Here's Why PhDs Make
Great Product Managers

As a PhD exploring job opportunities outside of the academy, you have most likely heard the title  “Product Manager” tossed around – but what does it actually mean to be a product manager? Krista Duttenhaver Ratcliff, PhD, Senior Program Manager at Atlassian, tells us that it can mean so many different things, depending on the position, and the company. “At a tech company like Indeed or Atlassian,” Krista says, “the product manager is the person who decides what the product is going to look like.” In this instance, the product manager considers how companies showcase the product, and they work on push their most important features and programs to the forefront, but this means something different for every company.

How can you feel more at home in searching for a career as a product manager? All of our panelists encourage that you do your company research. Learning more about the organizations you are applying to matters, especially in the tech sector. This research comes in handy, our panelists say, when you are able to demonstrate to potential employers the value of the PhD in a management position. While the PhD itself won’t get you a job, the skills that you already have are invaluable and it’s up to you to explain this while networking, writing resumes, and interviewing for potential positions.

As a PhD, you’ve already developed the skill sets which are important to a career as a product manager. Here are some of the skills our panelists highlighted:

  • Research & learning. All of our panelists said that their abilities to research and learn quickly have been indispensable to their jobs as Product and Program Managers. Krista needed to learn Python for her career, while Ian finds he is researching lab equipment he never used during his PhD so that he can help the labs he manages complete their work.

  • Active listening & communication skills. Ian Street, PhD, stressed that active listening is essential when managing multiple labs virtually. Each lab needs something different, and have different goals which they are trying to achieve. Being able to manage different teams in different locations means actively being able to listen and translate what those individuals need.

  • Managing multiple projects. You might feel like you do not have any management experience, but Caitlin Runne-Janczy, PhD, wants you to rethink this. Did you manage students in a classroom setting, or mentor graduate students? If you are in STEM, you were probably required to manage different teams across several different labs. When developing your resume, think back to any situations in which you were required to complete tasks like these. All of these activities count as management experience.

How can you get started? All of our panelists have said that networking was an integral part of their job search. Ian said that showcasing any of your tech-savvy skills – even your ability to use Twitter! – will go a long way. “Most of the good things that have happened in my career have come from Twitter,” he says. Therefore, network in as many different settings as you can – Ian volunteered with his professional academic society, while Krista suggested looking for free opportunities to learn as much as you can about the industry in which you want to work. This could mean taking online classes or seminars, and being honest about what skills you need to develop. If you are interested in tech, try to start consulting on tech projects for boutique firms or as a contractor on educational technology projects. The experience you gain will go a long way in the field of product management.

Beyond the Professoriate Community Members attend events like this for free each month and access replays free for two weeks. Ready to launch your next great career? Join the Online Career Hub for PhDs.

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