What can I do with my Social Sciences PhD?

Take stock of your skills

As a social scientist, you have valuable skills that can be applied in a variety of industries.

During your graduate training, you refined a set of transferable skills that apply to jobs out of academia. Knowing the value of these skills and how to articulate them in the language of the business world will help you align your professional profile to industry needs.

All PhDs, including Social Sciences PhDs, have these essential skills:

  • communication (written and verbal);
  • critical thinking;
  • leadership;
  • project management;
  • research.

Think of your PhD in terms of work experience

As you explore your career options, you may be concerned that you do not have “real” work experience. This belief is simply not true. You have plenty of experience in industry: the higher education industry.

Examine each facet of your graduate school experience, from working as a teaching assistant to publishing papers in journals. You likely received a stipend, scholarship or other form of funding for your PhD program. Your PhD, in other words, was a job. You need to think about those years as work experience.

Break down your work experience into its smallest components

Think about how each job responsibility can be broken down into smaller tasks. For example, if you had to apply for and obtain approval to conduct research with human subjects from your university’s Institutional Review Board, list all of the steps and elements involved.

Business leaders are interested in your methodology and thinking process, so this is a very practical exercise. For instance, in the case of an IRB approval, you should be able to explain:

  • how you recruited participants;
  • how you collaborated with other researchers and institutions;
  • how you followed ethical research practices;
  • how you gathered, analyzed, and presented your qualitative and/or quantitative data.

Learn to translate your work experience by speaking with people in other industries

When pitching yourself to prospective employers, you will need to translate your work experience using the terminology of your new industry.

How do you do that?

As a social scientist, you appreciate the time and effort it takes to understand a new culture or society. The best way to understand new industries and roles is by speaking directly with the professionals who work in these spaces.

Approach your informational interviews like a field study. Listen carefully and take notes. What can you learn about a company’s culture? How do the professionals that you encounter speak about their jobs?

You might find out that you could happily fit in.

Seek guidance from your professional association

As a Social Sciences PhD, your area of specialization may have some direct applications in other industries.

Look at your professional association’s website to see whether they have published a list of job searching resources tailored to your field of study. For example, the American Anthropological Association offers a curated list of alt-ac career resources and workshops that could help you get started in your career exploration.

Unfortunately, not all professional associations have made proactive efforts to find solutions to the shortage of tenure-track positions in their respective fields. If you belong to one of these groups, contact the association leadership and request that they provide support for PhDs seeking employment outside of academia. If you still attend academic conferences, propose or organize a panel discussion on job searching for Social Sciences PhDs. You may meet some interesting people in the process.

Explore career options for Social Sciences PhDs

Social Sciences PhDs work in a wide variety of jobs, and there may be career possibilities that you had not considered before. It’s worth spending some time looking at an array of roles and industries before you begin to apply for jobs. You will learn a lot about your values and desires in the process.

Here is a list of five job families in which Social Sciences PhDs have found fulfilling work.

1. Diplomacy and mediation

If your graduate research or life experience had an international focus and you have a flair for conflict resolution, diplomacy and mediation careers may be a good fit for you. Government (local, national, international) and global businesses need professionals who demonstrate cultural competency as well as mediation skills.

Some resources to explore include:

  • National Association for Community Mediation
  • US Department of State Foreign Service
  • National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD)
  • International Association of Facilitators (IAF)
  • International Ombudsman Association (IOA)
  • United Nations (UN) Jobs site

2. Human services

As a seasoned scholar of human behavior, you may be well positioned to enter into a human services career. Positions in this job group include:

  • therapists
  • benefits analysts
  • risk managers
  • human resources directors
  • recruiters
  • social workers
  • child development specialists
  • career counselors

Social scientists interested in human resources roles should look at positions in a variety of sectors, including government, nonprofit, K-12, and higher education.

Note that a number of psychology careers require a license. Make sure to ask about state or national licensing requirements when you conduct informational interviews.

3. Advocacy

Are you a fan of public policy or feel passionate about helping underserved and vulnerable populations? Advocacy work helps others by supporting the cause of communities, groups, and/or individuals.

Which group of individuals or communities did you study in your graduate research? See if there are avenues where you could apply your subject matter expertise at an NGO, in a non-profit organization, in government relations or in higher education.

Social Sciences PhDs who have ventured in the field of advocacy work as:

  • political consultants
  • campaign managers
  • lobbyists
  • media consultants
  • advocacy officers
  • directors of disability services

4. Organizational management

Social Sciences PhDs working in organizational management oversee the operations of businesses, organizations, and institutions. If you are an obsessive organizer or planner and enjoy personnel training or supervision, a career in this job family might be worth investigating.

Look for social sciences alumni working in the following roles:

  • change management
  • program manager
  • project manager
  • human resources director
  • business manager

5. Development

Social Sciences PhDs with strong interpersonal skills may be suited for a career in development. Professionals working in development generally manage donor relations and engage in fundraising campaigns.

Many institutions including non-profit organizations and universities need philanthropists with grant-writing and public speaking experience.

For more information on this career option, reach out to alumni working in roles such as:

  • development associate
  • director of development
  • community fundraiser
  • gift planning officer

The list provided here is by no means exhaustive. By meeting other PhDs who are considering alternative careers or who have already made the transition, you will come to appreciate the value of your Social Sciences PhD.

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