“Nobody ever told me there was anything I could do with my PhD apart from being in academia.”
“It’s looked down upon to leave academia in my field.”
“I wish somebody had told me this when I was working on my PhD.”
These are a handful of the comments I received on a recent LinkedIn post.
Now to be fair, I have interacted with some fabulous leaders like Dr. Amy Defibaugh and Dr. Harinder Singh who are proactive with helping graduate students learn career-building activities that will benefit a PhD holder’s career, whether they want to stay in academia or not, after school.
So let me just repeat a mantra I don’t think I will let go of any time soon – dear PhD student (and grads!) there are fulfilling careers outside academia.
If you want to keep working in the academy after school, that is fine.
However, if that is not where you want to stay, there are a plethora of career paths you can take.
The caveat? As a PhD/graduate student, you will likely have to:
- Move away from the mindset that the your publications will do the “talking” for you. This may have worked 30 years ago. It may still work for 2% of people. However, if you want to work outside academia, you will need to depend on more than your publications (hint: this is what the second point is about.
- Find out how the skills you acquired during your PhD will translate into desirable candidate traits companies are looking for.
- Build your network of individuals from whom you can learn from and/or who can refer you if a position you’re interested in opens up.
What to do if you’re a PhD student
Even if you are just getting started with your PhD, I highly recommend that you start making time in your schedule to build up skills companies outside of academia find important and to build your personal career network.
LinkedIn is particularly excellent for this.
You can find all types of PhDs – both in academia and outside it – who are active on LinkedIn.
When I provide my Personal Branding For PhDs talk to grad schools and organizations, one of the things I tell participants to do is to send connection requests to people they may find interesting as far as careers go.
For instance, if you are interested working in medical affairs, you might want to connect with some medical affairs professionals who are active on LinkedIn. You have the ability to direct message almost everyone on LinkedIn. Send a nicely crafted note asking if you could have 15 minutes of their time or if they could answer 5 questions via direct message.
PLEASE NOTE: Not everyone will respond and understandably so because people are busy. Plus, you never know what is really going on in someone’s life. So please resist the urge to be upset if someone doesn’t respond to you.
However, there are people who will respond.
If they respond, be respectful of their time and learn what you can from them.
This action is called an informational interview and they go a long way to move your career forward.
Add what you learn to your knowledge base for later use.
What graduate student affairs offices can do
We live in an era where it is crucial for graduate schools and graduate student affairs offices to proactively provide career-building tools for their graduate students.
How any one school decides to do this will be different. To start on this path however, here are some suggestions.
- Speak to graduate students about their career goals. Most graduate students are focused on their research and may feel they don’t have time for career-planning. By working closely with their advisors however, schools can find out what students want out of their career and help them craft a plan to reach those goals. I remember there was a program like this in place when I was a post-doctoral fellow. I remember telling my advisor I wanted to pursue science writing. Well, here we are! Learning what the students need will provide you with the tools to design appropriate programs.
- Build a good alumni network. This provides you with a pool of people to come back to speak with graduate students about their non-academic careers.
- Invite a professional to speak to your students. I speak to graduate students about personal branding and would love to speak to your student group.
There are careers outside academia and with the right support and planning, graduate students can thrive in those roles after graduation.