What can I do with my Humanities PhD?

Think outside the box

If you are wondering what to do next with your Humanities PhD, you are not alone.

Your Humanities PhD prepared you for a very specific career path and you have been training for years to specialize in a narrow field. Your adviser prepared you for a faculty position in your field.

Perhaps you think that you can’t do anything else with your degree–that it’s worthless outside of the ivory tower. Humanities PhDs tend to have a limited view of their career options, especially if they have had little to no work experience beyond academe.

But you may be surprised to learn that your career options are not limited to college teaching. We’re assuring you right now: you don’t have to spend the rest of your life seeking a tenure-track position while scraping by on an adjunct salary.

As you launch your job search, you’ll need to start at the very beginning though with some serious career exploration. It’s important to keep a open mind during this stage. Be curious and try to learn about other careers as you conduct informational interviews. (See this article on how informational interviews can help you in your job search.)

As you listen to friends, family members, and acquaintances speak about their work, see if there are elements of their job responsibilities that appeal to you. When a career interests you more, dig a little deeper to see what it is specifically that makes it sound like a good fit for you. As you sift through the information you collect, you will grow in self-knowledge and discover a number of good options to pursue.

Make an inventory of your skills


The truth is that your content knowledge (aka your area of specialization) may not be as valuable as the multitude of skills that you developed during your PhD program.

Your academic CV does not take into account much of the hidden work you do during your PhD. For example, the list of courses you taught say nothing about the process involved in the preparation of a course syllabus, design of online instructional materials, the actual delivery of the coursework, the feedback you gave to your students, or the mentoring you did during office hours. If you start dissecting each section of your academic CV, you will discover that, in fact, you possess many skills valued by employers. (See this article on transferable skills and how to communicate your value.)

Consider your personal interests and hobbies

In your career exploration, you should also consider your side projects, hobbies, and personal interests. Maybe you’ve always loved to make flower arrangements and are highly skilled at this task; or maybe you love following stock market news during your lunch hour. What potential career paths might these interests open up for you?

Examine any volunteer work or service activities you took part in, whether at university or not. Have you developed expertise in an area that interests you?

Explore your options with online tools


If you are unsure about where to start, there are online tools available to help you in your career exploration. Imagine PhD and InterSECT Job Simulations are online platforms that may help you to explore career options specifically tailored to your humanities background.

Explore fields in which many Humanities PhDs have found jobs

While Humanities PhDs may be found in every industry, here are six general fields in which a large number have transitioned. Note that this list is not exhaustive.

  • Translation and interpretation

If you are a native speaker of a language other than English or have an advanced degree in a modern language or linguistics, translation and interpretation might be a good fit for you.

A translator works with written texts whereas an interpreter translates orally or through sign language.

Most translators and interpreters translate or interpret into their native language. Many assignments now rely on machine translation, using specialized software. In these cases, translators go through revisions of the computer-generated translation, checking for accuracy and flow.

Translators typically work from home as independent contractors, though some companies hire in-house. Interpreters may work in a variety of locations, for example, at professional conferences, in hospital operating rooms, and at the courthouse.

Roles for translation exist in a range of sectors such as NGOs, government, and non-profit.

  • Communications, public relations, and marketing

Humanities PhDs are usually excellent communicators who know how to explain complex issues to diverse audiences. Companies look for candidates who can conduct research, evaluate sources, and who know how to tell compelling stories with data. These skills are in high demand.

Corporate communications refers to the way in which businesses communicate with their customers, employees, stakeholders (e.g. investors), the general public, the media, and/or government agencies. Communications professionals may be involved in creating internal and external reports, website copy, promotional materials, emails, memos, advertisements, press releases, videos, infographics, and other general branding materials.

This broad category includes a multitude of roles in a variety of industries. When researching careers in this category, search for titles such as:

  1. copywriter
  2. public relations specialist
  3. social media manager
  4. spokesperson
  5. content strategist
  6. communications specialist
  7. marketing analyst
  • Publishing and editing 

Grading student essays, writing and defending your dissertation and publishing in academic journals make you a good candidate for publishing and editing roles.

Scholarly and private publishers, government agencies, and even tech companies seek candidates with an eye for detail, a love for style guides, and strong project management skills.

PhDs who work in this job family hold a number of titles including:

  1. technical writer
  2. copy editor / fact checker
  3. digital content editor
  4. associate editor
  5. publicity assistant
  6. documentation specialist
  7. literary agent
  • Higher education administration

If you can’t imagine yourself leaving a college campus and especially enjoy mentoring others, you may want to explore higher education administration roles. Although these positions sometimes include research and/or teaching responsibilities, typically they are staff roles that support faculty and/or students.

Take advantage of your presence on campus to have coffee with people working in the following departments to find out more about what they do on a daily basis:

  1. career counseling
  2. faculty development
  3. outreach and diversity
  4. student affairs/student life
  5. academic advising
  6. educational developer
  7. research administration
  • K-12 education

Many Humanities PhDs find satisfying careers in the K-12 system as teachers, particularly at the middle school and high school levels. Certain private, independent or college prep schools do not require a teaching certification. They also value hiring faculty with an advanced degree. (See this article on K-12 teaching.)

Aside from teaching positions, you may want to consider administrative or leadership roles such as:

  1. communications officer
  2. admissions officer
  3. director of development
  4. college counselor
  5. guidance counselor
  6. athletic director
  7. dean/division head

Working through a placement agency (e.g. Carney Sandoe & Associates) may facilitate your job search if you decide to move to this sector.

  • Training and development

Training extends beyond the academic classroom. You can use your instructional and public speaking skills in a number of other settings.

Training and development specialists create learning curriculum for corporations, government, and nonprofit entities. Universities that are developing online courses are in need of tech-savvy instructional designers with strong curriculum design backgrounds and classroom experience.

The Association for Talent Development offers a wealth of resources on this career field.

As you meet other Humanities PhDs who have made the transition out of academe, you will realize that you really had many options all along.

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