Life After Studying for a PhD

Many PhD students anticipate an immense sense of relief and achievement after being bestowed with a doctoral title; what they are less expectant of is the overwhelming experience of f out how to put their new title to use in the job market. Settling into a ‘normal’ routine away from an all-consuming primary objective can also make it difficult for some to adjust to life after studying for a PhD.

On this page, we will highlight some of the potential avenues to consider taking your career down after your PhD and provide tips on how to make the transition from PhD student to a job searcher with a doctorate title as smooth as possible. 

Exploring the Job Market with Fresh Desirable Credentials

After navigating the rigorous demands of a doctoral program, the career horizon broadens to reveal a landscape rife with opportunities which extend far beyond academia. The doors that a PhD title and the arsenal of specialised skills and well-tuned aptitude for critical thinking and problem-solving can open are manifold. 

Traditionally, a career in academia seemed like a natural progression. However, many find that the path less trodden beckons the loudest, especially for PhD holders who find that their thirst for knowledge has been quenched and the allure of relevant industries is far stronger. For example, the pharmaceuticals, engineering, and technology industries are all eager to welcome individuals capable of innovative thinking and complex problem-solving. These industries value the depth of knowledge and research abilities that PhD-holders bring to the table, and they offer roles that are as challenging as they are fulfilling.

In 2020, the Higher Education Policy Institute reported that 67% of PhD students want to seek further academic research opportunities following the completion of their PhD. However, three years after completing their PhD, only 30% remain in academia. Furthermore, it isn’t heard of for PhD students to lose interest in their field of study, find it impossible to feign enthusiasm for job roles relevant to their research and venture down a completely different career path. 

How To Choose the Right Post-PhD Career for YOU

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer as to which direction you should venture in following the completion of your PhD; it all very much depends on the academic job market, where your enthusiasm falls, which arena you want to apply your knowledge to, and which career path has plenty of room for growth. 

When exploring your options, consider working for private corporations in relevant industries, using your skills within a government position, using your freshly honed talents as an entrepreneur, working on a freelance or consultancy basis or furthering your career in academia by applying for a postdoctoral fellowship, teaching positions, or moving into public or private research roles. 

It is also important for doctoral programme graduates to remember that even though it would be ideal to land your perfect role right out of the graduate gate, it might take some time to land the right position. Don’t be disheartened if you need a vocational stopgap to bring you financial stability as you work on your bigger career picture!

Focused young woman in shirt standing at table in kitchen and writing notes from textbook while studying at home

Taking a Post-PhD Break

If you don’t feel like taking your interview outfits to the dry cleaners as soon as you are awarded your doctorate title and are drawn to the idea of a post-PhD hiatus, you’re not alone. Many graduates, who can afford it, use the option of a post-PhD break to explore all their options, take a much-needed trip, or catch up on missed time with friends and family.

While this option can give you some much-needed downtime away from academic pressures, it isn’t without its downsides. It can leave you behind other graduates in the highly competitive job market, but if rest and recharge time are what is required before you start applying for high-pressure positions, and you feel disorientated while staring down each path on a sprawling crossroads of career options, invest in your mental health and try to shed the emotional weight of completing your PhD programme. 

Set Your Expectations Accordingly

Completing a PhD is a major achievement; however, that doesn’t mean all roads will be paved with gold once you have attained your PhD. If you initially embarked on your PhD journey to live a better life, your new qualification will only get you so far towards your goal. You will also need to ensure you choose a job you can pour passion into and one which is well-suited to your lifestyle. After years of intense work, don’t settle for less than a position that allows you to achieve a sense of satisfaction. 

Furthermore, it is important to note that the salary prospects for PhD programme graduates differ. Even though people with PhDs are more likely to earn more than people with Masters degrees, your area of expertise will be more influential to your salary than your doctoral degree. And unfortunately, there is no such thing as a post-PhD job guarantee. A well-paying and stable career will also depend on your CV, your ability to communicate your skills in interviews and the extent of your work experience. You may find that you need to accept two or three job offers in your chosen field before you secure the position you want.

Always remember that a PhD is far more than just a gateway to jobs that are available right after graduation. It is an investment in your professional future. In time, the experience and credibility gained can grant access to a greater variety of high-level positions, including strategic management compositions, specialist consultancy roles and careers in leadership. These kinds of positions allow for the application of expertise and are also paired with the advantage of higher salary brackets and increased professional respect.

Final Thoughts

A PhD is more than a degree. It is a journey that culminates in a rich set of skills which can serve graduates well in a variety of industries, academia, public service, entrepreneurship, and consultancy.

You may feel spoilt for choice after your PhD has opened a labyrinth of doors, but by taking the time to apply your honed research skills to your job search to discern which career move will put you in good stead for the future, you will undoubtedly see your PhD serve you well.



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