be handed your promotion. This list does not exist and promotion is never guaranteed and hence it’s not the best thing to focus on. Instead, focus on applying your skills and gaining experience—in your area of expertise, in communications, and in utilizing your influence to get things done. Do your best and always strive to operate at the next level—not with the goal to get promoted but to better yourself and advance your career.

It's your career

Ultimately all of this is part of your career planning. You should always consider what you want to achieve, what story are you telling with your career, and whether the path you are on will take you there. You will most certainly switch employer several times through your career as all things change over time. You do, your team does, the company does. The most important thing is to be open about the fit changing. Your manager should support you in that development, even if that might ultimately mean that you switch team or company at some point during this development. 

Lastly, don’t forget that it is your job to plan your career, not your managers. Think about it, if you don’t know your career plan, how can you expect your manager to know it? Once you have a plan or a direction do share it with your manager so they can support you. They should be available for you to discuss your career plan, to ask critical questions, and coach you to think about your future and ultimately provide opportunities for you to develop in that direction. So make use of all your options—training, development, and promotion—to shape your career.

*So far I have found not found a place that provides background or context on this topic other than your manager, or the company you work for. Let me know if you know good resources!

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View the original post  written by Cornelia Scheitz