Non-Academic Career Options After your PhD

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As well as an academic research and teaching career path, new PhDs may like to consider other options. 

Catherine Mills has a PhD in American and Canadian literature from the University of Nottingham, but instead of taking on an academic role she is working her way up the university administration ladder at the University of Birmingham, where she currently manages its Graduate School.

Dr Mills argues that it has always been challenging to get that first foot on the ladder of an academic career but that the current climate has made the situation worse for PhD holders. 

Clare Jones, a senior careers advisers at the University of Nottingham points out there are career options outside the ivory tower. They include opportunities that may relate directly to a new PhD’s specific research.

PhD Jobs Within an Industry

“For instance, they may have worked on a collaborative project with an industry or a charity or other organisations and that industry or employer might look to recruit them,” she said. “But relying on this option may offer a limited range of opportunities”. 

Ms Jones suggests there are also opportunities to use their generic and professional research skills, for example, as a Policy or Research Officer in an organisation. “This option may also allow them to use their academic discipline background as well,” she said. “For example, a scientific policy officer in a science organisation or in a social science consultancy.”

Additionally, there are opportunities for PhDs to return to the breadth of their academic background in industry and employment sectors, says Ms Jones. Examples include the engineering and science industries.

“In these sectors, new PhDs may remain in research and development roles and this may be considered the obvious route but they should also consider other business and operational functions as opportunities,” she said. “Some of these options may have a PhD entry level point.

University Administration and Management Roles

New PhDs may also want to consider Dr Mills’ post-PhD choice of career by going into university administration as well as research management and development roles.

Dr Mills says this may be down to making the most of your networks and communication skills. As a step into a career in university administration and career management, she said she received a very good piece of advice from a career advisor whilst working on her PhD.

“The advisor suggested I write a list of all people I and my family and friends know and identify any useful connections with the career sectors I was interested in,” Dr Mills said. “As a result of this exercise - in addition to conversations with friends and family - I identified a contact at Warwick University. And through this contact, I organised a week of work experience in the University’s Registry division. This proved very useful in the latter interviews I had for professional staff roles in UK universities, and I believe helped secure my first job at the University of Cambridge.”

Graduate Entry Roles

Careers experts point out that you may also want to consider the Graduate Development route. They warn that the compromise with this option is that there may not be any additional salary or accelerated programme for PhD holders, and this is something you should be prepared for mentally and financially.

“Within this option, there are some career areas where the skills and abilities of PhDs are well utilised, such as management consultancy, patent law and qualitative analysis,” said Ms Jones. “For other career areas they should be using the generic and transferable skills and applying them to the role and career they decided upon.”

“For example, I have currently been working with a PhD student who decided on a career in supply chain and logistics, applied to major retail and transport employers and secured three job offers having gone through assessment centres and interviews for graduate entry posts. She will be starting her career with a major retail company in September - they did not specify that they required a PhD but she was prepared to apply to them. The compromise with this route for PhDs is that there may not be any additional salary or accelerated programme for them and this is something they have to be prepared for.”

Ms Jones advises new PhDs not to dismiss this option too soon as it is a realistic entry point and once in that job or industry they are gaining valuable and relevant experience and may also benefit from the training and development offered. They may also have the opportunity to accelerate their career, gain promotion and increase their salary but it will be based on being able to demonstrate in the job the benefits they can bring as PhDs.

“I would say this is true of all the options above - the individual has to take responsibility for their own career development and progress,” she said.

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