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.

Preparing for life after the PhD: retrain your brain

Preparing for life after the PhD: retrain your brain

In the final stages of your PhD you can become so absorbed in finishing that the last thing on your mind is what happens next! The risk of becoming too focussed however is that you don’t make the mind-set changes you’ll need to sustain yourself in post-PhD life. Life after the PhD is going to be very different, but no-one really warns you or helps you to prepare for it.

In this post I’m going to explain a new attitude that you need to cultivate in order to survive and thrive post-PhD. I draw on my own experience of making the transition from a PhD and post-doc in Medieval Studies into a business career.

My story

During my post-doc I was interviewed for a number of permanent academic posts around the UK. After my fifth interview rejection, I only had six months of my post-doc funding left. So I decided to leave academia and get a job in business instead. The main driver for me quitting academia was my unwillingness to accept part-time teaching and the associated pay just to ‘stay in the game’ for a permanent academic post.

My choice of sector, e-learning and web-based training, did leave the door open to a return to academia, but once I started in business I knew there was no going back. Reflecting on this decision more than a decade later, especially now that I’m thinking about serious stuff like paying into my pension and when (if!) I might ever be able to retire, I realise how costly those years of low wages and insecurity could have been.

I’m glad now that I made the decision that I did. If I’d reverted to part-time teaching after my post-doc funding had ended, when I was already 30 years old, as a family we’d definitely have been scraping by financially. My wife was a newly-qualified teacher at this point and we had a toddler too.

To some people I’m sure this would have been a price worth paying, as the prize of a lectureship or professorship would outweigh the prospect of a few months or years of hardship. In my case it wasn’t a price I was prepared to pay. This got me thinking about how my attitude and personal principles changed in the last few months of my research career.

Making the switch

As I said in my introduction, life after the PhD is very different and you need to be mentally prepared for this difference. One major change I believe you need to make in the final six months is to gradually switch off a powerful force that has sustained you for so long: deferred gratification. This is  the ability to make do with less now, in the anticipation of future gains.

Deferring gratification is great when you’re in a structured environment like education, as it keeps you focussed on the end goal of achieving your qualification. It gives you the power to knuckle down and write that chapter, read that book, rather than giving in to distractions and interruptions. But it’s not such a great capability when it comes to the next major priority after completing your PhD: finding a secure job that will pay you a decent salary and has benefits like a pension and health insurance to protect you.

So having spent more than two decades of your life in school deferring gratification, you’re suddenly in the position towards the end of your PhD where you need to start embracing it! All those things that we as PhDs have had to put off: having a family, buying and furnishing a home, going on holiday, paying off debt, suddenly become a real possibility.

In fact you have to transition quite rapidly from just ‘getting by’, into someone who can really start to ‘make a living’. You have to quickly learn how to present yourself to a hiring committee (i.e. no longer act like a grad student), negotiate yourself a good salary and benefits package, and start work in an unfamiliar place with sufficient professionalism to get you through your probation. The Professor Is In website has lots of great advice in this area by the way, relevant to both academic and non-academic careers.

The true cost of adjuncting

Already I can hear people saying ‘Yeah great in principle Chris we would wholeheartedly love to embrace gratification like you say, but where are all the well-paid jobs in academia?!’ True enough, the academic job market is currently terrible. Many of our peers are toiling away in under-employment as a result: working as adjuncts, or employed in the university bookshop, as a lab assistant or as local tour guides, waiting for things to improve.

So what started as a few months of ‘staying in the game’ can easily extend into a few years and then into a whole adjunct or under-employed way of life. As many of our peers have found to their cost, especially in the US, temporary and part-time working are now entrenched in the higher education system. In the US less than 25% of faculty appointments are now tenured or on the tenure-track (AAUP Economic Status Report 2012-13, p. 8). Meanwhile in the UK, more than a third of academics are on fixed-term contracts, according to a recent report in The Guardian – and this excludes 82,000 academics employed in jobs like hourly paid teaching!

The dream job that so many aspire to turns out to be just that: a dream that will never materialize. Ironically the academy, that last bastion of tenure, is today fronted by an army of casual workers on short-term contracts.

So in my view adjuncting and other kinds of under-employment done ‘while I’m waiting for my professorship to come up’ reflect to a degree the mind-set that I’ve already identified: a willingness to defer gratification for the prospect of future gains. Yes there’s a chance that things’ll work out next year on the academic job track, but you have to weigh that slim chance against the impact on your whole life of things not working out. Although some folks are willing to take a hit on their income in the short term, as already mentioned this can turn into a serious long-term problem, putting at risk many of the things that will help to define a ‘good life’ for you and your family.

This is what we can describe as ‘the true cost of adjuncting’: the risk of becoming permanently locked into under-employment. Many of our peers face the harsh reality of becoming LESS employable, as a result of their under-employment in academia. This is a crushing blow if you’re still wedded to the idea of accepting less now in the prospect of getting more tomorrow.

Empower yourself economically

So what’s the take-away here? Well to me the first thing to recognise is that your ability to delay gratification has been a powerful force that has sustained you throughout your school and university career. It’s done its job in that respect. But as you near the completion of your PhD, and your funding is running out, this driver actually becomes counterproductive. What you once put off, you now need to embrace, in order make a decent living post-PhD and assure your future comfort, health and dignity.

Having learned to empower ourselves intellectually, as PhDs we also need to learn how to empower ourselves economically. This doesn’t mean throwing away our principles in the blind pursuit of money. What I’m talking about here is a principled way forward, rejecting the exploitation of low paid and insecure work (adjuncting) or working for free (unpaid internships), in favour of a decent wage in return for our valuable skills and experience.

As mature, educated and committed workers, PhDs can be of tremendous value to all kinds of organisations outside of academia, including charities, government or business. Check out the profiles on PhDs At Work to see some real-life examples, including my own story. Take some time to read about people who’ve successfully shifted their focus from just getting by (as a grad student), to getting on in life (as a professional with a great job and career). The sooner you can make this mental shift for yourself, the sooner you can begin to realise your full potential and enjoy life after the PhD!

So don’t sleepwalk down the academic job route just because you’re still in delayed gratification mode, or because you’re afraid of upsetting your supervisors. Once you’re awarded your PhD you’re not a student any more – you are your own person who has to make their way in a very challenging world. Yes it can feel like ‘selling out’ or ‘giving up everything’ to go for a job outside of academia. Yes it can sound crass and materialistic to even talk in terms of a desire to own property or assure yourself a decent retirement income. But if higher education can’t offer you a means to support yourself and your family now and in the future, that’s a structural problem, which is unlikely to be fixed very soon.

Be bold and take matters into your own hands. Make a start today and consider your options for a career outside of academia, even if that plan is only your Plan B. There’s a very good chance it’ll become your Plan A before too long.

The e-book How to Find a Career with your Humanities Degree in 126 Days by James Mulvey is a fantastic resource for PhDs who are changing careers. Read my review or visit James’ site Sell Out Your Soul to find out more.

This post was first published as a guest post over at PhD Talk: thanks Eva for your agreement to reproduce it here!


Free resource guide: 10 career websites every PhD should visit!


To help showcase the fantastic range of careers PhDs are pursing these days, I’ve put together a resource guide listing my top 10 post-PhD interview websites. Click on the link below to download your free copy. Please share it with your peers and send a copy to your university careers service – and to your supervisors!

Resource Guide: 10 career websites every PhD should visit – by Chris Humphrey