PhD Employability

Around now a lot of people are starting to think about doing a PhD; you may well be doing so yourself, or have already submitted an application. Trev Bond has posted a couple of good pieces recently on what PhD life is like and reasons for doing a PhD. I’m going to do something a little different and tell you reasons why you shouldn’t do a PhD!

I want to focus on job opportunities for post-docs in order to help you think about whether a PhD is the right route and I feel some of the issues I’m going to address are not widely spoken about. I don’t speak from a great wealth of experience, but I have previously working in Graduate Recruitment for the UK’s biggest graduate recruiter so have some knowledge of what industry is looking for.

There is no doubt that having a PhD greatly improves your qualifications, skills and by extension your employability. It is worth emphasising though this employability is most enhanced in a very specific direction. To use the example of my own discipline (Geomorphology/Hydrology), having a PhD is going to increase my chances of successfully landing a job in research, environmental consulting, environment/water NGO’s etc. How it will increase my chances of becoming a banker (again!) or an accountant is less clear.

Don’t make the mistake of the South Park Underpants Gnomes:

1. Get Phd —-2. ? —–3.  Profit!!

Particularly if you are looking to move into a more generic career path following a PhD the disadvantages can sometimes outweigh the benefits. An employer will look at your CV and wonder why you have dedicating 3/4y of your life to something, only to turn your back on it and try something else. I guarantee one of the first questions if you get an interview will be why you did a PhD and then why you have turned to something else. You will need to convince them that you are not drifting and are not going to turn your back on their industry after 4 years. It is not impossible to overcome this, but it is important to emphasise that sometimes a PhD can make you overqualified for things.

Another scenario is when you already know you don’t wish to continue into a research path and are thinking of a PhD as a CV boosting exercise. Assuming you want to enter a related industry, it is important to research what the starting grade a post-doc would enter the company at, and compare this to the grade a BSc/BA (or MSc) graduate enters at and the subsequent career progression. At an environmental consultancy I worked at a PhD would enter as a consultant, a graduate as an assistant consultant and the progression between the two grades was about 3 years. Therefore in career terms the PhD gains you nothing over the 3/4 years. You can argue the PhD sets you up for more rapid future progression, and this could well be the case, but you are also short 4 years of work experience over your “competitor”. In such a scenario a taught or research masters might achieve your goal, increasing your skills and employability in industry in only a year of extra study.

PhD’s are incredibly valuable qualifications, and I take nothing away from that. Doing one for one of the many reasons Trev listed is a great idea; however I want to emphasise they are not a passport to instant or even easy career success and most of all they are not a generic qualification. By doing one you move your career strongly in one path; down that path a PhD is invaluable, but you may find it hard to take a new route after graduation.

I hope this advice is useful, if your experiences are different why not leave us a comment and add to the debate.



  1. […] answers are actually pretty obvious when you think about it. Simon Dixon has already discussed the pitfalls of PhD Employability on this very blog but I thought I’d take a different approach and explain to you why doing a PhD […]

  2. anjali taro · · Reply

    i really like geography very much . i want to accept geography as my profession too . Hence i am trying to get knowledge about professional scope in geography . i am in standard 10 .

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