Erica Akhter- Getting down to business: SWOT Analysis & Your PhD

 In PhD/Postdoc Blog

Going into undergrad I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I definitely did not want to be a businessperson. I spent my academic career accordingly. As I’ve mentioned before, I used to be quite averse to networking. I also happily avoided anything that included the words “management,”  “supply chain,” and/or “finance” in the syllabus. Something weird happened when I got to graduate school, though. The people I am closest to all seemed to develop an interest in entrepreneurship at the same time. Since the details of these budding businesses aren’t mine to share I’ll spare you the particulars. Long story short, I’ve found myself spending many a vacation day and Sunday afternoon learning how to write strategic business plans for various ventures. Through this process I’ve learned a lot about how to put a startup together. I’ve learned even more about the transferrable skills I’ve gained in graduate school without even realizing it.

The first thing you’ll see if you Google “How to write a business plan” is pages and pages of explanation of the SWOT analysis strategy. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. I learned about SWOT through the lens of analyzing business prospects but I quickly realized it could be applied to any process, project, or person. SWOT has become schema I apply to almost every problem I approach.

At first glance the SWOT system seems almost ridiculously simple. As scientists, we’re trained to think of everything in relative terms. We thrive in abstract thought. We focus on the minutiae, but frequently this can come at the cost of the big picture. SWOT analysis forces you to simplify. From there it can get more complicated, but you must first focus on what you already know to be true. Even if you don’t want to go into business, I recommend trying this out next time you have to give a project update or hold a committee meeting. I’ve found it a useful strategy for conquering the ever-looming individual development plan. Not only does it force you to think about the internal and external factors that influence your progress towards your future goals, having these written down makes it easy to go back and check your progress.

Another thing I’ve learned while putting together business plans is that I will not want to drop everything to become an entrepreneur. It’s stressful and scary and requires a lot of investment. If you’re up for the process, though, here’s an example of what your personal SWOT might look as an entrepreneur having gone through graduate school. Many of these strengths and weaknesses are relevant to any job outside academia and can help you develop and sell your transferable skills.

best blog SWOT chart


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