Options for researchers
Where to start
A good place to begin is to reflect upon why you first embarked on a PhD. Was this a long held ambition, or was it simply a chance occurrence? Did you have a clear idea as to where your PhD might lead you? Has the reality lived up to your expectations, and what impact has undertaking the PhD had upon you as a person?
By thinking about some of these questions you will begin to clarify what the next stage might be and identify further issues that you may need to investigate.
There are a number of options open to you on completion of your PhD. You may wish to explore employment opportunities within the UK or abroad. You might also wish to consider alternative work styles such as self-employment, freelance work or developing a ‘portfolio’ career (i.e. one which involves holding several part-time jobs simultaneously or combining salaried employment with self-employment and/or voluntary work).
You may have chosen to undertake a PhD as the first stage in establishing an academic career. If so, the usual next step would be to move into a postdoctoral research post at an HE institution, almost certainly on a fixed term contract, usually for 1-3 years.
Alternatively, and especially if your PhD is in the humanities or the social science, you might move into a full or part-time ‘teaching only’ post at a university or (rarely) directly into a lectureship. However successful your PhD has been, the idea of using the experience gained in industry, commerce or the public services may appeal to you. PhDs are recruited to a wide range of research based roles with manufacturing companies, charities, pressure groups, ‘think tanks’ and cultural institutions.
The third option is to explore opportunities based not so much upon your area of research, but rather on the range of transferable skills developed through both your PhD and earlier study.
Data collected by universities show that a significant proportion of each year’s new PhDs take up jobs outside academia. Also, of course, many people with a PhD work in ‘professional services’ roles in higher education. Nonetheless, many doctoral graduates underestimate what they can offer to employers.
Try these resources to help you explore your options
This section on Vitae’s website provides access to a number of resources which illustrate the wide range of options open to doctoral graduates. As well as providing basic statistical information on the status of doctoral graduates 6 months after graduation, these pages include: longitudinal studies exploring what graduates were doing three or four years after obtaining a research degree; detailed general career profiles of over 40 graduates and profiles of 30 graduates who are self-employed or running their own business.
This database provides case studies from graduates (including doctoral graduates) offering a realistic insight into the world of work. In addition, graduates provide advice and comments about their experience since leaving university.
The Prospects website includes a large database with details of graduate-level jobs. These include information on: the content of the job: entry requirements; training salary and conditions, typical employers and sources of vacancies. Most of the profiles are also accompanied by case studies of graduates currently working in the relevant occupation.
This section of the University of Manchester website provides a detailed view of the nature of an academic career, different career paths within academia, job-seeking strategies and the recruitment and selection process.
Aimed primarily at researchers in the arts and humanities but some of the profiles of doctoral graduates will be useful to researchers from other disciplines as well.
As a researcher, you can gain experience, skills and insight for your wider career development by applying for the Postgraduate Researcher Experience Programme (PREP).
Financial support of between £100 and £1000 is available that can be used to pay for salary, travel, accommodation, fees or resources, but you need to apply now as awards are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.