What jobs does a PhD qualify me for?

Question: What jobs does a PhD qualify you for? We know it’s a prerequisite for working as a teacher or researcher in a university department, but what else?

Answer: To be honest, very few other jobs actually REQUIRE you to have a PhD. Let’s face it, a PhD demonstrates your capability and experience in (1) a subject matter area and (2) in an employment sector. The further away a target job is from your area of expertise, or from higher education-like work, the less weight the PhD itself carries. And the more you’ll have to rely on your transferable skills and personality when job-hunting.

So for instance, if you’re applying for jobs in academic publishing, then your PhD will carry a certain weight – you’ll know the academic literature in your field for instance, and you can edit a manuscript (like you edited your dissertation). Similarly, with a science PhD, you can bring your scientific knowledge to bear for a research job in a commercial lab. On the flip side, a PhD can qualify you for administrative and management roles in higher education, since you’re already familiar with how universities work, and the needs of students.

Where a PhD carries the least weight, and where you’ll instead need to rely on demonstrating your transferable skills, is when applying for jobs where there’s no overlap with either your subject expertise or with higher education. So for instance, my first job outside of academia was working for an e-learning company. My PhD in Medieval Studies didn’t qualify me for working in a private tech start-up – but my transferable skills and enthusiasm did!

So in conclusion, the further away you move from your subject area and from higher education, the less ‘qualified’ you are, as far as the direct value of your higher degree is concerned. But you’re perfectly well qualified in many other ways – you just need to match your transferable skills, and your sense of mission and purpose, with the skills and attributes that an employer is looking for.

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This post was first published as a guest post over at Beyond the Professoriate.

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