PhD Employability and Earnings |
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PhD Employability and Earnings

Written by Ben Taylor

PhDs provide you with an opportunity to pursue original research in your area of specialism, allowing you to eventually become a genuine expert.

But will a PhD help you get a job or earn a better salary? And what are your career prospects in and outside of academia?

This page uses data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and the UK Government to give you an idea of PhD employment rates and earnings.

Will a PhD make me more employable?

A PhD is a versatile, well-respected qualification that can prepare you for a range of careers – both within and outside academia. Transferrable skills like project management, research capabilities and public speaking will be valued by employers across a range of sectors.

Data from the UK government shows that, compared to those among taught Masters graduates, PhD employment rates are higher. This information is based on the Graduate Outcomes survey by HESA that contacted graduates from the 2017-18 academic year 15 months after finishing their courses.

Bear in mind when looking at the data on this page that it isn’t a guarantee that you’ll enjoy the same benefits from your PhD. After all, it’s historical information – but it can be a good way to gauge future prospects.

Destinations of 2018-19 higher education leavers
Status Masters (taught) Doctoral research
Full-time employment 63% 70%
Part-time employment 9% 9%
Employment and further study 10% 10%
Further study 6% 1%
Other 12% 10%
Information in this table is based on data derived from the 2018-19 Graduate Outcomes survey, conducted by HESA. It reveals the destinations of UK university graduates after 15 months.

As you can see from the table above, doctoral researchers are around 7% more likely to be in full-time employment than their Masters graduate counterparts. This might not seem like a particularly big gap – especially given the time and financial investment that a PhD can involve – but the same survey shows more promising gains for PhD holders in terms of earnings and seniority of job roles.

Will a PhD help me get a better job?

According to HESA, the vast majority of PhD holders are employed in professional occupations. In fact, if you have a PhD you’re around 8% more likely to have a professional role than someone with a taught Masters.

There is a fairly small difference when it comes to the most senior roles – managers and directors – with Masters graduates slightly more likely to hold these kinds of position.

Postgraduate careers
Position Postgraduate (taught) Postgraduate (research)
Managers, directors and senior officials 6% 4%
Professional occupations 66% 84%
Associate professional and technical occupations 17% 9%
Total 89% 97%
Information in this table is based on data derived from the 2018-19 Graduate Outcomes survey, conducted by HESA. It reveals the destinations of UK university graduates after 15 months.

Will a PhD increase my salary?

Another factor you might think about when considering a doctorate is whether it’ll improve your earning potential.

Looking again at the Graduate Outcomes survey from HESA, it does seem that PhD holders are more likely to enjoy higher earnings than people with a Masters degree.

As you can see in the table below, those with a PhD are more likely to earn more than £30,000 per year than their Masters counterparts. 87% of PhD respondents to the survey replied that they earned above £30,000, compared to 43% of Masters graduates.

Earnings of 2018-19 higher education leavers
Annual salary (£) Masters (taught) PhD
Less than 15,000 2% 0%
15,000 – 17,999 4% 0%
18,000 – 20,999 11% 1%
21,000 – 23,999 11% 2%
24,000 – 26,999 16% 4%
27,000 – 29,999 11% 5%
30,000 – 32,999 11% 17%
33,000 – 35,999 7% 20%
36,000 – 38,999 5% 14%
39,000 – 41,999 4% 10%
42,000 – 44,999 2% 5%
45,000 – 47,999 3% 4%
48,000 – 50,999 3% 4%
51,000+ 11% 13%
Information in this table is based on data derived from the 2018-19 Graduate Outcomes survey, conducted by HESA. It reveals the destinations of UK university graduates after 15 months. Additional analysis by FindAMasters.

Another source of information on salaries for PhD graduates in the UK is HMRC’s postgraduate outcomes dataset. This uses tax data rather than relying on people who respond to a survey (like HESA’s Graduate Outcomes), so can be a particularly useful way of measuring earnings.

The table below is from the 2018-19 tax year and compares the median earnings from several different periods after graduation.

Median earnings of UK postgraduates
Median annual salary Masters (taught) PhD
One year after graduation £27,400 £33,200
Three years after graduation £30,300 £36,100
Five years after graduation £32,800 £38,000
10 years after graduation £34,700 £43,100
Information in this table is based on the UK Government's postgraduate outcomes dataset, which is derived from HMRC's data on the 2018-19 tax year.

How many PhD students become professors?

Although there aren’t any datasets that show how many PhD students go on to become professors, there are surveys that reveal the proportion of PhD holders who continue their careers in higher education.

Analysis by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) reveals that about 20% of PhD holders are classified as ‘higher education teaching professionals’ three and a half years after finishing their programme. An additional 10% remain in academia and are involved in research.

Just over half of those people who had left academia after completing their PhD ended up working in a research role. It’s also worth bearing in mind that STEM PhD holders are more likely to find work in a research role than Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences students.

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Last Updated: 10 March 2022