Your job options after a PhD – in a diagram

Your job options after a PhD - in a diagram

What are your job options after you complete your PhD ? I don’t just mean within academia, but much more broadly – since doctoral researchers are capable of doing so many things after a PhD? I drew this diagram to help illustrate the range of career options open to researchers:

Post-PhD career options grid

The diagram shows that after completing your PhD, you have the option to apply for jobs in either the SAME or DIFFERENT employment sectors (SAME=Academia, DIFFERENT=Health Service, I.T., Financial Services, Government etc.).

You also have the option to apply for jobs where you’ll continue to use your academic subject knowledge, in which case your ‘subject’ stays the SAME too. Basically, these are traditional academic jobs. Or you can get a job using the range of transferable skills you’ve gained during your PhD, in which case your subject would now be DIFFERENT: you’d be working primarily in an applied area like administration, project management, marketing or computer programming, and not in an academic subject area like the humanities or chemistry (for simplicity I’m assuming that your PhD is not in one of the applied areas listed).

So the resulting 2×2 matrix shows that a doctoral researcher has 4 main employment options (leaving aside self-employment), which are shown as numbers on the diagram:

  1. Academic: You can continue your career within the Higher Education sector, applying for posts as a lecturer or to carry out research in the area of subject knowledge that you’ve studied and been trained in.
  2. Alternative academic: You can continue to work within the Higher Education sector, but you can start to specialise in a subject area or body of knowledge that differs from your core academic discipline. For instance you can apply for posts in university administration, careers advice or fundraising. If you were to manage a research centre in your area of academic subject expertise, this would put you on the borderline between 1 and 2.
  3. Research, Publishing and Consultancy: You can continue to work within the same area of subject knowledge as your PhD, but do so in a job outside of Higher Education, applying for posts such as a researcher working in a lab for a private company, or in a government department.
  4. Professional: You can apply for posts in another sector where you won’t be using the specific academic subject knowledge that you gained from your PhD discipline either. For example, I now work as a project manager for an ethical bank. I don’t manage projects relating to History or Literature (my academic training) – but I do manage technology projects and I help the bank to launch new financial products and services.

To explore these employment options further, just click the hyperlinked job titles to view current vacancies at – you may need to filter by country, state or city.

This post was updated to include the diagram embedded in the text, rather than as a downloadable PDF, in April 2016.

Further reading – choosing your profession

Life after the PhD: 8 inspiring post-PhD interview websites, by Chris

Life after the PhD: 8 inspiring post-PhD interview websites


What could your life look like after your PhD, if you chose to pursue a career outside of academia? You can find out by browsing through the hundreds of inspiring post-PhD interviews, profiles and autobiographies available online. To save you the trouble of tracking them all down, here are 8 websites which carry some of the best post-PhD interviews and profiles. In no particular order they are:

1. PhDs At Work — Insight and Advice on Life Beyond Academia. Michelle Erickson takes the PhD interview format to a whole new level with her ‘week-in-the-life’ approach. PhDs working in corporate and non-profit sectors give accounts of what they do in their day jobs, showing how skills learned in the PhD are put to use outside of academia. Professional photography and cool site navigation make this site a real pleasure to use. My favourite part is the way that each contributor’s dissertation title is listed too! Sign up by email to get a post every day of the week, when a new interview is posted.

2. From PhD to Life – Jennifer Polk’s blog has massively raised the profile of informational interviewing as a tool to assist with PhD career development. The Transition Questions and Answers section of the site contains Jen’s interviews with PhDs who’ve taken the plunge and are now enjoying fantastic and fulfilling careers! This approach has elicited some great insights and advice from PhDs: two of my all-time favourite interviews are with Sarah Kendzior and Sam Ladner. There’s also a useful list of links to individual PhD interviews to found elsewhere on the web.

3. The Versatile PhD – VPhD is already well-known for its discussion forums, job postings and local area meet-ups. The site also has a Premium area where you can find 80 personal profiles written by humanities and social science PhDs who were hired straight out of academia. Not only that, you can read some of the actual resumes and cover letters they used to get their post-ac jobs! In addition you can view career autobiographies from PhDs who have been out of academia for a while and from 1 July 2013, the profiles section will be expanded to include 60 STEM researchers. Check whether your university or association is on the list of subscribing institutions for the Premium content.

4. Beyond the PhD – This rich resource from the University of Reading features profiles of researchers who have gone into both academic and non-academic careers. There is so much content here that you could be browsing for days, with audio clips as well as timelines and transcripts! Helpfully the audio clips are also organised by topic, such as ‘Deciding against an academic career’ and ‘Employer attitudes to the PhD’, so you can come back again and again at different stages in your career journey.

5. GradSquare – On this site you can sign up for live jobs that match your profile, or contact recruiters directly and let them find you a job. There’s also an excellent podcast series, GradSquare Radio, which has interviews with researchers working both inside and outside academia. Listen to the interviews directly on the site or subscribe in iTunes.

6. Vitae – This fantastic UK website for researchers has a whole section dedicated to careers outside academia. In this section you can browse more than thirty five profiles of researchers now working in non-academic roles, including suggestions and advice, and a link to their LinkedIn profile. If you fancy setting up your own business, you can check out more than thirty profiles of researchers who are now entrepreneurs.

7. PhD Career Guide – Mike D’Ecclessis’s career website is another place to find in-depth audio interviews with PhDs outside academia, and promises great things in the future, judging by the quality of the guests so far. You can listen to the interviews on the site or subscribe in iTunes. I really enjoyed the interview with Nathan Vanderford, especially his reflections on the importance of being ‘career conscious’ during your PhD – I plan to write a blog post on this theme soon.

8. What Are All The PhDs? Sharing the Career Path of All PhDs – This is a great idea: people with PhDs can submit a career profile to this tumblr site founded by Nathan Vanderford. Since the contributors sprinkle their profiles with links, you can also get access to the ‘world of work’ beyond the individual, which is especially helpful for learning more about particular career paths out of academia. Go ahead and submit your profile to the site!

Take action now: I’ve expanded this post into a handy PDF version, which you can download and share for free: Resource Guide: 10 career websites that every PhD should visit!

If you know of a great interview site that’s not listed here, please let me know via my contact form or through my Facebook page. I hope you enjoy reading and listening to these interviews as much as I did! Fell free to leave a comment below to let everyone know your favourites, or tweet me @chrishumphrey.

This page was updated with two new websites in April 2016.

Further reading – choosing your profession

Your job options after a PhD – in a diagram, by Chris
How to search for your ideal job outside academia, by Chris

Take control of your career by switching into a job outside of academia

‘Who do you want to work for?’ and ‘Where do you want to work?’ are two questions you’re unlikely to hear in any discussion of the current academic job market! Given the desperate state of the market today, with many more candidates than jobs, the idea of having a choice about your first post in academia seems pie-in-the-sky. Researchers are resigned to going anywhere they can get work, even if the position and location aren’t a great fit (adjuncting in North Dakota, anyone?).

Ask these two questions in the context of jobs outside of academia however, and you get a very different response. The sheer amount of options can be quite overwhelming at first: ‘You mean, I get to CHOOSE who I work for, and where?!’ Well, obviously you still have to apply for and get the job! But you definitely have more control over your employment terms – salary, location, workload and work-life balance – in comparison with posts inside higher education.

So let’s take a look at the abundance of career opportunities outside academia, with a view to helping you choose your next job after your PhD or post-doc.

Careers outside academia

Some people mistakenly imagine (from inside the academy) that PhDs only venture out of higher education as far as publishing houses, or into research labs. The reality is that PhDs are enjoying successful careers in a broad range of organisations beyond academia. I recently listened to a radio profile of Angela Merkel, a PhD in quantum chemistry, who as Chancellor of Germany is running the biggest economy in Europe …

There are lots of dedicated websites where you can go and read interviews with PhDs who’ve successfully switched into careers outside of academia. Take a look at PhDs At Work for instance. This fantastic site has profiles of PhDs who are employed across a range of sectors, from coaching to environmental health to film and the arts (look out for me too!) These researchers are succeeding on the back of the skills and experience they gained from their doctoral research, not in spite of them.

You check out my post on Life after the PhD for a fuller list of websites carrying interviews and profiles with PhDs employed outside academia, or download and keep my free guide to The 10 career websites every PhD should visit.

Who do you want to work for?

So, who do you want to work for? You might decide that you actually want to work for yourself. An increasing number of PhDs are setting up their own businesses in fields like marketing, consulting and coaching. Being your own boss may not be that different from doing a research project – a lot of the same skills are required, such as time-management, self-motivation and dedicated hard work.

If you decide you want to work for someone else, you have three main options – non-profit, government and business:

Working for a non-profit, you’re going to be using your transferable skills in a role that supports the organisation’s mission. This mission could be health-related, environmental, artistic or may involve helping disadvantaged groups in society or in another country. This is a great way to put your expertise to work, in a research capacity (e.g. with a medical charity) or as a subject specialist or an administrator.

Your second option is to work in local or national government. In local government you’re going to be responsible for the delivery of a service to the public– this could be heritage, libraries, schools or planning for instance. I know of several PhDs who’ve gone into museum management – they are now heads of their own collections. If you go to work in national government, you can find a home for your research skills in a policy unit, or perhaps further afield as a diplomat. One of my contemporaries from the University of York is now the British High Commissioner to Kenya!

Your third option is to work for a company. From the perspective of academia, it’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to business, and think that you have to sell your soul to work in a company. Actually, there are many companies which are doing a great deal of good in the world while turning a modest profit. I strongly encourage you to find out about small and medium-sized companies with an ethical, social or sustainable mission. Companies in the ethical and green sectors tend to have an open-minded recruitment policy, and want to employ people who are aligned with their values – read about my personal experience working for a sustainable bank for instance.

Where do you want to work?

Having spent a long time living and working in a university town or city while completing your PhD, it can be quite a wrench to have to up sticks and move to a new job. Certainly for recent doctoral graduates, it would be quite unusual for an ideal academic post to come up locally, so relocation is a very likely prospect when taking a post in higher education.

When looking at your career options outside of academia however, the ability to stay put can be a nice perk. Why not start your own business in the location you know best – your home town or city? Or go to work for a local employer who’s looking for someone of your calibre and potential? While the offices of large and popular employers like Google may be located hundreds of miles away, or in another country, you may find that one of their suppliers or spin-offs has an office just down the road …

On the other hand, if you fancy a change of scenery, a job outside of academia can be your passport to a dream location. Very few posts will come up at the University of Hawaii for instance! But once you’re looking for work outside of higher education, you’re free to search for opportunities in the exact location that you and your partner want to live. Especially once it comes to starting a family, your priorities change, and finding job security and a nice place to settle down become paramount.

It’s your choice!

If you’re following the current commentary on the academic job market, you’ll know that it’s dominated by feelings of scarcity, insecurity, compromise and under-employment. Researchers are taking temporary, low-paid teaching work in universities in the hope that by ‘staying in the game’, something more permanent will eventually come up. This is an understandable strategy, but the odds of decent employment may actually decrease over time, and you’ll still have little control over when or where you’ll finally get a job.

By contrast, we’ve seen how you can gain more choice and self-determination by opting for self-employment, or for a job in an organisation outside of academia. In my own case, my first job after my post-doc was working for an e-learning company in the south-east of England – right job, wrong location! After nearly two years we relocated to the south-west of England, which was a much better fit in terms of quality of life and affordable housing for our growing family. Thirteen years later and we’re still here!

So where will you end up working, and who will you be working for? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these two questions – please leave a comment below, or drop me note via Twitter or the Jobs on Toast Facebook page.

An earlier version of this article was published over at How to Leave Academia.

Further reading – choosing your profession

How to gain work experience for jobs outside academia, by Chris
Free Resource Guide: 10 career websites every PhD should visit, by Chris
Your job options after a PhD – in a diagram, by Chris
How to search for your ideal job outside academia, by Chris
How to research your target job sector, by Chris
How to find jobs advertised at PhDs, by Chris
How to get help and advice when applying for jobs outside academia, by Chris
‘But I don’t really know what I want to do!’, by Chris
Deciding who to work for after the PhD, by Chris
Project Management as a career path for PhDs, by Chris