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Non-Academic Careers – Jobs for PhD Graduates

Written by Mark Bennett

Not all PhD students remain in academia after graduation. Many PhD graduates are able to thrive in industry roles because of the skills gained throughout their degree.

This page will introduce some of the main PhD jobs outside of academia in both STEM and non-STEM subjects. We’ve also provided tips for anyone hoping to make the transition themselves.

Where do PhD graduates end up?

There’s good evidence from the 2018/19 Graduate Outcomes Survey to suggest that PhD graduates are highly employable. This survey revealed that 70% of UK doctoral graduates were in full-time employment 15 months after graduation. PhD holders were also extremely likely to be working in highly skilled jobs. Examples include, as professionals or associate professionals, managers, directors or senior officials.

According to a study conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), 53% of UK PhD graduates who left academia were employed in non-research positions. Meanwhile, about 46% continued to work with research in industry. Whether you want to work in research or not, there are plenty of options available to PhD holders wishing to leave academia.

It is difficult to list the most common jobs for PhD graduates. Career pathways are highly varied and often depend on your field of study.

Graduates in STEM are likely to use their PhD in a different way than Arts and Humanities graduates. No matter your subject, research shows that PhD graduates who don’t enter academia are likely to have thriving careers in industry.

Jobs for PhD graduates outside of academia

You’ll find PhD holders in all walks of life. From pharmaceuticals to the public sector, PhD graduates are not short of options. You also don't have to begin your industry career straight after graduation. You could go from academia to industry (or the other way around) at any point in your career.

If you're interested in the type of industry work you may be qualified for, here are some illustrative examples:

  • A PhD in the Arts and Humanities demonstrates excellent written communication, presentation skills, creativity and analytical thinking. You may be suited to work for jobs in the Publishing industry, Digital Marketing or Civil Service.
  • A PhD in Biological and Medical Sciences builds specialist subject knowledge, data proficiency and collaborative skills. This will compliment work in industries such as Pharmaceuticals, Genomics or Clinical Care.
  • A PhD in Business and Finance will help build organisational and data skills that could benefit careers in Accountancy, Data Science or Consultancy.
  • A PhD in Chemical Sciences will provide you with laboratory skills and an advanced understanding of chemistry needed to benefit jobs in Chemical Engineering, Industrial Chemistry and Food Technology.
  • A PhD in Earth Sciences could set graduates up for careers in Construction, Environmental Protection or Mineral Surveying, utilising analytical skills and strong subject knowledge.
  • PhDs in Engineering have a strong emphasis on project management and practical construction. This could aid jobs in Management Consultancy and Finance as well as more practical fields such as Aeronautics.
  • The specialist knowledge gained from a PhD in Law can enable students to comfortably enter industries such as Investment. Additionally, soft skills gained in communication will help in careers such as Teaching or Public Engagement.
  • A PhD in Maths and Computing could benefit jobs in Finance, Investment or Web Development, complimenting skills in logic, problem solving and data.
  • A PhD in the Physical Sciences demonstrates experience with software and data. This could set graduates up to work in Software Engineering, Data Science or even Sound Engineering.
  • A PhD in Social Science and Health requires a deep understanding of human society on a macro or micro level. Graduates may find themselves working in Epidemiology, Public Health or Social Work.

You may be inclined to apply for jobs relating to the subject of your research or previous studies. But a PhD is a versatile enough qualification that you can often look outside your discipline area.

Non-academic jobs for PhDs in STEM subjects

A PhD in a STEM subject can be used in a broad range of non-academic contexts, from industrial research settings to the public sector. Industry careers for STEM PhD holders could involve intellectual property, regulatory matters, big data, pharmaceuticals or consultancy.

Non-academic jobs for PhDs in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

If your PhD is in an Arts, Humanities or Social Science (AHSS) discipline, the skills you have to offer differ from STEM PhD holders.

Your aptitudes as a AHSS PhD graduate are likely to be suited for industries where communication skills are necessary. The ability to research and write about complex topics will be in-demand across any number of companies and sectors. Also, creative thinking will be highly valued in strategic planning or industries such as marketing.

Why leave academia?

There are lots of valid reasons why you might not want to stay in academia after finishing your PhD. According to the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) just over 70% of PhD holders are no longer working in academia three and a half years after finishing their PhD. You certainly won’t be in the minority if you decide that this is the best route for you.

There’s no shame in deciding that academia isn’t right for you. It can be an incredibly competitive sector to work in, with tough competition for funding and positions. Short contracts can also put people in difficult positions with regards to financial stability.

But the good news is that you will have developed plenty of transferrable skills during your PhD. These will serve you well when it comes to finding employment.

How to make the transition to a non-academic career

You should invest some time during your PhD for personal and professional development (this is true if you want to stay in academia too!).

Even if you attend none of the formal courses offered, your PhD itself will provide you with many skills. When leaving academia, you'll need to translate your skills so they make sense to the industry. Think outside the box and take stock of what you are good at or have experience in.

Some translation examples include:

  • The dissertation shows you're capable of presenting and organising large amounts of information.
  • Having published papers shows you can communicate information across a range of formats.
  • If you did interviews for your research, you might have skills in questionnaire design, sensitivity and data analysis.

There’s always a way to link your academic experience to the commercial world. Be prepared to do this in any upcoming job interviews.

It’s also a good idea to move away from the long, multiple page academic CV that you might be used to. Employers won’t read them. They also won’t be interested in scanning a lengthy list of articles. Instead, you should mention that you’ve had several publications without detailing every instance.

Last updated - 09/12/2021

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