Career options beyond academia

In the past, a research degree was typically considered to be training for an academic career; however, research shows that the majority of postgraduate researchers go on to work in sectors other than academia. As well as developing you into a subject expert, a research degree also helps you develop broader qualities including strong analytical, project management, and communication skills. It can therefore be really useful to spend some time considering your strengths, interests and what matters to you in a future career, before exploring the options open to you, to make sure that you are aware of what is out there.

Identifying what matters to you in a career

When considering future career options, it can help to start by looking at yourself: your interests, your values and what really makes you tick. This can then help you to evaluate and narrow down your options. Any feedback, report or results that you get from taking a self-assessment exercise can also be a useful starting point for a one-to-one career guidance appointment. 

  • Find out more about what motivates you and what careers might suit you by taking a ‘Profiling for Success’ self-assessment (sign-in required). The ‘Career Interest Inventory’ will look at where your interests lie in terms of six broad ‘career themes.’ It can give you an idea of what kinds of broad work activities and environments might suit you. Meanwhile, the ‘Values-based Indicator of Motivation’ is designed to identify the things that matter to you most so that you can use these as a reference point when researching potential career options

  • Completing the 'What matters to you?' section of our PGR Careers Beyond Academia Canvas course could also help you to identify what 'bits of yourself' you want to be using in your future work 

  • The PhD Careers Blog 'PostGradual' features a number of posts about how to work out what's important to you and how to apply this to career ideas. These include their post about thinking which parts of academic work you enjoy and finding work based on these.

  • For a more in-depth e-learning course to help you think things through, you can join the 'Career Management for Early Career Academic Researchers' course on FutureLearn, developed by the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Sheffield.

Exploring your career options

There are numerous opportunities available in sectors other than academia that will also enable you to use your research skills, yoru broader skills, or your specialist subject knowledge and interests. Research careers are available in industry and in the public sector, where typical examples include: commercial research and development; scientific, engineering, or social research; and technical or business consulting.

Another much broader option is to explore opportunities open to you based on your interests and the range of transferable skills that you have developed rather than your area of research.

The following web sites provide further information about the range of possible careers available to you and may help you to consider your options.

Marketing yourself to employers

Many postgraduate researchers underestimate what they can offer to an employer outside of academia. You may be unsure about how to identify your selling points. One the other hand, you may fear that you will be considered 'overqualified' for roles that do not require a PhD, but 'under-experienced' for positions asking for a track record in a particular industry. If you are looking for advice on how to market yourself to employers effectively, then you might like to discuss this with the PGR Careers Adviser, or check out our Application advice pages for further information. 

Other resources that might help you to articulate your skills and experience to non-academic employers include this presentation on how to market yourself outside of academia by Chris Humphrey from Jobs on Toast . This article from FindAPhD also includes some practical examples of how to 'translate' your academic experiences into skills that employers are seeking.

Starting your own business

For some of you, running your own business may be an attractive option. If you feel that you have an idea that is commercially viable then support is available from our PGR Entreprenuerial Development Officer and from B-Enterprising. Information is also available from the following web sites:


Professional Services