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This post originally appeared on the University of Waterloo’s Gradventure blog.
Last year, a colleague told me that in my time as a graduate student, I had developed project management skills. I looked at this colleague like they had two heads. To me, project management was some foreign and ambiguous concept, something that only supervisors on construction sites do. They laughed and said; “Of course you have project management skills! What do you think you’re doing when you manage your research project for your thesis?”
Fast forward to the last few months when I recently started applying to internships. In most jobs that I was applying for, low and behold, employers stated that the ideal candidate possessed project management skills. This was the nudge that I needed to start thinking about what project management really means, and so began my journey in looking for resources.
In looking into project management resources, I found out that graduate students have access to free professional skills training through an organization called Mitacs and lucky for me, they offer introductory workshops called Foundations of Project Management I and Foundations of Project Management II. Just the workshops I needed to help articulate the skills that I’ve been learning!
When I arrived to the first day of training, I met a group of bright and eager graduate students who, like me, wanted to gain confidence in their project management skills. We spent the next two days getting to know each other and building our project management skills in an interactive teamwork-based workshop. We learned basic principles in project management, techniques to increase team effectiveness, project planning concepts, how to use the Critical Path Method (a technique used to organize and schedule project activities), and how to assess potential risks to the execution of our projects. In the second day of the workshop, we simulated the organization and design of a project from beginning to end, for a project topic that we had selected as a team.
Colour-coded project planning chart created by Paige Stirling’s project team at Mitacs Foundations of Project Management I workshop
At the end of the workshop, the facilitator asked each person to describe his or her takeaway from the workshop. Each participant had a different takeaway:
“Things can go wrong in a project, so it’s important to leave some leeway at the end of the project to accommodate.”
“After this workshop, I feel much more confident in my ability to manage projects.”
“I never thought of laying out a color-coded timeline to help me visualize how a project can be conducted.”
“Project management is more about the effectiveness of the team than I had expected.”
My takeaway was that I really did possess the skills necessary to manage a project. Even better, I now feel comfortable in articulating these skills to employers!
Paige Stirling is a PhD Candidate in the University of Waterloo Faculty of Arts. Her doctoral research bridges the gap between the human resource and education literatures by looking at how experiences result in the development of competencies commonly sought by employers.