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The basics
THE USA: Career Prospects

Are PhD students ready to face a non-academic life?

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For most international students finding a job, getting return on investment and the possibility of forging a successful career are crucial factors when deciding to carry onto a PhD abroad. The tight job market for academics seems not loosen up at the perspective of most PhD candidates spending decisive 3-4 years of their young professional careers preparing to become experts in a subject.

However, there is no reason why the current job market should discourage you from pursuing your subject of interest in an international setting. What it is important to take into account is that you are in charge of your career and that you have to prepare to be versatile in order to succceed in the global job market.


The market is changing

Current students see the need of preparing for non-academic jobs and alternative careers as a new challenge for their generation. This is more evident in disciplines such as humanities and social sciences where a tight academic job market and fewer posts as fellows at top universities have made alternative careers an essencial thought.

In this sense, the job market is less likely to fundamentally change; however, young graduates can get ready to face these challenges even before leaving university. Versatile PhD , for example, is website based in the United States that helps PhD candidates to think outside the box and consider other possibilities after finishing their projects.

At the bottom line, a deeper discussion takes place: universities as well as students should share responsibility in this preparation for the future. Even though many universities employ career counsellors who cater specifically to graduate students, there is a lot to be done to make the students’ transition into employment an easy one.


Cultural expectations

One of the main barriers that students might find when pursuing careers outside of the classroom is the cultural expectation that PhD students should be preparing to mentor the next generation of academics. However, many graduates that have found fulfilling careers outside the ‘Ivory tower’ strongly encourage PhD candidates to consider other career options.


Skills that PhD equip you with

What might not seem quite evident at first sight is that PhD programmes not only prepare you to become an expert in a specific (and often very specialised) are of knowledge. The skills that graduate students master over time—doing research, conceptualizing relationships between ideas, combining research and analysis to present arguments with clarity and economy, knowing how to plan and carry out long-term projects—remain vital in their daily work. In many organizations outside of higher education, a PhD is a critical asset for those who want to rise above the entry level.

Therefore, in a world of knowledge that advances at the pace of specialisation, it is important to recognise those transferable skills that increase your employment chances. PhDs and graduate education in general prepares you for this.


Alternative career paths for graduate students

Whatever your topic of research is, postgraduate degrees can open doors for you to become:

  • Journalist / Editor/ Writer:  As an expert of a particular subject you have all the authority to write about it.
  • International-business and Industry consultant: You can help businesses from around the world to understand better their sector.
  • Researcher for industry and businesses
  • Higher-education administrator or academic adviser: Not working as a professor doesn’t mean that you have to abandon the world of academia completely.
  • Researcher for human-rights groups, NGOs or International organisations: Get ready to travel around the world and help others with your knowledge as your only baggage.
  • Policy-maker and policy analyst working at Think Tanks: You can be the person behind the important decisions that shape our world.


Find this useful? Keep reading...

Read this interesting article written by a couple of Princeton academics about the future prospects for PhD students

A survey by a recruitment agency revealed high percentages of graduates ill-prepared to face the job market challenges. Read the full entry to find out how you can prepare for the job hunting ordeal. 

Read more about PhD courses and the world of Academia.

Check our list of PhD courses available at different destinations around the world.


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