PhD Consulting - Reflecting on the value of your PhD

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If you are interested to find out more about working as a consultant this article will provide you with tips and advice for using your skills and expertise as a researcher to stand out in a competitive environment.

What does a consultant do?

The title consultant is used in a range of contexts and this article will consider the role in its broadest sense. Consultants typically provide expert, professional and independent advice to a client. The remit is usually to improve performance or manage a change situation and to implement business solutions. Most consultants work with multiple and changing clients on a project basis.

When we start to look at the day-to-day activities of a consultant we can see the parallels with the work of a researcher, such as:

  • carrying out research and data collection
  • conducting analysis and synthesis of information
  • project management
  • troubleshooting and problem solving
  • making recommendations
  • presenting clear and concise information

Transition from PhD to consultancy

So, the good news is that your PhD will provide you with some of the skills which employers of consultants are looking for. Added to this if you seek out opportunities where your subject specific knowledge and technical expertise is of value to the client, you increase your ability to attract work.

You also need to demonstrate knowledge of the commercial world and show an ability to adapt to non-academic environments.

Start to build experience and develop your skill set at every opportunity. The following are examples of skills required to succeed as a consultant:

  • critical business thinking skills
  • excellent influencing skills
  • resilience under pressure
  • ability to bring new perspectives and fresh ideas to a situation

Take some time to add to this list by researching sectors relevant to your areas of interest.

Routes in to consultancy

Now you need a strategy.

  • What type of environment are you suited to work in? 
  • Which sectors are employing consultants?
  • Where do you see the future trends and areas of growth?

Employee in a consultancy organisation

A typical first step to developing a career as a consultant is to get a job in a large consultancy organisation. Here you would receive a high level of training and support to develop your skills.  Opportunities exist across a whole range of industries and sectors, including financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, public sector, government, charities and education. For further information about working as a management consultant, go to the Prospects website.

In-house consultant

You can also look out for opportunities to apply to work as an in-house consultant, where an organisation would employ you as part of a permanent in-house team to provide expertise.


You may be more attracted to working as an independent, self-employed consultant taking on contracts on a project basis. Usually this route is an easier option once you have a track record and significant knowledge of the market place and industry. You need to be clear about your offer, and have excellent skills and knowledge to provide a professional service. Key to your success will be to deliver work of value, to build your credibility and your brand.

Dr. Darren Coleman shares with us how he has used his research knowledge and expertise to develop an offer to clients:

“My brand marketing PhD provides me with credibility when I approach clients. It also helps differentiate me in a crowded market as very few brand marketing consultants have a brand-related PhD. I use the knowledge I acquired during my PhD on a regular basis. This could be in the form of conducting research, analysing data or providing strategic brand marketing advice.”

Ask yourself:

  • Which businesses will be interested in the knowledge gained from my research?
  • How can I identify and research such businesses?
  • How can I start to build experience?

Summary of practical steps

  • Decide on the type of environment you would ideally like to work in
  • Identify and contact companies who you are interested to work for
  • Interview people like Dr. Darren Coleman to learn from their experience
  • Be clear about how you add value
  • Gain relevant work experience and build contacts
  • Develop your skills and expertise
  • Be proactive and strategic

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