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Identifying a post-PhD career path.

Not sure what you can do with your PhD? After you’ve identified your transferable skills, you can start identifying post-PhD career paths by mapping these skills to a range of opportunities.

Identifying a post-PhD career is an extremely difficult challenge. It’s also demoralising when Google just returns the same suggestions that sounds boring and simply uninspiring. This approach actually makes it difficult to understand how your PhD is valuable outside an academic context – the vast majority of industry roles don’t specify having a PhD as essential or even desirable. Typing in ‘PhD in XXXX’ into Google, on LinkedIn, or in job search engines will return viable options, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. This can begin to impact your self-confidence and also keeps your field of vision quite narrow.

This post will talk you through a different approach to identifying a post-PhD career. This one is a lot more flexible, exciting, and will open up brand new opportunities that you are likely to have never thought about before. This approach will consist of ‘mapping’ your strengths to a role. Essentially, it can help highlight the real-world problems you can solve in the context of a business. In lay terms, how you can fill a current gap in someone else’s workforce. However, before doing this it’s really important that you go back to this previous post about identifying your transferable skills.

Without identifying your transferable skills it’s extremely hard to ‘map’ these skills to job prospects. In brief, this post highlights that you should move away from just thinking about your ‘hard’ skills or expert knowledge. Spend more time thinking about what skills you’ve acquired throughout the course of your PhD and what skills you’ve demonstrated at each stage. Aka, what are you good at and what aren’t you so good at – including your soft skills. Most PhD students share similar ones, if you’ve presented at conferences, done some teaching, or even published a paper it’s important to think about how these skills can be ‘transferred’ or applied in different contexts. After making a comprehensive list of what your transferable skills are you can begin to map them as it will assist with identifying a post-PhD career path.

» Seriously, check out this post first «

Okay, so now you’ve got a comprehensive list of your transferable skills identifying what you’re great at. If you’ve done this, you should already start to feel more confident about identifying a post-PhD career. These transferable skills can be discussed in more real terms in your CV or at job interview as well. Now we’re just going to make this more tangible. There’s lots of ways to go about this, but I’m going to talk you through one method so feel free to tweak it to suit you.

After identifying each skill, simply type that skill into search engines, or any platform that you can use to search for jobs, such as LinkedIn. For example, a common skill all PhD students possess is ‘critical thinking’. Search for jobs that require ‘critical thinking skills’ as part of their job specification. This will give you maybe 3 or 4 possible career paths, hopefully some you haven’t thought of before. For example, you might have Consultancy, Intelligence, Marketing and Project management – all wildly different, but roles that all demand excellent critical thinking skills. After doing this, you’ll just want to repeat this process for every skill you have. In short, if you have 10 skills, you should end up with 30 – 40 different career options, including some you have never thought of. Of course, some of the suggestions won’t be appealing or exciting to you. That’s fine. It’s just as important to know what you don’t want to do as well as what you do want to do. Just take stock here as you’ll begin to realise that there are actually endless possibilities on what you can do with your PhD, highlighting the intrinsic value a PhD has to offer.

In fact, the more skills you search for when you’re identifying a post-PhD career path, you’re more likely to begin to start to see patterns or common job titles that crop up. In this instance, you’ll start to see that you possess multiple skills for specific roles. Subsequently, you’ll begin to shortlist a few options.

In premise, this is a simple concept to explain and relatively straight forward. However, it can be time consuming and monotonous to go through this process. In fact, you’re likely to get so many responses from searching your skills you’ll find it hard to keep track of it all. Therefore, in typical PhD fashion, I’ve composed an excel spreadsheet which will allow you to keep a track of your skills and map them to possible career paths. This can be downloaded for free!

Once you’ve worked through this spreadsheet and follow the steps outlined in this post you can then start to fine tune and actually reduce the number of options you have (as opposed to working out what you can do). It can be quite difficult to figure out what you do actually want to do at this point and how to go about it. A good thing to consider here is to reflect on your values and what you actually want to get out of your career. This should then act as your compass to guide you and encourage you to start searching, applying, and moving towards your shiny new post-PhD career.


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