Academic Adjacent careers

‘Academic adjacent’ is a term mostly used in North America to describe a range of career options for PhDs that don’t directly involve carrying out academic research, but are still closely linked to research and academia. They may also be described as ‘meta-academic’ roles.

When discussing career options for PGRs, we often make a distinction between ‘academic’ and ‘non-academic’ careers. Academic adjacent jobs occupy something of a ‘grey area’ between the two, often working in-between the academy and other professional contexts.

Roles may deal with research and higher education administration, forging links between academics and various external stakeholders (e.g. industry, parliament, cultural partners etc.), helping academic to commercialise their research or working in research funding support.

Either way, there is likely to be contact with research and/or academics, without being employed in a traditional academic position. Examples include: 

Non-academic jobs in Higher Education

Read the separate section on this for opportunities for PGRs from all subject areas.

Knowledge Exchange, Technology Transfer and Research Commercialisation

Work in-between the academic world and industrial/external partners. Roles in this area help to support academics to commercialise their research, either by licensing their ideas and technologies to a partner organisation or setting up a spin-off company.

The University of Birmingham’s Enterprise function is an example of a department that works to connect academia and industry. Former PGRs have been employed as Technology Transfer Officers and Research and Knowledge Transfer Facilitators, who work to support academics to bring their research into the commercial world. Many PGRs have also been involved in creating or working for 'spin-out' companies. 

Opportunities are not restricted to those in the sciences; humanities and social science PGRs can also find relevant opportunities in this field, supporting academics from these disciplines or creating links between universities and cultural partners, for example.

If you are interested in working at the intersection between academic research and industry, there are other potential employers who encourage knowledge exchange between the two. One example are the Catapult centres: organisations which aim to increase collaboration between scientists and engineers in key areas of the UK's science, technology and engineering agenda.

Research Funding

Research Councils, charitable bodies and other funding organisations offer roles in which work focuses on administering research grant applications, advising grant applicants and organising the peer review of grant applications. Universities also offer roles in research support, helping academics make bids for research funding and prepare statements and submissions for the REF. Job titles in this field might include Grant Administrator, Research Support Officer, Research Facilitator or Portfolio Manager.

This work combines discipline-expertise with an understanding of how academic research works, making PGRs competitive candidates. It also offers an opportunity to keep in touch with research without being directly responsible for undertaking research.

Professional bodies and learned societies

Professional bodies represent people working and researching in particular sectors; you may already be a member of a professional body or society during your postgraduate research degree.

It is also the job of professional bodies and societies to promote others to study, work in and support their subject area. As a result, these organisations offer roles in a range of areas including education, outreach and communication, policy, publishing and member support.

These roles all offer the opportunity to apply the research understanding and subject expertise that you will have developed during your PhD. Keep an eye on the ‘jobs’ section of your professional body’s website to get an idea of the range of roles available; a full list of such societies in the UK can be found through the HM Revenue & Customs webiste.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs)

KTPs are collaborative research projects in which academic institutions or other research institutes and organisations work with private companies.

The benefit of these is two-way: researchers have the opportunity to apply their research to real-world business problems, whilst private companies benefit from the expertise of researchers. For more information see the Innovate UK website.

Postdocs and lectureships outside of academia

Postdoctoral Research fellowships and even Lectureships are not exclusive to a University setting. If you enjoy research and are passionate about your academic field, but are interested in exploring other settings and working environments where you might be able to pursue this passion, then postdocs outside of academia could be of interest.

Education and research happen in many different settings. Whatever your sector or area of interest, it can be useful to think of larger organisations in that field (these could be anything from pharmaceutical companies to museums and art galleries) which require qualified individuals to undertake research and communicate this research to others.

If you enjoy seeing the real-world application of your research in a more immediate and applied way than in academia, an industry or other non-academic postdoc could be a possible next step. Non-academic settings where research postdocs or even lecturing roles are available include: 

Museums, galleries and heritage sector

Large museums like the Natural History Museum take on Postdoctoral Researchers, whilst galleries and heritage organisations may have lecturing opportunities for experts in particular fields to lecture to school groups, members of the public and other non-academic audiences. Larger museums and galleries like the Victoria and Albert Museum even have their own research departments where opportunities may arise for PhD-level researchers.

Hospitals and Health Services

The National Institute of Health Research attached to the NHS, as well as individual hospitals (more common in North America) offer Postdoctoral Fellowships to PhD-qualified scientists.

Some health-related research institutes and think tanks may also offer Postdoctoral Fellowships, such as the The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute.

Industry

Some large pharmaceutical companies including GSK and Astrazeneca offer Postdoctoral Programmes; here there are likely to be links with academic institutions and even the opportunity to publish research. Industrial postdoc opportunities also exist in the biotech sector.

Scientific Research Institutes and Agencies

There are opportunities for scientists to undertake postdoctoral research fellowships in non-university settings; examples include CERNThe European Space Agency (ESA)The British Geological SurveyDiamond Light SourceMax Planck InstitutesThe Francis Crick Institute, and the Pirbright Institute. If there are other research institutes or agencies linked to your field, they may well have postdoctoral opportunities available.

Government and Think Tanks

More popular in North America are postdoctoral opportunities to work in government (federal) labs or in larger think tanks like RAND.

Some UK-based Think Tanks offer Postdoctoral Fellowships, including the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)

Search for postdocs beyond academia

Academic adjacent careers case studies

Colleges

Professional Services