Project management skills essential for graduates

Sarah Wilson, owner of 54 degrees, discusses the importance of upskilling graduates and postgraduates with project management skills

Organisations are under pressure to deliver successful change with increasing speed and efficiency to keep up with competition and deliver services demanded by their customers, with fewer resources.

Graduates and postgraduates are, therefore, not only expected to excel in their field of study but bring with them a host of business and management skills to hit the ground running in the workplace.

If you are looking for employability skills to engender in your graduate and postgraduate population, you cannot go far wrong with them developing a natural propensity for forward-thinking, risk-management and excellent communication skills – in other words – project management.

Graduates staying on for master’s or doctoral programmes have the perfect environment to hone their ability to deliver successful projects.

The challenges facing postgraduates as they work towards achieving their higher degrees are vast:

●  They are delivering something never delivered before – by them or anyone else

●  They have a limited time frame to deliver results

●  They must share the limited resources of their institution with other researchers and staff, including laboratories, equipment, tutors and their industry experts

●  They are often supported by industry partners who may have a different agenda to the academic institution – which must be managed well if the outcome is to be viewed as successful by both stakeholder groups

The earlier they get to grips with the principles of good project management, the more these skills will help them set sound foundations for their work and keep control of their research from start to finish.

While some postgraduates have clarity from the outset, many struggle to clearly define what it is that they are trying – or able – to deliver, which can lead to frustration and time wasting from the beginning. Half the battle with the delivery of projects is an awareness of the level of uncertainty in potential outcomes or risks to those outcomes. If graduates can get to grips with that, then the lack of clarity will be recognised as just a risk and therefore managed in a more controlled manner.

Sarah Wilson

Make the most of your time

Through my work with several universities, I have found that one of the main challenges with students is the lack of workstream management. There is a tendency to stop all work if there is a blocker on one of the workstreams.

Time management is one of the critical elements of great project management; to be able to recognise how workstreams depend on each other or how they are independent of each other is a big part of this.

If your lab is not available when you were hoping it would be, there should already be a plan to do other work while you wait. This is not an unusual occurrence and therefore should be planned for within the risk-management strategy, rather than coming as a surprise and halting work on the entire project.

Juggling multiple challenges

Doctoral programmes which blend together taught elements with the research work add a dose of reality to the world of academia. There are few jobs in the workplace where you can concentrate 100% on one project without distractions, whether it’s other people needing your input into their projects, staff training and development, or general administration.

Developing the ability to juggle work with the other pressures during a higher degree programme will give postgraduates a good insight into the real world once they’ve finished their studies. It will also help them to prioritise their time and work pressures to get the best out of their time in academia.

As someone with a foot in both the academic world and the corporate world, I see how developing great project management skills early on in your career will lead to greater opportunities in the workplace – so let’s get that journey started as soon as possible.

For more information on 54 degrees, visit

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