What are my career options with a PhD?

This is one of the most common career-related questions asked by Postgraduate Researchers.

It’s also one of the hardest to give a definite answer to since, if you are willing to invest time in researching your options and are open to further training, the possibilities for future work are wide and varied. 

Things to consider

As you explore your options, there are a few things to bear in mind, especially if you are looking beyond academia: 

  • There is no single, defnitive list of careers that you can enter with a PhD/ research degree in a particular subject. Looking at what similar people have done can help to give you some ideas and uncover 'jobs that you didn't know were jobs.' Taking a look at our Career Networking for PGRs LinkedIn group to explore what previous PGRs have gone on to do is a good place to start.
  • Just because a job doesn’t require a PGR qualification doesn’t mean that you can’t apply; it may well be that the skills and knowledge that you’ve developed during your research degree make you a great candidate.
  • Many jobs that may suit you may not explicitly ask for a research degree as a requirement to apply. As a result, rather than asking 'who would employ someone with a PhD in X subject?' it can be useful to spend time thinking about your strengths and values. You can then instead ask (for example) 'who might employ someone with strong writing, presentation and mentoring skills who is interested in supporting equal access to education?' This is likely to help you widen your search from looking exclusively at jobs that ask for a PhD in your subject area.
  • It is more common to find jobs that require PGR-level degrees and experience in some sectors (e.g. pharmaceuticals, government research and policy, engineering research and development) than in others. This just means that, depending on your focus, you may have to be a little more explicit about how the skills and abilities you’ve developed through your postgraduate research are relevant to the employer in question.
  • Your PGR degree may start to ‘pay off’ the higher up you climb. Whilst more junior roles in some sectors will not require a PGR qualification, more senior roles may especially value, or even require, a postgraduate research degree. In other words, you may not need a PGR qualification to ‘get in,’ but once you do ‘get in,’ it could mean that you are able to progress more quickly once you have some experience under your belt.

Post-PGR career options

In their e-book,  ‘The Career-wise researcher', Vitae organise post-PGR career options into five broad areas:

  • Academic roles
  • Non-research roles in higher education (e.g. administration, outreach, student services, wellbeing, technology transfer, research support etc.)
  • Research roles in sectors other than academia
  • Roles using your subject area but not research-based
  • ‘Anything goes’ – i.e. roles that don’t necessarily involve your subject area or research, but make use of your transferable skills

PGR Career Explorer

To help you research your options and get the ball rolling, you can use our PGR Career Explorer pages to learn about some of the principal career pathways open to postgraduate researchers, including case studies of what some of our former Birmingham PGRs have gone on to do.

The following resources are by no means intended to be prescriptive or exhaustive; they are merely to help you generate some career ideas that you can use in your own career research or discuss with the PGR Careers Adviser if you feel you need further direction.

Humanities and Social Sciences

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)


Professional Services