Finishing your PhD is without a doubt an ambiguous and anxiety provoking experience. Much of this comes from the lack of security offered by your current career prospects coupled with the lack of clear opportunities or career paths on what actually happens after you finish your PhD. To help provide more context and honesty on the process on what happens afterwards, we’ve dedicated this website and blog to help as many people as possible.
In short, finding post-PhD opportunities is probably nowhere near as hard as you think, but at the same time, it’s not necessarily easy either. The main reasons for this and being able to transition out of academia successfully likely hinge on two key variables. The first variable depends on your ability to translate your academic background into a non-academic language. The reasons for this being so important is because you possess a tonne of skills, but these aren’t intuitively understood by non-academic employers. They have an experiential gap of what it means to be a PhD student, so the onus is on you to bridge their gap and bring them up to speed.
This is why we place a significant amount of emphasis on a ‘skills CV’ or ‘skills résumé’ as these can help connect you with a range of suitable opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t have been considered for. If you can get this process right throughout the job application process, including your CV, cover letter and interview, you’ll be pleasantly surprised as to how many people do actually call you back. Moreover, we want to emphasise these skills or at least present your competency and versatility across your entire professional profile. Leveraging platforms like LinkedIn can really help with this image and that non-academic persona you need to forge.
The second variable to finding as many career opportunities post-PhD relates to how confident you are in your skills that enable you to actually consider applying and going for jobs that you might not necessarily ‘think’ you’re qualified to do. Practically speaking, these aren’t necessarily ‘hard’ tasks. If you’re able to complete a PhD thesis and do your own independent research work, then the act of translating your skills and simply applying for roles because you have the confidence isn’t exactly rocket science (respect to anyone doing a PhD in actual rocket science).
Developing confidence is a hard one, especially if you’re getting turned down for interviews with your current application strategy. However, remember that you’re great and it boils down to your ability to communicate that across in your CV or résumé (as mentioned above). Once you’ve got your skill set and how to communicate this to a lay audience clear in your head, it’s highly likely that your confidence will naturally improve because of it. As your own self-awareness of your skillset grows, so will your confidence.
Once you have the confidence and the method of applying/framing your skills in a way that is attractive, it becomes just a numbers game. It goes without saying, you’re not going to be successful with every application (and nor should you always be successful with your applications as it may suggest you’re not stretching yourself far enough). You only need one successful application, so the more roles you apply for, the higher the probability of that materialising. Searching through Glassdoor and other search engines is always encouraged!
Even if you disregard that approach, you’re still in safe-ish hands. Generally speaking, 70–80% of PhDs end up in full-time employment within at least 15months after graduating. You can of course accelerate this process if you find a way to translate your skills as effectively as possible and increase the number of opportunities you apply for. Similarly, it’s also important to take into consideration that just because you can be employed, doesn’t mean you’re employed in a career that is fulfilling and meaningful to you. But that’s a slightly different question – as always, if the mission is about surviving and finding an opportunity, you have that in abundance and majority of PhDs do succeed with relative ease post-graduation.
However, if you’re focused on finding the dream career with specific company perks, intellectual challenge and working set up, the opportunities do begin to shrink. But that’s okay, it’s good to be picky if you’re showing up and trying to build and design a life that is fulfilling and contributes to your own happiness. Even if you take an ‘easy’ opportunity in the first instance, you’re not stuck there forever. You can always change again, and with each opportunity you take you’re just accumulating more skills and more experience.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe it, but that’s why understanding your PhD in a broader context, what it means for your self-identity, and how best to articulate it will do wonders. Similarly, reach out to colleagues, friends, fellow students, us here on this blog, and more – networking can provide you both with perspective and clearer pathways on how to go about career changing or finding opportunities post-PhD.
Overall, opportunities in the job market will always be there. As the job market and your personal goals shift it’s important that you continually evolve and adapt with it. As new skills come into demand, it’s your responsibility to pick them up. As your goals change, it’s important you make decisions or take other opportunities to help you get you to where you want to go. The most important thing is that you don’t give up. It can be disheartening, but not trying and not attempting is definitely not going to give you the results you’re after.
Finally, remember to trust the process. Finding post-PhD opportunities isn’t necessarily a walk in the park, but with persistence, consistency, and belief, you’ll soon realise it’s nowhere near as hard as you think it is. We promise.
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