According to Canadian PhD graduate destination statistics, 59 percent of PhD’s are employed in roles other than teaching and research and for the UK the figure is 64 percent.  So what are the implications for you if you are considering, or currently completing, study at this level?

I imagine that almost everyone who embarks on their PhD journey initially does so envisioning a career as a researcher or an academic, or both. However the above statistics prove that this will not be the outcome for all, therefore some careful thought should be given to how best to prepare for alternative employment and careers.

Although during the course of your PhD you may consider yourself a ‘student’, that label is not that helpful.  A more useful and empowering narrative is to think of yourself as a self-employed researcher, undertaking a three-year, project-based contract, during which you will: add value to a particular body of academic knowledge of your choice; flex your research (and possibly teaching) muscles; establish your reputation and connections as a high level researcher; and further impress stakeholders such as academics and funding bodies who may have provided seed money for your research.  Adding to the opportunity of a PhD, is the luxury of choosing your own topic. However this means that your PhD must show you at your research best – intellectually and operationally. So you have negotiated an exciting and challenging research topic, and have a supervisor on board. What next?  It could be useful, given that academic and research positions don’t grow on trees and that opportunities in some disciplines are even more limited, to have some idea of specific universities or research institutes currently operating in your field. Also look at ones you think may want to, or have the potential to move into your field in the near future. Isn’t this too early you ask? No, this should be preliminary research.

So you’ve done your best to prepare for an academic or research position; but as stated earlier, the opportunities may simply not be there. So let’s imagine that you are one of the 59 to 64 percent who for whatever reason doesn’t find a place within research or academia. Don’t shy aware from this scenario – the odds are, after all, in favour of this being the case. A next step may be to look beyond the relative safety of your university department. Can you identify others on and off campus, who might be excited by your research? On campus are there others (academics and other PhD students) doing related research, perhaps in a different department, that you could connect with? Off campus, in the wider community, are there private and public sector employers or organisations, who would be interested in your research, could benefit from it or even help you with it in some way?

You may decide that you prefer to ‘wait and see’ – after all you have a 41 to 46 percent chance of getting what you want and you may be lucky.  But let me leave you with this thought. What would you do differently during the three years of your PhD, if you embraced the probability that you might, at the end of your degree, be applying for roles such as Research Advisor for an NGO or Policy Analyst for a government ministry or Consultant for a Business Services firm or Science Educator for a Museum? These are all amazing jobs and for many PhD graduates, are their careers of choice rather than their back-up plan.

P.S. Here’s a great link that will help you keep on track of the business end of your PhD and may also help you monitor your skills acquisition to keep options open for a wide range of careers.

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