Translating academic experiences into business language (review)


It has become a cliché to tell graduate students and PhDs leaving higher education to translate their academic experiences into terms businesses and industry employers will understand. This is often touted as the first step in converting an academic CV into a CV.

Such advice is sound. However, few who give it appreciate the monumental challenge this translation presents to many graduate and doctoral students, especially those who have spent most of their adult lives thus far cocooned in academic worship and who do not may have never written a non-academic resume in their life. .

Translating means overcoming a language barrier. Scholars are advised to translate from their mother tongue – “academic”, let’s say – into the language of the country in which they seek admission, or “company”.

But how can you translate into a language you’ve never spoken, from a country you’ve rarely, if ever, visited? How do you talk about the wants and needs of non-academic employers with whom they almost never interact?

Graduate students and PhDs are often told that because of their writing and teaching experiences, they have strong communication skills. This is true in the narrow sense, that is, they are fluent in their native academic disciplinary dialect.

But business is another language. It has its own unwritten rules, its own unspoken assumptions and cultural norms, its own criteria for effective communication. The difference between academics and businesspeople is a profound lesson that far too many academic expats learn the hard way: through failed phone screens, rejected resume wallpapers, and the screaming silence of a empty inbox the week after the last round of interviews.

Academic to professional translator

This table is designed to make the translation process as easy as possible. It is intended to help graduate students, PhDs and anyone else leaving higher education to begin to overcome the academic/business language barrier. This can be particularly useful for writing a non-academic resume, creating a LinkedIn profile, or formulating answers to common interview questions.


business jargon

I have written a thesis, published a book, or conducted another major research project.

  • Conducted a multi-year research project that resulted in a 10-page thesis/book and multiple public presentations at national and international conferences.
  • Manage parallel long-term research objectives and synthesize them into a large-scale research report.
  • Support for all phases of content production and optimization, including planning, information gathering, writing, reviewing, editing, and final approval.
  • Effective communication with stakeholders and cross-functional teams including X, Y and Z.

I have published in scientific journals.

  • Published X articles in peer-reviewed journals while balancing multiple priorities under tight deadlines.
  • Conduct research and communicate key findings and insights to subject matter experts.

I have received scholarships, grants or awards.

  • Secured over $X in funding from home institution as well as several international organizations.
  • Production of high-level overviews of research projects. Summary of key project details while articulating broader meaning for various organizations and stakeholders.

I have presented at conferences.

  • Organization of X panels and Y public presentations at national and international conferences.
  • Effective communication of complex ideas to diverse audiences, including non-native English speakers.

I taught or gave lessons.

  • Management of more than X students in Y course sections. Monitoring of learning objectives and development of criteria to assess student success.
  • Planned and delivered over 1 hour lectures on a wide range of topics, communicating complex ideas to diverse audiences with varying degrees of preparation and subject familiarity.
  • Increased course retention rate by X% over a period of Y months.
  • Exceeded college averages for content comprehension and overall student satisfaction by X%. (Course evaluations can help quantify this.)
  • Evaluated and provided critical feedback on over X missions.
  • Expressed complex ideas clearly and diplomatically to students. Provided ongoing constructive feedback on assignments which led to improved writing and analysis.
  • Coordination of teaching assistants and administration of intermediate and final exams.
  • Organize games, debates and other interactive and engaging learning activities.

I designed my own courses or programs.

  • Design and animation of face-to-face and distance courses. Developing exams and essays to assess student understanding and critical thinking.
  • Design appropriate learning activities based on course requirements and learning objectives.
  • Proposed and negotiated structural revisions for academic programs that cover X course sections per year, delivering Y percent course fill.
  • Worked with faculty and department chair to redesign the program’s flagship survey course delivered to over 100 students.

I have taught, worked with, or assisted students in other capacities.

  • Tutoring students to dramatically increase overall course grades by X%.
  • Management of a class of X students during an intensive one-week Y summer session comprising more than Z hours of teaching.
  • Coaching and mentoring student/faculty liaisons and training students for career success.
  • Delivered X hours of instruction through e-learning and learning management systems (Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, D2L, etc.).

I was a department chair, graduate student liaison, or some other administrative role.

  • Was X for Department Y of the University of Z.
  • Helps increase student enrollment/course retention/completion by X percent over a period of Y months.

These bullet points are designed to be imported into the “Experience” section of a resume. However, they are not set in stone. If you’re using this table to write a resume, tailor each point to your situation and the jobs you’re applying for.

Start each line with a strong action verb, ideally one that conveys some kind of improvement: “boosted”, “exceeded”, “revised”, etc. Add numbers where possible: students taught, funding secured, percentage improvement, etc. The numbers provide a concrete measure of career achievement. If you don’t have exact numbers handy, make a rough estimate.

You can expand or combine several of these bullet points into STAR stories to deploy in a non-academic interview. If you are unfamiliar with the STAR Method, an interview technique that provides a format for telling a story by describing the situation, task, action, and outcome, check out this article. STAR is by far the most common structured interview method. If you’re looking to break into business and industry, keep a couple of STAR stories in your back pocket at all times.

In summary, at all stages of the job search (resume writing, interviewing and beyond), translating academic experiences into business and industry terms is essential. Effective communication requires more than writing and public speaking skills. It requires the ability to speak to an audience in their own language, using familiar terms to express their wants and needs while considering the unspoken assumptions and cultural norms behind everything that is said. Translating is possible, and experience is the best teacher. This table is only intended to serve as a starting point.


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