Jobs for PhDs: Work Opportunities in the Non-Academic World

jobs for phds

If you have a PhD and struggle to get a job, don’t feel like you’re alone. Most people who want to work outside of academia have trouble finding good jobs for PhDs. The majority of PhD career advice students get is also geared toward staying in academic positions. There’s little information available about non-academic career options for PhDs to pursue an industry position.

Because of this, many graduate students end up going after jobs for PhDs that they’re actually overqualified for. Their job search consists of applying for positions that require only a MA from graduate school or BA in their field. Even still it can be difficult for PhD graduates to get hired for these positions. Often industry employers pass on hiring applicants that are overqualified for the job, either because they know they can’t pay a PhD the wage they deserve, or because they expect you only want that job as a stop-gap until you land a position you really want in academia.

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Even if you are motivated to stay in academic settings, that just might not be a realistic option. There simply aren’t enough assistant professor positions and tenure-track jobs for every new PhD fresh out of graduate school. The US produces more PhDs than almost any other rich country, while universities increasingly rely on part-time hires instead of offering full academic careers. That means there’s not enough new jobs for all the anthropology, history, and English PhDs to find a place. Other disciplines are following a similar trajectory.

If you’re thinking about leaving academia, it could be out of desire or necessity. Regardless of why you’re looking into job opportunities for PhD graduates, it’s important to understand all of the real options out there.

As someone who left academia years ago and built a successful career, I thought I’d outline some of the best options for others interested in following a similar path.

Careers For PhDs in Different Fields

There are plenty of job opportunities for PhD graduates in the private sector. You just have to find a role that best matches your experience and transferable skills for CV. Before you start searching for job titles in non-academic career paths, you should first have a general understanding of how PhDs in different disciplines tend to transfer to the private sector.

Here’s an overview of potential careers for PhDs in different fields:

Non-Academic Careers For PhDs

PhD ProgramsIndustry Positions
PhD in EnglishThere are many jobs for English PhDs with academic experience, such as writing and editing, consulting, research administration, educational writing, and more.
PhD in PhysicsPhD physics jobs can include quantitative research for industry, applied math computation, computer science careers, etc.
PhD in SociologySociology PhD jobs can include public health positions, business management, social work, becoming a product manager, and more.
PhD in Political ScienceThere are plenty of Political Science PhD jobs in public service, government policy, civil service, etc.
PhD in HumanitiesNon-academic jobs for PhDs in Humanities might include civil service, writing and editing, and management positions.
PhD in EducationNon-academic jobs for PhDs in education might include curriculum development, educational publishing, science communication, online teaching jobs from home, etc.
PhD in Biological SciencesAlternative careers for PhD scientists abound in the private sector, in areas such as genetics, statistical science, bioinformation, immunosuppression, etc.
PhD in EngineeringCareers for engineering PhDs can include product development, software development, industrial engineering, and many other options.
PhD in Physical SciencesA physical sciences grad can work in all sorts of areas, such as data science, software engineering, and sound engineering.
PhD in Business or FinanceFinding an industry position is common for this category of PhD grad, with many opportunities in data science, accounting, and consulting.

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Contract Job Opportunities For After PhD

No matter if your degrees are in STEM or Liberal Arts (like me), there are plenty of industry careers you can pursue outside of academia. You can also work as a contractor or consultant in numerous roles. All you need to do is find an opportunity that takes advantage of your transferable skills.
Here are a few of the most in-demand job opportunities for PhD graduates that involve contract work or consulting:

1. Data Scientist

Numerous businesses work with PhD-wielding data scientists to run analyses for them. With strong analytical skills, you could be hired to help analyze research data, contribute to business performance reports, evaluate sales and marketing efforts, and more.
Contrary to what you might think, there’s no need to have a degree in data science or statistics to qualify for this job for PhDs. As long as you have experience managing data and running statistical analyses using various programs, you qualify for this career path and can land an industry position. You’d be surprised how much help most people need with even the simplest data analysis tasks. When I first started freelancing, I helped numerous businesses run regression analyses for their marketing data, and was paid well for it. I’ve only taken one graduate school statistics class in my life, but I still knew enough that people would pay me to help with their data.

2. Grant Writing

Just about every PhD has some experience in grant writing. If you’re a good writer and know how to follow grant submission guidelines exactly, you could get into this career path using your transferable skills. If you’ve successfully secured a few grants for yourself in the past, even better.
Many organizations contract doctoral students and PhDs to help with grant writing, though some might want to hire you full-time. Grant writing projects could come from nonprofits or even the business world.

3. Translation

If you’re a bilingual PhD, there are a wide range of opportunities to work in translation. Lots of businesses and organizations are willing to pay good money to PhDs who can translate technical and/or academic content effectively. However, you can also branch beyond this to translate for other major markets, such as business and marketing.
Do you speak any two of the top 10 languages used on the internet today?

jobs for phd graduates

If you do, your translation skills are in demand, and you won’t need to spend long on the job search to find work as a translator.

4. Consulting

Consulting is one of the most lucrative career options out there for PhDs. As a consultant, you’ll work with your own clients, offering them advice and guidance on a topic where you have expertise.
While the list of potential consulting niches you can get into is endless, here are some of the most in-demand options to consider:
• Academia
• Accounting
• Compliance
• Design
• Digital Marketing
• Ecommerce
• Engineering
• Financial
• Operations
• Project Management
• Strategic Planning
Again, you don’t need to have a degree in a certain area in order to become a consultant. You just need extensive knowledge and experience to back up your expertise.

5. Writing and Editing

In my experience, there are more job opportunities for PhDs in writing and editing than any other niche. When I first started freelancing, I worked in several of the fields mentioned in this post, but ultimately ended up sticking with writing and editing. There was so much high paying work out there for freelance writers, I just stuck to it.
Anyone who has a PhD, no matter the field, has proven they have writing and editing skills that are very valuable outside of academia as well. When I first started with writing and editing, I stuck mostly with topics related directly to my degrees in anthropology. But slowly I branched out, and now I’m a top writer in marketing and entrepreneurship. The possibilities are endless if you just apply your current writing and editing skills.
If you want to learn more about how to become an academic editor or academic writing jobs for beginners, I have detailed blog posts on both topics.

6. Science Policy

If your background is in science and you want to find a way to offer service to your community, then you could get a job in science policy. PhDs in this position work with government offices at both the federal and state level. They either consult or work full-time to develop local policy. As a consultant, your expertise can lie solely in the science relevant to particular policy actions. If you work to develop policies, then you need to also have a good understanding of how these regulations work.

7. Market Research

PhDs with a background in data analysis and even social sciences have skills relevant to market research. Businesses in just about every industry conduct market research to see how their products fit into the current commercial landscape. Market research insights can be used to inform product development, product launch strategy, marketing, and customer service. Market research analysts need to be able to gather, analyze, and interpret large amounts of relevant business, economic, and consumer sentiment data. PhDs tend to be good at this task.

8. Business Development

Many PhDs excel in business development positions, even if their background isn’t specifically in business. Succeeding in business requires you to develop sophisticated strategies and make informed decisions based on the latest data insights. PhDs from many different disciplines tend to be good at this. Business development tasks can include working in product development, planning launch and deployment, and business management. Like with most of the careers on this list, you can work as a consultant or an employee in business development.

9. Marketing

Business and product marketing involves numerous unique tasks, many of which PhDs are quite qualified to tackle. Those with a background in sociology or psychology can work in ad development or as a product manager. Those with a background in data analysis can work with analytics and ad bidding. PhDs can also be in charge of managing marketing initiatives, distributing budgets, and adjusting strategies. These are just a few examples of the many marketing-related positions PhDs can work in.

10. Science Communication

If you want to work outside academia but still contribute to education, then science communication is a great path to take. Memorable figures like Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson both work in science communication. But you don’t need to be on TV to work in this field. There’s also writing books, blogging, public speaking, and many other ways to have a voice as a science communicator.

11. Publishing

The publishing industry is always in need of PhDs. If you have experience writing and submitting research to academic journals, then you more than qualify to work with these journals to review, edit, and format content for publication. You can also work as an editor focusing on books and other content related specifically to your academic niche. Or, you can branch out entirely and get into publishing about non-academic topics. The possibilities are endless.

12. Research Administration

Research administration is another perfect job for most PhDs. If you have experience conducting any kind of research project pre- or post-grad school, you could be hired by businesses, organizations, and even universities as a research administrator. For me personally, I ended up gaining more experience managing research projects after leaving academia than I did while in grad school.

13. Medical Science Liaison

If you’re interested in working in health, then you might want to become a medical science liaison (MSL). Anyone with an advanced degree in science could qualify to become an MSL. Medical science liaisons often work in ensuring medical products companies produce are backed by relevant scientific data and used properly. MSLs commonly work with medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology.

How to Find Job Opportunities for PhD Graduates

online jobs for phd holders

Universities don’t do a good job of preparing graduate students for industry careers. Training every grad in job search strategies would better prepare them for both academic jobs and the transition to alternative careers.

Luckily, you can make a lot of progress searching for job opportunities for PhD graduates online. Here’s some information about important platforms to look into:

Indeed is a great place for science PhDs to browse work opportunities. It’s a job search platform that includes remote and location-based jobs for specialists in all sorts of areas.

If you’re interested in academic research careers but want the flexibility of contract work, Kolabtree is what you should use. It’s a freelancing platform that connects scientists and specialists with clients that want academic research done. Doing contract work on this platform is great for professional development.

SimplyHired is another job search engine that lists all sorts of positions for science PhDs, English PhDs, and other graduate degree holders.

ZipRecruiter is a job search platform that can help you find PhD career opportunities in the private sector and academia. It’s a great place to start if you’re looking for an industry position.

Upwork is a generalized freelancing platform where you can find contract work opportunities doing different tasks using transferable skills from your PhD, such as academic writing and editing, data analysis, translation, technology, etc.

If you’re looking for an academic career, networking is probably your best shot. Networking online and in person at conferences can help you make important connections with specialists and important players in your field. Investing time in networking can help you discover academic job opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise with a traditional job search.

Think Beyond Traditional PhD Careers

I know most people looking for job opportunities after PhD want to find a new career to join. However, by far the most secure and lucrative path for PhDs is freelance work. It’s possible to work in all the jobs for PhDs listed in this post as a freelance contractor or consultant. By contrast, if you land a full-time salaried job in any of these fields, all your eggs are in one basket. You’re always at risk for losing your job and 100% of your income. You’re also at risk for joining a career and realizing a couple of years down the road that you really don’t like it.

When you freelance, there’s no way all your clients can lay you off at once. There’s also no need to choose just one field to get into. Since I left academia, I’ve worked in writing and editing, data science, science communication, research administration, and marketing. I’m also a consultant helping people with a higher education safely and successfully make the switch to freelancing. If I can dabble in all these areas and make great money doing it, so can you.

Freelancing also gives you the potential to scale your income in a way that no full-time job can. How often do you get a raise in a traditional career? Maybe once a year? And how much is the raise? Five percent at the most?

Once I started freelancing, I was able to grow my income by 30% year-over-year. You can take the same approach I did, working in fields that interest you most and where the most opportunities lie. Check out any of the resources mentioned in this post if you need help getting started.