Why you need to start thinking about a career outside academia – today!

Ask a first or second year PhD student what they want to do after completing, and you can bet that most will answer that they want to get an academic job. A certain proportion of all PhDs will indeed go on to secure academic posts. But how many?

In fact, a 2008 UK study showed that only 44% of doctoral graduate respondents were working in higher education 3 years after graduating, and only 22% of respondents were actually employed in H.E. teaching and lecturing roles (What do researchers do? Vitae, 2010, pages 4 and 15 – only accessible to registered users).

This statistic comes as a shock to many researchers – only 44%?! What happened to the rest? If you are currently a PhD student who is more than halfway to completion, it makes you realise that you need to put some serious time and effort into thinking about your non-academic career options! This is because:

  1. You may not get a permanent academic job, however hard you try, so it makes sense to have a Plan B;
  2. You may already know that you don’t want to follow an academic career path, so you need to consider your options for a mainstream career;
  3. You may want to review all of the options and decide which career route is right for you – academic or non-academic.

The flip side to the 44% statistic is that many PhD students don’t appreciate that the skills they have developed during their studies are very attractive to employers, including big hi-tech names like IBM and Google (click names to search job openings). The challenges and rewards of getting out into the world and putting your ideas into practice can be fantastic!

So actually you should give a career in industry or in public service some serious consideration, and not just treat it as a fallback position. You can read the career profiles of PhD researchers who’ve made such a transition on websites such as The Versatile PhD and From PhD to Life (North American profiles) and Beyond the PhD and Vitae (UK profiles).

In summary, while it will depend upon your own career goals as to whether a non-academic route is your Plan A or Plan B, it makes good sense to set some time aside to develop such a plan. If you don’t have at least a Plan B, you may find yourself unemployed or having to take low-paid work if you’re unable to secure a permanent lectureship or research position after you complete your PhD.

To make it easy for you to develop your personal plan, you can follow a four-step postgraduate career transition model, courtesy of Jobs on Toast. My blog post kick-start your career planning introduces the model, and later posts are categorised according to which step of the model they fall into.

Take action now: Take some time out from your studies to read the career profiles at the links given above. Who inspires you the most? You can use the comments box below to share your thoughts or to leave a question.

Further reading – getting started:

Use my Career Roadmap to kick-start your career planning, by Chris
Get organised – create a Career Planner, by Chris
Deciding when to quit the academic job search, part 1, by Chris
Deciding when to quit the academic job search, Part 2, by Chris
Preparing for life after the PhD – re-train your brain, by Chris

About Chris

I've made the transition from a PhD in Medieval Studies, into a career in business, consulting and project management. But I want to give something back to the researcher community, and help everyone who's facing the challenge of finding work outside academia. Jobs on Toast is a way for me to share my insights and experience, helping you to make a successful career change. Use my five-step plan to get started right away!

2 Replies to “Why you need to start thinking about a career outside academia – today!”

  1. “You may not get a permanent academic job, however hard you try (less than half do)”— Well, many of the (100-44)% without academic jobs didn’t want one and didn’t try, so the wording here is a little off.