Careers and Employability Service
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Careers outside academia

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In 2014, Research Councils UK (now UK Research and Innovation) published a report which focused on those working outside of higher education.

One in five employers said that their doctoral graduates were:

business critical, valuing their deep specialist subject knowledge, excellent research and analytical skills, their capacity for critical thinking, as well as their ability to bring fresh perspectives to problems or the organisation
 

UKRI - The impact of doctoral careers PDF file icon   

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A summary of your career options

Careers using specialist research knowledge and skills

There are some settings where your specialist research knowledge and skills will be in demand, including industry, the public sector, commercial research organisations, consultancy firms, charities and think tanks.  

Questions to ask yourself

  • Why do I want to move on from academia?
  • Is using my research knowledge/skills in a different setting going to satisfy my needs and motivations?
  • What do I know about the alternative research environments I might consider?
  • How do I feel about the potential commercialisation of my research?

Top tips

To enhance your chances of making a successful transition, consider the following:

  • Be clear about what you have to offer an employer and why you want to move into a non-academic environment
  • Develop your awareness of the business and commercial aspects of the sector and ensure that you are clear about how your research skills/knowledge fit in
  • Look for opportunities to test the reality of a particular sector before making applications. Can you visit someone in their workplace, attend a relevant conference etc.?
  • Build a network of useful contacts who will enable you to explore your options in more detail
  • Use social media to raise your profile – join in with relevant discussions and post your thoughts and opinions

Useful resources

Jobs on Toast - 10 career websites every PhD should visitNote: Many of the sites are US based, but much of the reflective content from individual interviews is still very relevant.

Find employers of researchers

Research Councils UK - list of Independent Research Organisations eligible for research council funding

Jobs.ac.uk - search for commercial organisations 

World Think Tank Directory 

Amy Prosser, PhD alumna

Amy talks about the skills she uses in her role as Senior Scientist at Sygnature Discovery.

 
 
Alternative careers within higher education (HE). Read Elizabeth's journey on our blog

Look around your department and across the wider university, there are numerous roles that will utilise your knowledge of university structures and processes and allow you to support the teaching and research of others.

Examples include university administration, management, research policy, academic support, quality assurance, careers and employability and marketing.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Do I enjoy working in a university environment e.g. the pace, colleagues, ethos etc.?
  • Would I find supporting the teaching and research of others satisfying?
  • Has my experience so far given me any ideas regarding where I might fit in?

Top Tips

  • Talk to staff in relevant departments to investigate the various roles
  • Consider where your skills might best be used within a university for example in support, administration or policy
  • Search university websites to see what non-academic roles are advertised
  • Look for opportunities to develop useful skills for example committee servicing (setting an agenda and taking minutes)

Moving from Phd in space plasma physics to a university training manager

Read Elizabeth Davey's career path from her first degree through to her current role as researcher and training manager, here at Nottingham. She explores the roles she's had and reflects on her PhD experience.

Read Elizabeth's career journey

Useful resources

The Guardianjobs for non-academic roles in HE

Jobs.ac.uk  - working in HE in a non-academic role 

Jobs.ac.uk - working in higher education 

Jobs.ac.uk - vacancies for professional, managerial and support services roles

 
 
Graduate careers (using your transferable experiences and skills). Listen to Peter's story

Many graduate jobs in the UK don’t require a particular subject background, as employers are often more interested in whether you have the right attitude, skills, attributes etc. For example, areas such as finance, IT and management look for candidates with strong analytical skills, attention to detail and self-motivation; all skills that you will have developed during your research degree.

Many of these roles will be appropriate for postgraduate applicants. You will be treated in the same way as any other graduate applicant.

Questions to ask yourself 

  • What are my strengths, skills, attributes and where might they be most effectively applied?
  • What adjustments may I need to make when considering a career in new employment sector?
  • What benefits will I bring to the role and employer with my higher level qualification?

Top tips

  • Talk to a careers adviser. They can help you to consider your skills and explore the options open to you.
  • Attend our careers events and recruitment fairs covering a wide range of sectors 
  • Try to obtain some relevant experience, particularly if you are interested in a competitive field or one that requires strong business and commercial awareness. Part-time work, work shadowing, and volunteering are all valid ways to gain experience.
  • Explore the placements on offer through Postgraduate Placements Nottingham
  • Explore different entry routes. Graduate training schemes within large corporate businesses are well publicised. Smaller organisations may take more effort to identify. Use LinkedIn and chambers of commerce directories as a starting point. 
  • For international opportunities, visit our working abroad pages for key resources including Passport Career.
  • If you're returning home, use our Opportunities at home webpage for top tips and advice

Why my PhD is helpful in my role as a trainee patent attorney

Peter Mumford, PhD alumni, is a trainee patent attorney at Potter Clarkson LLP.

Peter studied organic chemistry at Nottingham and is training for a specialist role in pharmaceuticals. Although a PhD is not a prerequisite, his studies have given him a sound technical grounding that he feels is invaluable.

Useful resources 

Prospects  - job profiles Note: While they are primarily aimed at the undergraduate reader, they do include PhD specific information where relevant, and they provide useful detail about each role. 

Jobs.ac.uk - PhDs caught between graduate schemes and experienced hires 

Employers

A relatively small number of employers have specific schemes and programmes for PhD applicants, for example:

The Bank of England - PhD and researchers programme

 
 
Careers related to passions or interests

Many individuals build a successful career from their interests. That may involve self-employment or might arise from being in the right place when an opportunity comes up such as at a sports club or charity you are involved with. It might also form part of a portfolio career i.e. working part time for several different employers.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Do I want to turn something that gives me pleasure into a career or is it better used as a way to relax, do something unrelated to my daily work?
  • What is most important to me e.g. financial security, job satisfaction, work-life balance, recognition for excellence etc.? Will building an interest into a job deliver that?

Top Tips

  • Seek advice from a small business expert
  • Do some market research to check the feasibility of your ideas.
  • Talk to the people around you when you are doing voluntary work or attending your club or society. Investigate what the options for paid employment might be. Building your network might give you a different perspective and allow you to hear about opportunities as they arise.
 
 
Self-employment, entrepreneur or freelance portfolio. Read Terri's story on our blog.

Innovative thinking and creative problem solving are key skills for a research student and also for a successful entrepreneur.

With the huge potential for commercialising innovation, universities are keen to encourage business ideas and often provide lots of support for potential entrepreneurs, for example through business plan competitions and entrepreneurial training courses.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Do I enjoy working independently?
  • What is my attitude to risk?
  • Have I got a strong business idea?

Top tips

  • Seek advice from the Ingenuity Lab at the University. Also watch out for the University's annual entrepreneurship competition - Ingenuity
  • Enrol on the Graduate School’s online course – The Enterprising Researcher
  • Talk to people who have started their own business to investigate the level of commitment required etc.
  • Undertake some market research to test the feasibility of your ideas?
 
Blog: Nottingham entrepreneur shares top tips for starting your own business
 

 

Two case studies from Nottingham alumni

Emma Taylor-Steeds, equality and diversity inclusion adviser

When Emma decided she wanted to explore opportunities outside academia, she talked it through with her supervisors.

 

Amy Prosser, senior scientist

Amy talks about the reasons why she decided that she wanted to work in industry rather than academia after her research degree. Amy is a senior scientist at Sygnature Discovery.

 

Explore more

Various professional bodies and similar organisations produce online advice for PhDs and postdoctoral researchers. Find the relevant organisations for your interests and check out their websites to see what they offer. Some examples are shown below.

For arts, humanities and social science PhDs

Columbia University Center for Careers Education Note: While the content of the above site is clearly US focused, it should still give you some ideas. Start your research by investigating the equivalent roles in the UK HE sector. 
 

 

Careers and Employability Service

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