Non-academic careers for PhD graduates

What is a traditional PhD graduate career?

Those who pursue PhDs tend to envisage a traditional hierarchical career, researching, writing and teaching at a university. However,  the commercialisation of universities and an ever-growing pressure to publish or perish has changed the landscape of academia. This coupled with increasing pressure on university teaching staff to churn out job-ready and life prepared graduates, the academic environment is becoming more and more pressurised.

This coupled with increasing pressure on university teaching staff to churn out job-ready and life prepared graduates, the academic environment is becoming more and more pressurised.

Despite these disadvantages, some benefits stand. Academic careers allow individuals to research and contribute to areas arguably at their purest form. The university career path is a way to build a solid reputation and gives individuals the ability to travel the world whilst inspiring others.

Why would PhD students want a non-academic career?

Based on some of the disadvantages of academic careers highlighted above, some PhD graduates are looking for alternative careers. With a barrage of transferable skills such as analytic problem solving, project management, public speaking, leadership, organisational skills, team and time management; many top employers are happy to embrace a PhD graduate.

Other avpablo-45enues for PhD graduates are to consult or become entrepreneurial and set up businesses. PhD graduates have the attributes to succeed including perseverance, creativity, working under pressure, risk-taking and networking. Some PhD graduates opt for a portfolio career, where there is a focus on project and contract work. Sometimes undertaking several roles simultaneously including teaching, research and consulting. The table below highlights some professions and industries that are suitable for PhD graduates.

Roles PhD transferable Skills suitable for these roles Organisations
Think-Tank Researcher

Working for organisations that research public policy topics, such as poverty, education and social mobility.

Research skills

Project management

Presentation skills

Writing skills.

There are many Think Tanks. Many tend to have a political leanings agenda. This article lists some of the Think Tanks in the UK.
Civil Service/ Local Government

Roles bound to government and involve implementing policy. Many professions are included including: I.T. Business analysts and many more.

Presentation Skills

Team Working

Stakeholder Management


Civil service jobs

Local government roles

Management Consultancy

These organisations help other companies solve problems and improve performance. These consultancies give advice and guidance in areas such as people management, selection, assessment, I.T and asset management.

Problem solving

Communication and sales skills

Organisational Skills

Analysis and research skills.

Consultancies such as Accenture and Capg emini are included in this category along with several smaller consultancies. They are looking for highly logical and dynamic individuals who are flexible. Roles in these organisations tend to be very competitive.
Financial Services

Many financial services firms are also management consultancies. They look after the accounting and auditing, asset and wealth management, side of many organisations. This also includes Hedge Funds and other financial organisations.

Quantitative analysis

Problem solving

Stakeholder management

KPMG, Deloitte, PWC and Ernst and Young are known as the big 4 accounting firms. However, many banking institutions are included in this category too such as Standard Bank, Barclays and HSBC. These organisations have graduate schemes and actively recruit PhD graduates especially from science and maths PhD disciplines.

Academic and non-academic companies. Roles including writing, editing, PR, Type Setting, Graphic Design and Illustration

Attention to detail

Written and verbal communication

Stakeholder Management

Organisational Skills

Penguin Random House


Oxford University Press

Wiley Blackwell



Market Research

These organisations function as information hubs for public opinion around products and services. Is there a demand? How many people want it? How do people live? Anyone who is nosey and likes to problem solve and tie up problems would love a career in market research.

Attention to detail

Quantitative and Qualitative research

Problem Solving

Stakeholder Management

Presentation skills





Teaching can be an easy choice for many PhD graduates. Drawn away from Universities for the appeal of helping younger secondary or primary school pupils is attractive for some. It offers a similar structure to PhD study, is flexible and can be a positive and nurturing space.

Presentation skills



Organisation Skills

There are many teacher training courses you can embark on. This UCAS site will help you search for teaching courses based on the age group you would like to teach. Alternative courses like Teach First – a leadership development programme for graduates includes a teaching qualification as well as other valuable skills for graduates.