Very broadly speaking, people pursuing PhDs fall into one of three camps:
First, there’s the researchers. These are the academics who love reading, writing, and talking about their research, who would be perfectly happy to carve out a cozy little research niche and spend their entire professional lives there.
Then there’s the careerists. Instead of pursuing academic jobs, these people direct their PhD research towards specific, non-faculty careers. Many STEM PhDs pursue jobs in industry, while others go into business, public service, or nonprofit work.
Finally, there’s the teachers. Those of us who love teaching, who may prioritize it ahead of research, and who take great satisfaction in providing a positive and meaningful educational experience for students.
In this article, we’ll discuss some fantastic careers for PhDs who love teaching. We’ll start with K–12 teaching and instructional design, then look at career paths in library sciences and special education.
1. K–12 Education
Let’s get one of the obvious careers for PhDs out of the way first. Your college-level teaching credentials will transfer very well to the world of K–12 education.
Skeptical? Totally understandable. After all, our culture tends to elevate college and university teaching as something fundamentally apart from primary and secondary education.
College courses are led by ‘professors,’ not ‘teachers.’ It’s ‘Dr. Smith,’ not ‘Mr. Smith.’ The whole system is literally called higher education!
But, for PhDs who love teaching, your teaching skills are absolutely applicable to K–12, at both public schools and private schools.
Think about it. You may not consider yourself ‘good with kids,’ but high-school students are really just 1–4 years younger than the college freshman you’ve had in your Intro 101 course a billion times.
Even middle schoolers aren’t that different from college students. In some ways, teaching them is easier. They’re old enough to exhibit genuine intellectual maturity and curiosity, yet young enough to still get excited and engage with in-class games and activities.
You may not have a formal teaching degree, but you know how to explain complex ideas and concepts to a broad audience. You’ve designed and led innovative learning activities like group discussions, games, workshops, and debates.
You almost certainly won’t get to teach your area of research as a high school teacher. But you will bring a broad swath of knowledge and skills from your graduate school years that will come in handy in all kinds of classroom situations.
Of course, teaching K–12 comes with its own set of surprises. Check out this article for more on that.
2. Instructional Design
Instructional design refers broadly to creating and delivering educational services in a rigorous and evidence-based manner.
Tons of businesses and corporations hire instructional designers to craft online training modules and other digital learning content.
In such a role, you would keep their online educational content up to date, interview subject-matter experts on the technical details, create scripts and storyboards, and collaborate with e-learning developers. You might also design measurement tools, quizzes, and exams.
As far as post-academic careers for PhDs go, Instructional design is an intricate, theory-laden field. It’s brimming with technical terms like the ADDIE model, Bloom’s taxonomy, backwards design, and the OAR model. But even if you’ve never heard of these, there’s a good chance you’ve used ID principles in your teaching without realizing it.
For example, do you perform accessibility checks on your lecture slides? Have you ever tried the flipped-classroom model? If so, you’ve used principles of instructional design!
Moreover, if you have remote teaching experience—and if you’ve taught any courses since spring 2020, you probably do—those skills are quite valuable for ID jobs.
ID is all about modernizing education in a wide variety of academic and non-academic contexts. If you’ve striven to incorporate innovative teaching modules into pedagogy, ID might be the career for you.
3. Library Science
This career path goes by several names: librarianship, library sciences, information sciences, information management, etc.
Whatever you call it, this career involves earning a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS). Apart from actual libraries, someone with an MLIS might work at museums, schools, government agencies, or corporations.
Of course you know that librarians do much more than sort books on shelves. They collect, preserve, and organize information.
How many times did a university librarian bail you out during your dissertation research? How many times did they whip up a document or piece of information that you pulled your hair out trying to locate?
Additionally, librarians do quite a bit of teaching.
- K–12 librarians teach students how to locate books, use library resources, and conduct basic research. Be aware that K–12 jobs often require teaching licenses.
- Public librarians conduct outreach for their local communities. This could run the gamut from children’s programs to adult education workshops (computer skills, resume writing classes, and so forth).
- Librarians at businesses or corporations often carry instructional design responsibilities. See point 2 for more details on that.
- University librarians conduct workshops or give guest lectures. Some university librarians even have faculty status, earn tenure, and teach standalone research methods courses.
You’ll be shocked to learn that university librarian jobs are the hardest to get of the bunch. But if you’re open to pursuing teaching careers for PhDs in a wide variety of public and private contexts, library sciences is a great option to consider.
4. Special Education
Special education teachers work with children and adults with various cognitive disabilities, learning disabilities, or physical/emotional problems.
Teaching special ed means adapting pedagogical techniques and materials at a moment’s notice to suit each student’s needs. You might assist general education teachers in assessing students with special needs, as well as designing individualized education programs (IEPs).
In doing so, you’ll work with a wide range of students and deploy all kinds of different teaching tools. You’ll communicate with a team comprising parents, general ed teachers, and counselors, all of whom play a part in enabling student success.
As you might expect, special ed takes patience, empathy, attention to detail, and good communication skills. It is difficult but incredibly rewarding work.
Special ed teachers are required to complete a licensure. Unless you already had a background in the field before pursuing your PhD, you’ll most likely need a M.S. in Special Education. Check out a list of accredited programs here.
For PhDs who love teaching, there are tons of professional development and career options beyond academic tenure-track jobs.
Finding your first post-academic career takes time and serious effort. The trick is to keep an open mind and never get discouraged.
Need some more inspiration? Check out these 5 terrific transferable skills in teaching.
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