After your research degree

So what are your options after a research degree?

PhD graduates are statistically more likely to find employment than first-degree graduates. So what do they go on to do after they graduate?

Considered to be highly employable in a wide range of occupations, a recent study of doctoral graduates over the last 10 years found that while 50% remained employed in education, the other 50% went on to use their specialist and high level generic skills in a range of diverse roles, the most significant being:

  • Manufacturing
  • Finance
  • Business and IT
  • Health
  • Public administration

So what are your options?

A career in academia

It is perhaps no surprise that after 3-5 years of PhD research, many continue to work within research and education. 23% of doctoral graduates go on to work as researchers within higher education institutions, and 14% as lecturers. A PhD is essential for anyone planning an academic career.

Make the most of your time during your PhD:

  • Network – attend conferences, seminars, and lectures to ensure you meet those working in your field
  • Present papers at conferences, seminars and poster competitions to make people aware of you and your research
  • Publish – collaborations with those you’ve been networking with are a good way to get your name in academic journals
  • Teach - undertake student demonstrating, supervision, lecturing, seminar leading and assessment
  • Undertake training and development – as well as teaching and learning qualifications and research or analytical techniques relevant to your subject, undertake some general skills development, for example presentations, time management or academic writing

After you’ve completed your PhD:

  • Find post-doctoral research opportunities by looking for vacancies on websites like www.jobs.ac.uk, www.findapostdoc.com, and www.thesjobs.co.uk
  • Continue to develop elements of the research from your thesis as well as your efforts to publish and give conference papers
  • Apply for research funding – evidence that you are experienced at writing grant applications and any success at securing research funding are key
  • Continue to utilise your networking skills and keep in touch with academics in your field. They may have a vacancy coming up, or they may be applying for funding that provides an opportunity in their research group
  • Make sure you have an up-to-date, academic CV  - give copies to your referees to help inform any references they write for you

A career outside academia

An academic career is by no means the only avenue for a PhD graduate. You will have developed specialised and extensive research skills that will be advantageous in a range of both research and non-research roles.

Research roles

Researchers are in high demand in industry and the Civil Service. Research jobs in non-academic settings usually involve some aspect of project management, providing opportunities to develop your managerial skills. 

Commercial research organisations will require you to concentrate on their business priorities, unlike research jobs within academia which generally give you more autonomy to develop your own research interests.

Non-research roles

Doctoral graduates are valued outside of education and research roles, as employers recognise the wider knowledge and skills base that they can bring. The Prospects website has several examples of industries for which the skills gained during your PhD would be an advantage, including among others:

  • The Civil Service
  • Consultancy
  • Intellectual Property
  • University administration
  • The third sector

Employers look for ’hard’ skills such as knowledge, ability with foreign languages and IT skills. But they also value strong transferable skills - including teamwork, commercial awareness, good written and verbal communication and problem solving. Your CV will need to be explicit about how the skills gained during your research degree are transferable and high-level, for example:

  • Your thesis provides expertise and experience at interpreting and manipulating data and writing reports
  • Belonging to the relevant research group demonstrates teamwork and creativity
  • Running experiments and implementing methodology for your research proves you will have developed project management skills and be adept at problem solving