If you're a PhD student, chances are you've seriously considered a future as a professor or university lecturer. In fact, that may be the only future you've considered, and it's not surprising. Most PhD students complete their studies and continue to careers or placements in academia. But tenure-track positions aren't the only options for PhDs, and there are many exciting, engaging, and highly respected areas that demand the skills and expertise of doctoral students. Doctoral studies do a lot more than prepare students for the ivory tower – PhD students are highly skilled researchers, with excellent time-management and organizational skills, as well as the ability to tackle complex problems and present complicated information to a variety of audiences. So, whether you're just starting your research, preparing for your viva, or searching for that elusive post-doctoral position, consider some of these non-academic sectors and think about how you could use your unique knowledge and valuable skills in a variety of ways.

 

1. NGOs & NPOs

Non-government organizations (NGOs) and non-profit organizations (NPOs) are often a perfect fit for PhD graduates looking for work outside of academia. NGOs and NPOs generally focus on specific sectors or needs like health, art, religion, or charity and the expertise of PhDs, particularly those in humanities and social sciences, can translate directly to NGO/NPO work. NGOs and NPOs are also mainly dependent on grants and outside funding. That means, your experience applying for grants, scholarships, and research funding will be extremely valuable to these organizations. NGOs and NPOs look for people who are passionate about the cause and those who have great problem-solving skills, so begin your search in areas related to your doctoral studies. PhD in Art History? Try art councils, museum boards, and other culture organizations. Doctoral studies in sociology? Consider work in social-welfare programs, charity organizations, or relief work.

 

2. Government

Like NGOs and NPOs, governments around the world look for highly skilled, passionate, and hard-working candidates to fill a variety of roles and positions. Governments often employ PhDs as analysts and advisers, particularly in areas related to public policy, culture and welfare, defense, and international relations. If your PhD studies included the mastery of a specific language, look for jobs in consulates or embassies. Law PhDs should look for director positions or roles as departmental advisers. Or consider a military or security position – in the U.S., PhDs that are accepted to military positions enter as officers, and government organizations like the CIA and FBI actively seek out talented doctoral students for analyst positions.

 

3. Entrepreneurship/Consulting

Every doctoral student knows that the keys to success are self-motivation and the ability to work independently. That means that once you've finished your PhD, you're perfectly situated to start your own business or offer your skills as an independent consultant. Many PhD students are able to build on side projects or small businesses they started during their studies, and marketing firms are always looking for those with hands-on product experience to sell or consult. Or you can take your subject-specific knowledge out into the real world and offer your expertise to those who might need it. Video game developers, film and theater companies, museums, and community developers need historians to consult for accuracy and preservation. Or think broadly and look for positions in academic consulting – your combined experience as a student and educator will give you an edge and specific insight into the needs of both institutional administrations and students.

 

4. Journalism and Publishing

If you completed your doctoral thesis there's one thing you know for certain – you can write. And while you may have spent the last three years writing about one specific subject, your skills at research, writing, and communicating can be transferred to a variety of different areas. Most PhDs are familiar with the concept of academic publishing, and many doctoral students have experience writing for scholarly journals, educational publications, or encyclopedias But writing doesn't just serve as a CV-builder and freelance writing positions can translate into full-time positions or give you the skills necessary to transition into a career position. Look for publications in your field of expertise and start submitting articles and writing samples. Or apply as a freelance writer to newspapers, blogs, journals, and marketing firms. Most PhD graduates are also skilled in editing and criticism, so look for work in academic writing centers, as writing tutors, or as a document controller or content director in various fields.

 

5. Law

You don't need to be a lawyer or have a PhD in Law to find a job in a prestigious law firm. PhDs in technology fields like computer science or engineering can apply for positions as patent specialists in law firms around the world. You may need to complete additional training, but this is generally provided by the firm, and your doctoral studies will give you the expertise to efficiently review or draft patent applications. PhDs from other fields can also find work in the legal sector as expert consultants or as researchers.

Read more about doctoral studies.