Being a PhD graduate can certainly broaden your employment prospects but undertaking one is a huge commitment with big investments in terms of time, effort and money required. These need to be considered alongside the possible returns in terms of career prospects. This article will outline the variety of options that are on offer for a PhD graduate.
To Be or Not to Be an Academic
For some, an academic career is the main reason for undertaking a PhD but this is just one outcome and is far from the only one that justifies this undertaking.
A career in higher education isn’t for everyone: in the UK less than half of PhD graduates become academics and this figure is lower in other places.
Deciding on whether to become an academic, just as with any other career choice, should involve a realistic assessment of all that this incorporates. Academics are expected to teach, supervise, attend meetings, carry out marking and admin, go to conferences, do research, apply for funding grants, work on student recruitment, plus other duties.
If this is what you’re aiming for, start preparing yourself from the outset by taking up opportunities for part-time teaching that might fit into your schedule without diluting for research/writing time. This is valuable work experience in itself, even if you later decide not to go into academia.
Additionally, you can enhance your networks within higher education by going to conferences, talks and other events going on at your own at other universities. Making contacts with other doctoral students can be useful as a form of support whilst doing your research but also later on when looking for suitable job openings.
Doing a PhD involves developing skills suitable for any career such as in the professions, business and management. From small and local, to large and global, there are many companies and institutions seeking highly qualified and skilled personnel.
Employment is often divided into different sectors according to where they sit in the economy. It’s a good idea to be aware of these categories, how they differ but increasingly overlap as economic, technological as well as political changes come into play.
Key categories include the public and private sectors. The first would encompass the civil service and NHS, to provide a few examples. The second includes companies and businesses that aim to make a profit for their owners.
The service sector is another term used and includes finance, business, consumer-oriented industries such as hospitality and entertainment. These are growth areas offering opportunities at all levels and can fall within both the public and private sector. More people are employed in the service industries nowadays than in the manufacturing sector.
Entering the professions might appeal if you are seeking a career trajectory with graded progression, training and security. Loosely defined, these are occupations that typically involve prolonged training and formal qualifications such as accountancy, civil service, law and medicine. Having a PhD is considered to be indicative of professional development but additional training may be required for your chosen area.
In the first quarter of 2019, there was a record high of 4.93 million people recorded as self-employed in the UK, which is around 15% of the labour force.
This category encompasses all forms of working for yourself, whether setting up a small business by yourself or with others, being entrepreneurial, doing consultancy work or a mix of these.
Being a PhD graduate, you could set up as a freelancer working within academia as well as in other areas, by packaging and selling your expertise and skills. The advantages include being ‘your own boss’, taking on work you choose and being free of the 9 to 5 routine.
There are also challenges, such as the responsibilities for legal compliance and taxation plus generating enough work so you can pay your way and make a profit. Some business owners and self-employed people have to work long hours without the ‘cushion’ of secure monthly income and paid holidays.
In the past decade, digital entrepreneurship has rapidly expanded across the world with new start-ups coming online all the time. Some become absorbed by larger companies over time. It’s likely that the gig economy will continue to develop and you may consider if you want to enter this as a sole proprietor of a business or as an employee if self-employment is not your preferred career route.
This includes charities, NGOs plus community interest companies. As in other employment sectors, some bodies are small and local such as a hospice, whilst others are global and well-known such as Oxfam. NGOs might focus on one area of the world or different areas but a specific theme such as working with human rights defenders or the environment. There are openings at different levels and whilst they may rely on volunteers they need skilled people for paid fund-raising, advocacy, administration, marketing and management.
The key is to find a balance between working towards a successful PhD thesis submission and your own employability profile. You are also encouraged to take advantage of the employability support and opportunities provided by your university. The skills and experience gained by a PhD graduate can certainly be applied elsewhere, particularly if you keep an open mind and your eyes on the jobs market from the early days of your doctoral journey.