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. Think Ahead Blog – This blog, from the Researcher Development team at the University of Sheffield, has over one hundred profiles written by researchers who’ve found careers outside of academia. Use the hashtag #sheffvista to generate a list of all of the personal profiles on the site, and read about all the fantastic career paths open to PhDs.

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!

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

How to introduce yourself to employers outside academia, after your PhD


Question: When an employer asks me why I’m leaving higher education after my PhD, what do I say?
Answer: Introduce yourself as a professional who’s decided to change employment sectors.

One of the most common challenges researchers face when looking for work outside of higher education is knowing how to introduce yourself and your change of career. As regular readers will know, I recommend that you present yourself as a fellow professional who’s made a clear decision to change employment sectors. I believe this is a powerful and convincing strategy, and it’s certainly one I used myself when transitioning out of academia.

For some researchers, this narrative will come easily and they’ll have no trouble articulating it. Other researchers will find it very difficult to verbalise a convincing story. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like a failure who’s leaving academia behind, when actually you need to be positive about yourself and your skill set. So in this post I’ll give you a detailed method for creating a confident statement to introduce yourself to employers.

If you can tell a joke, you can deliver a great introduction!

I was fascinated to find out recently that many jokes follow a common formula. I was listening to an interview with Kevin Rogers, a former stand-up comedian who switched careers and who is now a professional copywriter. In his interview Kevin explains how he used to write jokes according to a four-step formula: Identity – Struggle – Discovery – Surprise. Let’s see how this formula works with an old favourite:

‘Waiter, Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup …’
‘Don’t shout too loudly madam, otherwise everyone will want one’.

So the first sentence introduces the identity of the protagonist (a diner), and the struggle they are undergoing (contaminated soup) following an unpleasant discovery (the fly). The response of the waiter plays on the sense of discovery, but rather than fixing the problem, the waiter asks the diner to keep quiet instead (the surprise). Think about some other jokes you know and you’ll see this formula at work, or listen to Kevin explain it further in episode 116 of the SPI podcast.

How did Kevin make his successful transition into copywriting and advertising? He found out that he could adapt his joke formula to write great advertising and marketing copy, by replacing the element of Surprise with the element of Results. Think for example of the Remington razor advert: a guy likes the convenience of an electric razor, except that it doesn’t give him such a close shave as wet shaving. He then discovers a model of electric razor which gets the same results as a wet shave, making him happy at last (so happy he bought the company). Once you know it, you’ll see this formula at work in all kinds of adverts and marketing campaigns.

It struck me while listening to Kevin that job hunting is another area where you use a story to convince an audience. I could certainly relate what he was saying to my personal experience of marketing myself when applying for my first jobs outside of higher education. For instance, this is how I introduced myself when applying for jobs in the sector of e-learning and web-based training, as my post-doc drew to a close (bear in mind this is 15 years ago, before MOOCs were even invented!):

‘I’m a professional researcher and educator. I’ve won three separate grants against tough competition to fund my work over the last 8 years, enabling me to complete my ambition to write a book. As I’ve seen the Internet grow, I’ve become more interested in technology, and especially its potential to democratise learning and bring education and training to a much wider audience. That’s why I now want to move into the private sector. This job will enable me to put my skills to work developing high-quality e-learning courses for your clients.’

So you can see how the first sentence establishes my IDENTITY (according to Kevin’s formula), while the second sentence describes my STRUGGLE and how I’ve overcome past challenges, while hinting that I’m also looking for a new challenge. The third sentence introduces my DISCOVERY of a new opportunity and passion, and the fourth sentence explains the RESULT, both for me and for the employer.

The message to my future employer was ‘I’m a professional who’s changing employment sectors’. There’s no mention of me being ‘a PhD/post-doc who’s leaving academia’! In fact you can see why describing yourself as a PhD leaving academia doesn’t work as an introduction, even though it’s literally true. You’re only presenting an identity and a struggle when you introduce yourself this way. There’s no personal story for the employer to relate to; and a busy Human Resources Manager sorting through a pile of CVs, or meeting scores of candidates at an event, doesn’t have the time to solve your career problems!

That’s why it’s so powerful to contextualise your career change in terms of a discovery, and back this up with a clear statement of the results you can deliver. You want to establish a human connection and the beginning of a professional relationship with the interviewer, not burden them with your troubles! You want to draw your interviewer into the story of how you’ve overcome past challenges, and help them appreciate the value you’ll bring to their organisation. Telling a personal story with a positive outcome helps you to build this feeling of trust and rapport. No wonder researchers find it difficult to move on with their careers while they keep talking about themselves as a PhD leaving academia …

I want you to use these insights to develop a statement that enables you to introduce yourself, confidently and convincingly, to an employer in business, government or the charity sector. So take action now:

1. Craft your introduction: On a sheet of paper write down Kevin’s four headings at intervals on the page: Identity – Struggle – Discovery – Result. Underneath each heading, write out some statements from your personal experience that fit into that category. Refine your statements until you have a clear four or five sentence story to introduce yourself to future employers. Once you have a basic story, you can customise your introduction for specific job opportunities.

2. Get the book: After listening to the interview with Kevin, and writing this post, I discovered he has a 50-page book called The 60-Second Sales Hook. In his book Kevin shows entrepreneurs and freelancers how to apply his 4-step method to marketing their products and services, by telling a powerful story about themselves. But a lot of what he says is directly relevant to  job applications too, because as we’ve seen in this post, applying for a job is the very essence of selling yourself! You can download a copy of Kevin’s book for free (email address required).

3. Share your story: I’d love to read the introductions that you come up with after reading this post! Feel free to post your introduction in a comment on this page. Maybe you have an even better approach to creating introductions? Then drop me a line through my contact page today.

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

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 researchers who’ve made such a transition on websites such as The Versatile PhD and From PhD to Life (for North American profiles), and the Think Ahead Blog (use the hashtag #sheffvista) and Vitae (for 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 five step researcher career transition model, courtesy of Jobs on Toast. My blog post the majority of PhDs are switching into careers outside academia introduces the model, and all posts on this site 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?