Your PhD, what next?: Non-academic jobs
After finishing your PhD, you may want to work outside of academia. Find out how to succeed in the job market...
Where can I work?
A PhD is recognised by employers across a wide range of sectors as a sign that you will bring a distinctive skill set to their organisation. There are also opportunities where your subject-specific skills and knowledge will be in demand.
Do not, however, limit yourself to applying for jobs that specifically require a PhD. Unless a PhD is a prerequisite for the job, employers won't necessarily mention it in their advertisements.
Sectors and types of work likely to match the skills and aspirations of PhD graduates include:
- Education (teaching) - outside of higher education there are opportunities to gain relevant teaching qualifications and to teach your subject in schools or to lecture in a further education (FE) college. For information on how to become a qualified teacher, see teacher training.
- Education (administrative and professional roles) - non-teaching roles are available in universities and other educational institutions. In universities, for example, PhD graduates are valued for their administrative skills and understanding of the research environment.
- Public sector - PhD graduates are valued in roles within the Civil Service, government agencies and local government for their analytical, research and communication skills. Your subject-specific knowledge will also be in demand if your research is relevant to specific public sector policy and strategy areas. Find out what it's like to work in the public sector.
- Industry research and development - opportunities exist to continue your research in commercial and industrial environments, for example in the medical, pharmaceutical and engineering sectors. Roles are likely to combine applied research with project management. Many higher-level positions within research and development are only open to those with a PhD.
- Healthcare sector and medical research - the health sector is a relatively common destination for PhD graduates who wish to continue or build on their area of research, in the NHS or public research institutes. PhD graduates are also recruited to non-research roles.
- Business and finance - jobs are available in areas such as investment and retail banking, insurance and pensions. PhD graduates are particularly valued if they have specialist quantitative and statistical training, and high-level analytical and communication skills.
- Consultancy - your ability to work on projects and to devise novel solutions to problems are of value in a range of management consultancy contexts, such as business and finance, technology and IT. Think tanks also offer opportunities for PhD graduates. Search for opportunities in business, consulting and management.
- Publishing - the analytical and writing skills developed preparing papers and writing a thesis are essential skills for the publishing sector. PhD students who get involved with reviewing journal papers during their studies are well placed to move into writing and editorial roles.
- Intellectual property (IP) - jobs are available for science, engineering or technology PhD graduates looking to put their skills in lateral thinking and writing into practice, in roles such as patent attorney.
- Not-for-profit sector - opportunities in charities, voluntary and non-governmental organisations often include openings related to your area of research. For more information, see charities and voluntary work.
- Entrepreneurial activities - the problem-solving and creative-thinking skills developed during your PhD, together with your communication and networking skills, mean that you may be suited to starting your own business. PhD graduates are often drawn to working independently and to developing their career on their own terms. Find out how to set up a business in self-employment.
For more areas of work outside of academia likely to be of interest to PhD graduates, search graduate jobs, login to what jobs would suit me? for helful career suggestions, and see Vitae - Career opportunities outside higher education
Although some jobs that attract PhD graduates offer a relatively high starting salary to reflect the level of expertise the employer is looking for, this is not always the case. A significant number of posts that are open to both first degree and PhD graduates will have the same starting salary for all new employees. Once in post, there is typically scope for PhD graduates to progress to management and senior management positions.
Skills and characteristics
Employers will be looking for evidence that you can demonstrate competency and achievement in the skill areas relevant to the job, for example:
- analytical thinking and problem-solving abilities;
- ability to bring new ideas, curiosity and innovative approach to the organisation;
- ability to solve complex problems;
- project management and organisation skills;
- leadership potential;
- ability to work independently and in a team;
- excellent communication and client-facing skills;
- motivation and the ability to meet deadlines.
Find out more about how you can develop your skills.
Improving your chances
- Work experience, internships and placements - can help you gain relevant experience, skills and contacts for your chosen career path. Employers will want to see that you have had experience in environments outside of academia.
- Mentoring - find yourself a mentor, ideally someone who is working in the field you are interested in. They will talk through your options, help with decision making and provide you with an insight into their work.
- Work on campus - paid work can provide extra income during your research and help you gain a range of skills and experience. Teaching experience, for example, can provide valuable transferable skills even if you do not stay in education beyond your PhD.
- Taking on leadership roles and other responsibilities - whether it is captain of a sports team or heading up a student-led committee, these activities will provide you with concrete evidence that you have achieved in leadership roles. Take on additional responsibilities, for example become a mentor for an undergraduate who is considering doing a PhD.
- Raising your profile - consider how to get yourself known in circles outside of academia through, for example, setting up a blog or presenting at conferences relevant to the sectors you wish to work in.
- Networking - build contacts and widen your networks by connecting with people in the area of work you are interested in. Be systematic about keeping records of people you have met and use professional networking sites, for example LinkedIn
, to stay in contact and let them know what you are doing. Let family, friends and other associates know that you are looking for work.
Finding a job
- PhD Jobs
- job vacancies for those with doctoral qualifications.
- Times Higher Education (THE)
- for academic and non-academic jobs in the higher education sector.
- Job websites of major newspapers, e.g. Guardian Jobs
- includes non-academic higher education jobs.
- Professional journals and specialist magazines relevant to your employment area, e.g. Nature Jobs
and New Scientist Jobs
- Professional associations and bodies relevant to your employment area often advertise job opportunities.
- Careers service - many employers contact universities directly to advertise their positions. Also, sign up to careers talks given by employers in your area of interest.
- Register your CV online - recruitment websites such as PhD Jobs
, Guardian Jobs and Monster
allow you to post your CV online and then wait for employers to contact you.
- Employment agencies - for a list of member agencies in your career area, visit the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC)
website. Even if the employment agency doesn't produce your dream job, temporary jobs can be a good way to find out more about a particular career and are a way in to an organisation.
Find out more about job hunting.
Written by Jayne Sharples, University of Birmingham