Career Destinations: Options after PhD Study

There are many reasons why we might choose to do a PhD, but they arguably become redundant if we fail to get a job at the end of it. Indeed the main reason one puts oneself through doctoral study is to start a career in academia, or to get a job outside academia which is better than what one would achieve with an undergrad degree. Research is great but we have bills to pay so lest we forget.

Careers are a common discussion amongst the graduate hub. Introductory exchanges of ‘So what is your research is about?’ are often proceeded by ‘What do you want to do after the PhD?’ Is this because we’re all meant to have a focus? Some kind of grand plan for where the doctorate will take us when we’ve barely started? I’m the queen of grand plans, but mine alter and shift all the time and for this reason I’ve learnt that plans need to be flexible. That said, if you do have an idea of what you want to do after your studies, a little focus and preparation will go a long way in helping you achieve those goals.

This was the starting point of a recent talk given by Career Destinations during our graduate school seminar series. Interestingly, more first and second year doctoral students were in attendance than final years, proof that it is something we are thinking about throughout our PhDs. I picked up a few stats from this seminar which at least put our fate in some context:

  • 20,000 Doctorates are now awarded in the UK each year. I guess we’re not as special as we thought.
  • Career destinations for doctoral candidates are 48% academia and 52% non-academia. Fairly 50:50, but they expect to see a shift with more people moving away from academia as there are an increasing number of PhDs awarded and proportionally fewer academic roles.
  • 65% of academic jobs are filled through networking. So it’s not what you know . . .?
  • Those holding a doctoral degree will, on average, earn £250,000 more over a lifetime than people with undergrad degrees. As much as I love this statistic, there’s obviously something to be said for the kind of person who achieves a PhD (hard-working, intelligent, motivated) and how this could affect future remuneration asmuch, or more, than a physical qualification.

What I found most encouraging from the talk was the emphasis not on our PhD (although a quality research project is clearly important), but on everything else that we might do in that three years and prior. The roles and responsibilities we take on and wider impact we make, whether it be seminar convenor, hockey team president or piano teacher. We have looked previously on the blog at the transferable skills we might gain as a PhD student, something employers are keen to see evidence of. One way to do this is to keep a skills and experience log which can be updated as you go through your studies, that way, when you come to write a job application you won’t forget anything. Apparently, rather than see a PhD as three years in Never Never Land, which is a concern of mine when it comes to applying for jobs outside academia, many employers see it as a job (which it is) and moreover a job which you have been the project manager for, so work with this! I think then the take home message is, take opportunities to widen your experiences, be savvy about how you communicate these experiences as a tool to demonstrate broader skills, and as always, don’t panic.


One comment

  1. […] my PhD and started a job with the Environment Agency as a Geomorphology Technical Officer. Emma has already mentioned in a blog recently that more and more people are finding jobs outside of academia when they finish their postgraduate […]

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