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Post-PhD: What to do next?

Early career researchers need to be shown the multitude of enjoyable careers a PhD can open the door to.


A student on our consultancy training recently said to me, “My university presents academia as the only desirable career choice for someone with a PhD, while at the same time slyly reminding the student body that only a handful of us will make it.” Whenever I talk to students, I am immediately taken back to my own experience navigating the uncertainty and anxiety of the final year of my PhD. The legitimacy, let alone the existence, of career options outside the 10-year obstacle course between post-doc and job security is never even discussed.


When my co-founders and I started to explore research consultancy, one of our motivations was our desire to use the research skills we learned during our studies to make an impact in the real world. Observing the seemingly endless hours our supervisors put in on the career treadmill, we also wanted to regain control over our work-life balance.  Another thing that was unexpectedly important to me? I wanted to be taken seriously and show that my skills and knowledge were valuable. In a highly hierarchical competitive institution, you can start to feel that the University is doing you a favour rather than the other way round.

 

As our research consultancy business has developed over the last few years, we’ve met numerous talented individuals who received training in academia and are now thriving in diverse careers. They are just some of the 70% of UK PhD holders who have left the academic sector within four years of graduation. Since students often seek guidance from us regarding their career options, I thought it would be usefult for me to provide a brief roundup here:

 

  • Pursue opportunities to gain experience doing hands-on research for charities, think tanks, or industries.

  • Utilise your specialised knowledge or critical analysis skills for policy analysis, program evaluation, or advocacy to contribute to meaningful societal impact.

  • Translate your doctoral research or research mindset into real-world solutions through start-ups.

  • Bridge the gap between academia and the general public through science communication and outreach.

  • Share your expertise through teaching or lecturing to inspire the next generation.

  • Tailor your work to your own schedule by freelancing or consultancy on a project basis

  • Collaborate on diverse projects across industries by joining a consultancy firm (like ours!)

 

The most important thing is to try something you think you might like, or even a few things. It’s important to find out not just what you DO like but also what you DON’T like. Apply to lots of opportunities, start earning money. You can always transition to another industry, or even back and forth between academia, like some of my consultancy colleagues. Whatever happens in life, you will always have that valuable resource you cultivated during your PhD years: your brain!

 

If you are interested in hearing more, we will be hosting a lunchtime taster session titled ‘Learn How to Become a Research Consultant!’ in June 2024. More information will be followed soon, so stay tuned!


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