What can you do with a PhD?

Regardless of your field of study or where you complete your PhD, doctorate research can open many professional doors – and they aren’t all in academia. It would be far easier and faster to answer the question; what *cant* you do with a PhD! 

While which career paths will be accessible to you will depend on your discipline, generally speaking, there are ample career choices, including research roles, getting to the top of not-for-profit organisations, working for large multinationals, and securing employment with regulatory agencies. Of course, completing a PhD can be a great way to kickstart your career as an entrepreneur too! 

The Higher Education Statistic Agency has done ample research into the employability and earning potential of students who have completed their PhD compared to those who only hold a master’s degree. In March 2023, the HESA revealed that PhD holders are 8% more likely to have a professional occupation compared to graduates who only hold a taught master’s. The HESA also revealed that as the years go by after completing your PhD, you are statistically more likely to earn more year on year. 

However, rather than solely looking at the quantitative data, this article will cover your options following the submission of your PhD thesis and viva exam to enable you to make the best decision regarding your higher education.

A PhD Can Grant You Desirable Transferable Skills

In addition to the original knowledge you will create through researching and writing your PhD thesis, you will also amass several transferable skills, which will be valued by any employer. Examples of transferable skills from PhD studentship include everything from project management to professional networking to research skills to technical expertise. 

If you are keen to obtain a research role in an institution or organisation as you embark on your professional career path after completing your higher education, a research-based doctorate will prove you are the right candidate. Even if the position you are applying for doesn’t explicitly specify that you need a PhD, a PhD degree can give you a clear advantage over other candidates. The competition for graduate roles can be tough – if you are serious about advancing your career, completing doctoral research is almost a surefire way of doing so.

Furthermore, what you researched for your thesis doesn’t need to be directly related to the positions you apply for – it is the research experience that counts. Similarly, employers and recruiters always value communication and networking skills – both of which you will hone while completing your PhD.

What Can You Do with a PhD?

Naturally, the potential career paths for students after they have completed their PhD will depend on the nature of their research in addition to previous experience and skills. While we can’t outline every possible employment option, we can highlight the different avenues and institutions which typically only welcome employees with specialised knowledge and advanced higher education statuses. 

Academic Roles

Academia is the most obvious option for PhD holders; however, it is not the only one available to PhD students. Just because the majority of academics in the UK hold a doctorate title, that doesn’t mean the vast majority of PhD holders stay inside academia. In the UK, under 50% of PhD graduates gain employment in academia; academic roles can include anything from teaching, postdoc research, or supervising PhD students. 

For PhD holders starting their academic careers, it is common to start as an assistant lecturer, postdoc researcher, or lecturer. After you have gained valuable work experience, the advanced career options include named professor, head of department, and university dean. If you want to gain higher education teaching roles, it is advisable to pick up part-time teaching positions around your PhD study.

Employment Options Outside Academia

For some students, completing a PhD is enough to scratch the academic itch for a lifetime and inspire them to take their experience, skills, and knowledge into other professional areas. It is important to consider your options before applying to a PhD program. It also pays to be aware of hidden options, which can be revealed by considering how your freshly acquired transferable skills can be used to your advantage while applying for any senior or high-salary role within a company. 

Outside academia, the institutions seeking highly qualified personnel include large multinational companies, regulatory agencies, local and national government, NGOs and the public sector. To optimise your chances of professional success after gaining your doctoral title, it is crucial not to solely rely on your title; you must also be willing to network, reflect on your skills and experience to make the best career moves, and be prepared to relocate, where possible

1. Research and Development Roles

Many industry-focused companies have research and development teams where products are innovated and developed, and practical solutions are found to problems. Depending on your experience, skills, and interests, you can easily move into research and development roles in pharma, tech, finance, insurance, and telecommunications companies. In 2022, the UK government pledged to invest £39.8 billion in research and development by 2025; this pledge is key to restoring economic growth in the UK; there has never been a better time to get into the sector. 

2. Not-for-Profit Consultancy Roles

In the UK, there are several not-for-profit research organisations which act independently from the government and universities. Typically, these organisations will headhunt consultants and researchers who can improve and develop programs. There are plenty of organisations which offer charity graduate schemes and internships, many of which are entry-level roles. While over half of non-profit jobs are in the healthcare sector, there are plenty of high-paying roles in STEM and life science too! 

3. Self-Employment & Entrepreneurship

If your PhD program enabled you to work on an innovative product or idea, after you have submitted your thesis, you will be free to market it. The 9 – 5 employment route isn’t for everyone; if you have the acumen to become an entrepreneur, you can join the self-employed labour force, which accounts for 15% of the working population. In recent years, there has been an exponential increase in digital entrepreneurship careers, which allow people to work from the comfort of their homes and strike a better work/life balance.  

Similarly, some PhD students decide to do consultancy work on a self-employed or freelance basis, while others set up different forms of small businesses – the options for self-employed PhD students are almost endless.


So, is a Phd worth it? Whether you have completed your doctoral research in STEM or life sciences, the experience and skills you gained can absolutely be applied within academia and elsewhere. It is always worth keeping an open mind when it comes to your career options and your eyes on the job market from the moment you decide to apply to a PhD program. As you are researching and writing your thesis, update your CV as you go, so you can account for all the technical experience, research abilities and communication skills. As a doctoral student at UWS London, you will benefit from our first-class facilities and faculties, in addition to our employability support services. During your time with us, you will have the opportunity to network with people who can upgrade your employability profile.



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