When thinking about how to translate your lab skills to skills that your next boss might find useful, look at the big picture.
You’re taking steps toward becoming a generalist, most likely. So your knowledge base is going from an-inch-wide-and-a-mile-deep, to a-mile-wide-and-an-inch-deep. Let’s take a few examples.
Wet Lab Skills. Ok, so pipetting, microscopy, tissue culture, and electrophysiology are probably not skill sets that your next non-laboratory-based future employer is looking for. But years of toiling away, fine-tuning those skills probably makes you good at “trouble-shooting” and “data analysis,” right? You also have a “thorough understanding of biomedically-relevant laboratory-based skills” that you can probably extrapolate to other techniques, right? Well there you go. So on your next cover letter, resume, or CV, replace that list of lab skills with something more relevant.
Scientific Presentations and Publications. “Excellent oral and written communication skills. Ability to relate technical subject matter to various audiences.” Bam!
Grants. This depends a little on what roles you’ve played. If you wrote the grant application(s), that’s “concept development.” If you managed the grant once awarded, that’s “project management” and probably a bit of “problem-solving.” If you happened to be a lead scientist on a larger grant, with several lab techs, post-docs, and/or scientists, then there’s probably a bit of “personnel management” in there as well. If you’ve been a one of those lab techs, post-docs, or scientists, then that probably makes you “excellent working in team environments.” If you’ve managed the money, then you have “budget management” experience.
Working with quirky scientists. This one’s easy, although depending on the level of quirkiness, perhaps it wasn’t so easy to get here. In any case, you’ve likely developed “excellent interpersonal skills.”
Software. Undoubtedly, you have spent a lot of time in Excel, PowerPoint, Word, and probably some software applications specific to your research, like imaging software, statistical software, etc. You’ve probably also spent a lot of time in online databases and search engines, like PubMed. So you have “excellent computer skills, and are proficient in MS Word, Adobe, Outlook, etc.”
Research. You are good at research! Whether it’s lab research or computer-based searches, you are good at research! You can “write reports.” You can “manage information.” You can “draw conclusions based on data.”
Meetings. Have you organized workshops, a section of a conference, a stake-holder meeting? These are also project management skills.
What about Entrepreneurship? Are you an entrepreneur? Could you be entrepreneurial? Well, let’s see. Have you been innovative in terms of your research directions? Have you chased down funding, either through grants or investments? Are you good at networking? Have you worked with collaborators on a national or international level? Have you been in a leadership role? These are the types of things that an entrepreneurial person would be engaged in. So, are you entrepreneurial?
If you’re making the jump from bench-space to office space, make sure you can communicate your skills in the appropriate context. Hopefully these tips will help you get started.