Career Options for PhDs
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What Can I Do With a PhD?

We’re often asked what career options there are for PhDs. The short answer is there are many options! The longer answer is that ultimately your career options will depend on many factors including your: degree, skills, core competencies, past experiences, geographic location, and values.

But one common challenge PhDs face during the job search is imagining where they could work and build meaningful careers. This comes from a lack of exposure to different careers, and it also stems from untested negative assumptions about “nonacademic,” “nonfaculty” work beyond the professoriate.

One of the first steps you’ll have to take is broadening your knowledge of what jobs are out there–in other words, take the EXPLORATION part of career exploration seriously. Put your research skills to work and start reading job ads; find people in your network (family, friends, colleagues) and ask them about their jobs; connect with alumni from your department or school (we guarantee you a large portion will be in non-faculty careers); talk to neighbors, strangers, people on campus about their jobs. You might be surprised to learn what a “digital marketer” really does, or what student recruitment and administration really entails. This is all about learning, and can be an exciting time to discover what people’s backgrounds and careers are (see Emily Bell’s video below and how she got excited envisioning herself in different careers).

So, where to start first in figuring out what you can do with your PhD? Read the below, watch the videos, and let’s get started.

How to Start Exploring Your Career Options

LIST YOUR VALUES: Explore and figure out what aspects of teaching, research, or other activities are meaningful and rewarding to you. List these values out to keep in mind as you’re job searching.

RESEARCH: There’s probably a lot you don’t know about other career options. Take some time to watch the videos below for strategies on career exploration. Download this worksheet to help organize your research.

GET CURIOUS: Read job ads, even if you’re nowhere near ready to apply for positions. Reading ads can be useful and energizing. Find organizations of interest and learn more about what they do by reading their website, following them on social media, or finding news stories and press releases. Seriously, do this now.

INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS: Next, set up a few informational interviews with professionals who do the sort of work that might interest you. You’ll learn more about this in our post on networking.

KEEP AN OPEN MIND: Recognize that taking an entry-level position after earning a PhD isn’t a bad thing. In fact, you’ll probably advance quickly, or have the opportunity to change companies/organizations once you gain experience.

CELEBRATE: People with PhDs work in a huge variety of interesting, rewarding jobs and careers.

In these videos, you’ll hear from PhDs who work in a variety of jobs and industries, some closely related to their fields of study, others not. Speaking with PhDs who work beyond the professoriate and learning about new fields will bust myths and challenge your perceptions. In a later post, we’ll talk more about the power, and importance, of informational interviews. During an informational interview you learn about a person’s specific job, the organization they work in, and how someone with your skills might break into that field.

Darek Moreau talks about his life as a consultant. His experience isn’t what you might expect.

Talking to people can help you get a sense of what certain careers really entail. You may even be surprised to find yourself interested in careers you’d never really known about or considered before.

There are many ways PhDs can explore career options, and informational interviews are one great strategy.

Here, Emily Bell talks about reading job advertisements and becoming so excited to see all the different opportunities that awaited someone with her skill.

As you explore options, you might learn that you need additional skills or direct work experience to advance in a specific career field. This may mean starting in an entry-level position. Josh Magsam assures us: Don’t be afraid of that. Once you learn more and develop additional skills, you will advance.

Our PhD career panels feature people who do meaningful work, get to learn new things, are intellectually engaged in their jobs, and have opportunities to advance as professional. We hear from so many PhDs who genuinely love their jobs. For many, their new careers align with what they loved about their time spent in academia.

Carrie-Lynn Keiski loves all the ways her job lets her continue to learn and grow and collaborate with smart people.

Erin Arizzi’s enthusiasm for her job comes through when she talks about her work in internal communications for a private company:

Synatra Smith works with students of all ages. She creates inclusive classrooms, something she wished she’d experienced as a student.

Wasn’t it fun to hear just a tiny bit about these different jobs? We hope you can start to imagine the benefits of speaking with PhDs working beyond the professoriate. As you refine your career goals, you’ll meet professionals who share your interests and who can help you find and successfully apply for opportunities.

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