In a previous question we stated that soft skills are pretty important for admission decisions in universities, so I suppose that you'll agree with me if I said that they are very important not only during the admission phase, but throughout the whole career.

Which do you think are the most important ones?


  • You've always been able to answer your own question on SE sites, and now they've made it even easier to answer your own question while posting it. I recommend you edit your question to remove the answer part and post that as an answer. I'd upvote it :)
    – eykanal
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 15:26
  • 2
    In a previous question we stated that soft skills are pretty important for admission — I don't think this is an accurate characterization of the answers to that question. Soft skills are important to succeed at interviews, but most admissions decisions (at least in North America) do not require interviews.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 20:35

4 Answers 4


I broadly agree with Davide's answer above, but I would move the list around somewhat:

  1. Tier 1:

    • Self motivating
    • Communication, broadly-defined
    • Ability to stay focused on a single task for multiple months & years
  2. Tier 2:

    • Work on a team
    • Creative, curious personality
    • Strong writing skills
  3. Tier 3:

    • Learn from criticism
    • Personable

Tier 1 skills are, in my mind, absolutely required to be a researcher. The inability of any of those will preclude you from doing your work (i.e., unable to communicate means unable to publish; unable to stay focused for long periods of time means unable to complete research projects & grants.) Tier 2 skills will turn a good researcher into a great researcher. Technically speaking, researchers don't need to be good team members, but having that skill will greatly improve your academic worth and potential. Tier 3 will improve your worth to yourself and others as a researcher. There are probably a bunch here that I missed and should have included.

  • 3
    I would put "learn from criticism" in Tier 1.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 30, 2012 at 4:16

In my opinion, I'd suggest these (in order of importance):

  1. hard-working attitude
  2. public speaking
  3. ability to manage personal relationships
  4. ability to work in independently
  5. ability to work in team
  6. creative skills and ability to formulate new problems and ideas
  7. ability to accept & learn from criticism

Do you agree with this list?

Would you add something?

Would you change the position of something?

  • 1
    Hard-working attitude isn't a skill—it's a personality trait. So are most of the rest of these. Also, on an unrelated note, I'd avoid using casual spellings ("hardworkin'", "speakin'"), particularly in academic writing.
    – aeismail
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 16:51
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    I would add being able to communicate ideas and concepts effectively. Commented May 29, 2012 at 16:55
  • 1
    The ability to write clearly (or maybe this is a hard skill). Commented May 29, 2012 at 18:36
  • @DaveClarke: That's definitely a hard skill, as is public speaking.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 20:36
  • I want to add self management. I mean think better about our life, our work an so . I mean knows to control our mind to when think about what and how to do that
    – M R R
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 13:40

I will add some further unmentioned skills I value highly and miss among many students in the age of internet and information overload:

Being a scientist means to study further and learn your whole life, more than in any other job, where most of soft skills named in other answers apply too (work hard, in team, motivation ...). Also I think curiosity and creativity are rather personal traits than trainable skills. If you don't have them, consider choosing another job.


You didn't say what kind of graduate program you are talking about. The admissions criteria for a Master's program are very different than for a PhD.

Here's what the top-three admissions criteria look like for admission to a research-oriented PhD program:

  1. Evidence of research ability.
  2. Evidence of research ability.
  3. Evidence of research ability.

So, if evidence of research ability is so important, how is it judged? Well, there are several ways that applicants can demonstrate research ability:

  1. Demonstrate prior success at research. For example, participated in one or more prior research projects that led to a publication at a peer-reviewed place. This is usually the strongest evidence.

  2. Show prior experience with research, with evidence that it went well or that future research will likely be a success. For example, participated in one or more prior research projects, which did not lead to a publication, but the letters of reference state have positive things to say about the applicant's research ability, and the letter-writers are credible on this. This is next-best.

  3. Show great intelligence and technical ability, as well as passion/motivation. Here we are talking about indirect measures of research ability. One of the strongest ways is to excel in technical classes. Admissions committees will also look at the motivation/drive (what does the applicant want to study? why? is the applicant driven to do research? why?), at written and other communication skills, and other factors.

Of the materials in the application packet, I could prioritize which are most important:

  1. Publications. If you have publications, include them. Admissions committees will often read the publications, look to see where they are published, etc.

  2. Letters of reference. Strong letters of recommendation can be very valuable. They need to come from credible people who are well-calibrated about what it takes to be successful in a Ph.D. program, and they should be as strong as possible about the applicant's research potential and other abilities.

  3. Classes. Great grades in relevant courses is helpful. The courses also need to provide adequate preparation for the Ph.D. program.

  4. Essays. The personal essays should be thoughtful, well-written, demonstrate the applicant's interest in research and goals for Ph.D. study. Admissions committees will read to see whether the essays seem well-informed about the field the applicant wants to join. They'll also try to figure out the applicant's most likely interests, to see if they are a good match for the faculty in the department who are looking to advise new Ph.D. students.

  5. Other materials. The rest of your application packages (e.g., GRE scores) are of lesser importance. They're more likely to get you rejected, or raise a red flag that causes the committee to look more closely at the rest of your application packet, than they are get you accepted. It is semi-important to demonstrate communication skills; if you cannot communicate clearly in the language of instruction at the university, then you may not be able to serve as a teaching assistant, which means the school may not have a way to fund you, which is very bad. Also, advisors are more likely to want to work with someone who has good written English than someone who will need to learn how to write clearly.

  • The question was not intended just for admission phase, but, more broadly speakin', for academic career. In addition, the elements you listed (publications, classes, etc) ain't soft skills... Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 11:50

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