If you have a PhD and can’t get a job, don’t feel like you’re alone. Most who want to work outside of academia have trouble finding good jobs for PhDs. The majority of PhD career advice students get is geared toward staying associated with a university. There’s little information available about the various non-academic career options out there for PhDs to learn from and pursue.
Because of this, lots of PhDs end up pursuing jobs and careers that they’re actually overqualified for. Their job search consists of applying for positions that require only an MA or BA in their field. Even still it can be difficult for PhDs to get hired for these positions. Often 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.
And even if you are motivated to stay in academia, academic careers just might not be a realistic option. There simply aren’t enough assistant professor positions for every new PhD that comes on the job market today. The number of new jobs for English PhDs has fallen by 33% since 2012. Other disciplines are following a similar trajectory.
Pursuing a career outside of academia could be a desire or a 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 for myself, I thought I’d outline some of the best options out there.
Job Opportunities After a PhD
No matter if your degrees are in STEM or Liberal Arts (like mine), there are plenty of career paths you can pursue outside of academia. All you need to do is find an opportunity that takes advantage of your current skills.
Here are a few of the most in-demand job opportunities for PhD graduates today:
1. Data Scientist
Numerous businesses contract PhD-wielding data scientists to run analyses for them. 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. 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. I’ve only taken one 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. If you’ve successfully secured a few grants for yourself in the past, even better.
Many organizations contract 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.
If you’re a bilingual PhD, there are lots 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 digital marketing.
Do you speak any two of the top 10 languages used on the internet today?
If you do, your translation skills are in demand.
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:
• Digital Marketing
• 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.
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.
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. 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 budget, 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.
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.
Don’t Get Tied Down to One Career Path
I know most people looking for job opportunities after getting a 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 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?
Since I started freelancing nearly 7 years ago, I’ve grown 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 my free mini-course (below) if you need help getting started.