PhD limbo occurs because students are turned away from graduate schemes for being too experienced, yet aren’t experienced enough for industry.
When a PhD student chooses to leave academia and pursue a career in a non-academic sector, identifying what kinds of jobs they can apply for is high among their list of concerns. Caught between two worlds, how can you best find roles you are suited to?
1. Do your research
Many PhD students apply for graduate programmes because they don’t know what else to apply for. Some of these are not suitable for PhD students, so spending time writing an application for them is pointless. Conversely, some will accept PhD students – but likely with the caveat of starting on the same salary as someone who has just completed their undergraduate degree. Spend time finding out who these graduate schemes are built for and you’ll save yourself a lot of time in PhD limbo.
2. Broaden your search
Don’t restrict yourself to employers who appear in the Times Top 100 list or similar publications. There are countless companies out there, many of which would be keen to harness the knowledge of a PhD student. Think about SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) – they may not have the budget to advertise all their roles, so a speculative application or preliminary phonecall to a recruitment manager can open doors.
3. Be willing to compromise
Your PhD is likely to have been focused in a specific area, perhaps one which is quite niche. It’s possible that few organisations outside of academic really focus on that area – so be prepared to explore themes and employment that is not necessarily directly connected to your PhD, but relatable in the skills and knowledge required to do the job eg lab techniques or qualitative analysis experience.
4. Talk to people
Your PhD supervisor or other academics may have some non-academic contacts they can put you in touch with. Similarly, you should be aiming to build up some contacts of your own through conferences and other events such as careers fairs. You should also consider meeting a Careers Adviser for a one-to-one guidance meeting to discuss your options.
5. Professional development
Don’t assume that your PhD gives you all the skills for a non-academic career. Think about developing some wider skills, either through university support services (several run workshops to develop employability skills) or other courses, such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) – providers include Coursera, Udacity and FutureLearn.
Above all else, patience is the key. Searching for, applying and securing employment can be frustrating and takes time, but giving yourself time to do all this invariably proves more successful than blasting out seven applications at once. Never be afraid to take a break, either – sometimes the best research is done after you’ve cleared your head for a day.
Continue your job search here.