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Getting a job, after the PhD

At the risk of landing in a bed of nettles, I’ve decided to write a post about getting a job after getting your degree. If you have an internet connection, and you read things online every now and then, you might have realized that your degree is not a guarantee for a job.

When both you and your partner are academic, the chance of the two of you being hired at the institution of your dreams, and being able to build up a life together, is fairly small.

You might interview with the industry, only to learn they find you either overqualified or want you to start from scratch, so that your longed for increase in salary after years of living as a student turns out to be really modest.

You might be looking into an uncertain future of jobs as a post-doc for a year here, and a year there and then not being able to set your roots into an institution at all.

Those are the risks of the kind of life that comes with getting a PhD.

But, on the other side, a lot is up to you: try some creative thinking and a dash of pride in your accomplishments, and you’ll go a long way.

Very few students start their studies with the goal of Becoming a Professor. Getting a PhD is much more than simply getting ready to become a professor. My own path is not set in stone – I wouldn’t be surprised if five years from now, I’d be doing something completely different. If you want to know what other options you have on your sleeve, try the following exercise:

  • Take some time to asses again why you started your PhD in the first place.
  • Then, try some good creative thinking out of the box, and determine which other career paths would satisfy your motivation.
  • For every career path, list the skills you gathered during your PhD that could be to your advantage.
  • For every career path, list the skills/knowledge that you lack.
  • Do some preliminary searches on these career paths, and keep your options open.
  • Go out, reach out and show your interest in trying something new. Use conferences and industry events to explore your possibilities.

And keep in mind that, whatever job you take after getting your degree, there’s no such thing as being a “failure”.
Your PhD was not a waste of your time if you turn out to end up in a completely different field.
If you leave your first job after a rather short time, then you certainly learned something about what precisely does not work for you.
But keep iterating until you find something that really clicks with you, so that you can fully lean into your career, wherever that might be.

Graduates from PhD programs end up in a wide variety of different jobs. You can read testimonies on What Are All the PhDs?, as well as on From PhD To Life. Jobs on Toast gives great advice for navigating the job market.

Have you thought of life after the PhD? Where do graduates from your program typically end up?

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This Post Has 13 Comments
  1. Brilliant post! I agree with everything you say, except one. Just because you leave your first job relatively soon (what is relatively soon, in job terms anyway), it doesn't mean that that isn't your thing. Of course, there will be lessons to learn from of things not to do, but there will also be positive lessons to learn. I've found that the first job, or the things you think have left behind and moved on from, are having quite an influence on your subsequent career/life.

  2. Thanks, Pravin. I agree that I put it a little negatively there, but I was thinking from the perspective that there's no shame in changing jobs, and that changing does not imply failure. It's all part of the path of learning.

  3. I found the post overly negative. Perhaps I've been lucky but I haven't had a single interview for a position where \”I found I was overqualified\”. Perhaps I was starting from so called scratch…but professional growth often comes from learning new things in new environments.Anyways, I would have liked for the post to cover the many opportunities that PhDs nowadays have in public sector, legal industry, banking, consulting, marketing, policy… just to name a few. All it takes is thinking outside the box, but you'll find that many sectors and industry require people with skills that we develop over the course of the PhDI graduated from Medical Biophysics program and I received two offers from management consulting firms two months prior to my PhD defense (healthcare consulting). Most of my peers go onto endless postdocs and wish they were something else they could do….and are surprised when I tell them about my situation. I tell the younger PhDs that the possibilities are many… you just need to open your eyes…..

  4. Hi Sam,Would you like to write a guest post on this topic, or allow me to ask you for an interview?I'd be really interested in knowing more about your seemingly \”lucky\” situation!Thanks,Eva

  5. A PhD can be inexplicably problematic sometimes, especially in economies that are dominated by odd jobs. Very few jobs cater to that level of academic achievement; the rest deems you overqualified. Businesses should therefore be wise in their hiring policies and their managerial structures to not only accommodate but encourage this kind of intellectual development. Employment services should also act accordingly. This will only benefit everyone. Kevin @ Barracuda Staffing

  6. It's so very tragic that the brightest and hardest working of our intellectual bretheren are caught in a place of unemployment. I have been working part time teaching psychology for the last 6 years, and even with a PhD, cannot land even a private industry job interview despite starting two companies, professional consulting gigs, a published book, etc. Jobs are dead. Only entrepreneurial activities await us.

  7. Dear Eva,I believe there is a certain degree of agreement among all fellow Ph.D. brethren, that, landing a Industry Job after Ph.D. is quite difficult. Still, I will have to agree with Pravin and Sam that this article is overtly negative. I would suggest that you try to balance your point of view and try to include helpful suggestions. Being a Postdoctoral Researcher, working in academia, and wanting to take a plunge into the industry seems like a daunting task with very limited options. Maybe studying a bit more (asymmetric courses) might be a solution worth looking…I will let you know when I am at that bridge and ready to cross… :)Until then to all my fellow Ph.D. brethren, HANG TIGHT!!

  8. Dear Susmit,I'm glad to get so much feedback on this post – and to learn that I was seeing things to negatively. Would you be interested in writing a guest post about how you see the post-PhD job search, or can I invite you for an interview?

  9. Eva, this is really good. I suggest expanding on \”something new\”. For example, I had to start learning new things on my own, rather than having a prof teaching it to me. Such approach can be a little slow and somewhat frustrating.

  10. Good point – although that really depends as well on the style of your PhD… Some professors will tell you to go and figure it out by yourself (as was my case), others are more holding their students by the hand… but sooner or later it is time to learn to do things independently

  11. Wow…Hi Eva,Its been a long time since I wrote to you, almost 2 years. Did you finally get an industry job? I am still look and no luck. However, I have still not completely given up or being negative. I am sorry, but, I did not get an alert on my google account for some reason. Are you still interested in keeping touch?

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