4 Best Transferable Skills for PhD in Biomedicine Applicants

Getting a fully-funded PhD abroad as an international student is no mean feat. When it comes to Biosciences, it could be even more competitive as compared to other STEM fields like Computer Science, Data Science, or Engineering. In this post, we will look at the top transferable skills to develop while applying for PhD in Biosciences (biomedical science, biomedical engineering, biotech & life sciences, etc.) abroad.

Be it a structured, advertised, or open PhD position, there is immense competition to stand out in the applicant pool. Technical skills and soft skills are indeed essential. However, mastering a few transferable skills would be great too.

What are Transferable Skills?

Transferable skills are skills and abilities that are relevant and helpful across different areas of life: socially, professionally and at school. They are ‘portable skills’.

People usually think about their transferable skills when applying for a job or when thinking about a career change.  Employers often look for people who can demonstrate a good set of transferable skills.

Here are the best transferable skills that can improve your admission chances for PhD in Biosciences abroad.

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1. Data Analysis & Programming

With the increasing popularity of computational biology, a tremendous amount of biological research is now happening in silico. So, whether it is wet-lab or dry-lab, you can’t ignore data analysis and programming anymore.

Modern biological and biomedical researchers create computer models to simulate a biochemical reaction within the human body. They may also use computational mathematics to examine an experiment’s results to determine the best compound for a particular drug.

Key skills for data analysis in biomedical science include SQL programming, statistical programming for large data sets using languages such as Python and R, and the development of algorithms for complex machine learning or artificial intelligence. Read more about the role of programming in modern biology and medicine.

Building data visualization skills and learning to present research findings will also benefit individuals in these roles, as analysts are commonly called upon to explain an experiment’s findings to non-technical audiences.

Hence, it’s only wise to pick up the programming & data science skills in order to stand out in the PhD applicant pool.

2. Foreign Language

Knowing more than one language is nearly vital in today’s world. But, is it that important while applying for PhD abroad? Let’s have a look at the benefits of knowing a foreign language.

Advantages of Knowing a Foreign Language

When you are looking for a PhD position in Europe, knowledge of a foreign language is always handy.

  • It will help you to integrate socially into the new country. Secondly, it also helps the process of networking and collaboration easier, which are critical in academic research.
  • If you are in the US, and you can speak Chinese, Hindi, or Spanish, you can bag a few part-time jobs on the campus that requires interacting with new international students. Additionally, you can also gain an edge to secure a Teaching Assistantship (TA) or a tutoring/mentoring role.
  • One of the key attributes that PhD supervisors and graduate schools look for is adaptability and open-mindedness to learning new things. If you are someone who has spent time (and effort) learning a new foreign language, that automatically sends a positive signal to the admissions committee.
  • It makes you stand out and helps to demonstrate intellectual curiosity, cross-cultural intelligence, and emotional intelligence.
  • Last but not the least, apart from international research collaborations, a foreign language could also open up avenues for transnational research funding.

Best Foreign Languages to Learn to Improve PhD Admission Chances


Germany is the most widely spoken language throughout Europe, as Germany remains Europe’s most dominant economy. 

Germany has got some of the best structured PhD programs in biosciences in the world. Additionally, there are several opportunities for advertised and open PhD positions as well.

German is the official language in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Additionally, it’s widely spoken in Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein.

Even if you end up in an English-speaking country like the UK, US or Canada, chances are high that you would come across a German-speaking researcher.

So, it would be a great decision if you start learning German language (say from Goethe Institute).


With 20 Spanish-speaking countries, It is one of the most widely spoken languages globally.

Spain has got a few great PhD programs in biosciences. Spain also hosts one of the largest biotech-pharma hubs in the world.

In addition, due to a large number of Spanish speakers in the US, if you end up pursuing your PhD in the US, Spanish is definitely the language to learn.

You can learn the Spanish language from Duolingo and local institutes or trainers. However, the easiest and most enjoyable way of learning a new language is certainly with Lingopie.

Lingopie provides thousands of hours of foreign language TV episodes with interactive subtitles. You learn the language by binging TV series, rather than hours of lessons. See this Lingopie review for more info.


France is still quite the economic powerhouse, and a popular travel destination. France has also got several top-notch research institutes for biosciences.

Historically, French has been the most popular international and diplomatic language for centuries (until English took over).

Apart from France, you can also leverage French language in the Quebec province in Canada.

So, as you can see, if you learn any of the above three foreign languages, you can maximize your PhD admissions chances in Europe to a great extent.

There are many options for learning Frech language – Duolingo, Busuu, etc.


If you are looking for PhD positions in Asia, then Korean, Japanese, Chinese Mandarin, and Arabic would be the best foreign languages to learn.

Learning a new language might not seem easy to someone who has never tried to do so before. In fact, the very thought of it can stress some people out. However, there are ways to go about the process that are not only easy but fun.

The world is enamored with Duolingo for this reason. The app gives you short ten to twenty-minute lessons a day and you can learn a lot of words and phrases without ever exerting yourself more than you can manage.

3. Digital Communication & Marketing

Blogging & Podcast and social media marketing skills are gaining huge popularity these days.

Quite often PIs need people to look after their blog/webpage along with the maintenance of social media pages.

Podcast and YouTube skills can also help with outreach and crowdfunding.

Lastly, you can become an asset for the department or the university, who might be looking for an Instagram Photographer, YouTuber, Graphic Designer (who knows Canva & Photoshop), or WordPress blogger. So, as you can see, there is always an opportunity to stand out in the crowd if you pick up the right skills at teh right time.

4. Business and Commercialization

Basic science is good. But, if you can tie up your research with a commercialization opportunity, you could be gold in the applicant pool.

After information technology, biotechnology and life science are increasingly recognized as the next wave in the knowledge-based economy. Within the biotechnology sector, the protection of intellectual property and commercialization of the research is the core of the business. The increase in the number of patents in the life sciences and biotechnology is primarily due to the importance given by the sector to intellectual property, and particularly patents.

Bioentrepreneurship is the process of creating value from life science innovation. It is referred to by several names including bioscience entrepreneurship, life science entrepreneurship or bioscience enterprise. Whatever the descriptor, the fundamental notion is about moving a life science discovery or invention from the research phase through development to a commercial market.

Why Business Sense & Commercialization are Important in Biosciences?

Bioscience Sector is a Research-Intensive Domain

The biotech & life sciences domain is largely a research-intensive and product-based industry. In comparison to the other industries, the biotech industry invests a higher proportion (40 – 50%) of the revenues in the R&D activities (on average, 5% in the Chemical industry, and 13% in the Pharmaceutical manufacturing industry). So, for such a research-based industry with so much investment at stake, the protection of the research outcomes is a very critical issue.

High Risk is invloved in R&D

Secondly, the discoveries of new products and methods (or processes) are very expensive. But, copying those discoveries (imitations, reverse engineering, and generic drugs) is relatively very cheap.

So, conducting biotechnology research is not only expensive but very risky as well. It is also tough to predict if several years of research is going to lead to any breakthrough innovation with great market demand (and earning revenues).

Basic Research and Applied Research Go Hand-in-Hand

Thirdly, in the other sectors, usually, there is a clear distinction between basic research (doing by universities and academic or public sector R&D institutes) and applied research (by the private sector). But, in the life sciences and biotechnology domain, basic and applied research is extremely inter-linked.

In the majority of cases, the research activities at the universities and academic research institutes are the basis for the spin-off companies. Likewise, biotech companies are often actively involved in basic research. 

Lab to Market Lifecycle is Long and Complex

Finally, the majority of spin-offs and start-ups in the biotech segment are comparatively very new, with not a very huge team like big companies. In order to maximize output, they partner with universities and research institutes to initiate the research work.

Once the final product is ready, they patent them and license the product (or process) to big pharma-biotech companies. The big companies obviously possess more resources to launch the product in the market. So, apparently, the spin-offs and start-ups are not selling any product. But, they make money by developing, protecting, and licensing their research and innovations.


Hence, it’s very critical for the interns and employees at those companies to understand the process in and out. Additionally, they want a workforce that can not only come up with ideas and/or perform research but can commercialize the ideas and see through the innovation from conceptualization to completion.

More Resources:

Featured Image Source: DiscoverPHDs

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.

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