Gaining Interpersonal Transferable Skills through Graduate Study

Published: Tues., October 15, 2019

The primary goal of graduate study is to gain in-depth knowledge and expertise in an academic area. While you spend a great deal of time focusing on becoming an expert on a set of technical or research skills, graduate students sometimes forget that they are also developing transferable skills that are relevant to their future careers. Whether you are interested in pursuing an academic or non-academic career, there are a number of transferable skills related to interpersonal or leadership activities that can serve you well in any field you enter.

Transferable skills are skills you develop in one setting—or to meet a specific goal—that can be generalized and applied to many different jobs and settings. Graduate school gives you the chance to develop new skills and sharpen those you already have. Whether you know it or not, you’re also developing skills that go beyond teaching and research; these transferable skills can be applied to work you might do in academia, business, industry, government, or non-profit organizations.

The Graduate School at Michigan State University has identified these skills that can be learned as one progresses toward a graduate degree:

  • Adaptability
  • Analytic Skills
  • Conflict Resolution/Negotiation
  • Cultural/Intercultural Awareness
  • Ethics & Integrity
  • Independence/Self-Discipline
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Leadership
  • Technical skills/Information Technology

Other transferable skills developed through your graduate school experience are:


Students are expected to communicate with individuals within the work place and often with external stakeholders. During your graduate education, you will learn to convey information clearly and concisely in many formats to a variety of audiences. The mode of communication can be written reports, emails, one-on-one meetings, or small group meetings.

Whether serving as a teaching assistant or giving a presentation at a professional conference, communicating to a large group is an important aspect of graduate study. Gaining skills in PowerPoint, Skype and other media can enhance the experience for the audience.

Being an active listener can give you the power to listen and comprehend. You will learn to make the best use of the information provided to you. When you work with colleagues or students, you will learn to listen and to give advice in a respectful manner.


Collaborative and group projects are common in graduate-level classes. Skills that can be learned and shown include taking responsibility to do your share of the project, demonstrating leadership in guiding and motivating group members, setting priorities, and keeping the group on schedule. Working toward a common goal (i.e., finish the project on time) and completing quality work can result in a great sense of personal accomplishment.

You will own one or more research projects that you are required to evaluate, develop, execute, analyze, summarize and finish. Sometimes this may involve working solo but other times the task can be a group project. Seek out other group members’ feedback and treat their input with respect.


Processing and understanding is central to all graduate programs. You will learn to think critically about your work; identifying and solving problems will be daily activities. Challenge and question your own work and seek out others for feedback.

The prime result of graduate study is gaining advanced knowledge in your subject area and conducting research to advance your field of study. However, you will also be gaining valuable transferable skills along the way that will make you more employable for positions in academia and private industry. Take advantage of these opportunities to advance your skill set.


University Affairs (2018). What are your transferable skills as you exit graduate school? Retrieved from

University of Michigan Career Center (2018). Ph.D. transferable skills Retrieved from