If you are thinking about doing a PhD, or are in the midst of one, it pays to start thinking about your job opportunities now. A PhD is generally about 4-5 years long and will provide you with valuable skills that are highly sought after by some employers. However a PhD by nature is incredibly niche and this may not always be a good thing.
Ultimately having a PhD is required for some jobs, as in academia for example, it will help you to get some jobs, like those that value research, project management and technical skills but it may well hinder in other jobs as you will be over-qualified.
Here I want to discuss the ways in which a PhD may help you get a job and the ways in which it may make it more challenging.
A PhD is required for an academic role
Generally speaking a PhD is the minimum requirement for an academic role and they'll usually be looking for at least a post doc or two afterwards. Here it is less about your 'generic' PhD skills per se and more about your contribution to research (usually papers), teaching and ability to access funding. If this is where you want to head after doing a PhD, then focus on these.
But that doesn't mean you need a PhD to work in research
There are plenty of research and academic-related roles that don't require you to have a PhD to get. Here having a PhD may help you understand more about the processes and methods required in the job. But on a day-to-day basis, you may not use and build on all the skills you developed. Examples here include technical roles, research and sales support, and engineer roles. However a PhD may not be beaten by 4-5 years of on the job relevant experience, which can be more valuable in these types of roles. It depends on the type of job you are applying for.
Top tip: if you are applying for a technical role as a stop gap before getting a post doc or academic role, it will generally be viewed negatively if you state your ambitions as such.
Use internships and graduate placements to your advantage
Quite often PhDs have the opportunity of undertaking an internship or placement during study. These can take anywhere between 2 months to year. They may be funded or unfunded. If you have the opportunity to undertake one of these, use it to your advantage. If there is somewhere you really want to work, use this time as a valuable taster session and as an opportunity to get your foot in the door.
Very often employers love to have 3 month interns to work on a specific project. If you're lucky enough to be in a PhD program where you are expected to do one, then you'll continue to get your stipend whilst you're there. This means they get someone to work for 'free' and you still get paid. If you deliver a great project, then you'll be on their radar for future work; this can be half the battle.
If you work with an industrial partner it opens the doors for KTPs after your PhD as well. These are highly desirable placements and surprisingly easy to get funding for, if the industrial partner will match around 50%; even easier if they already know you!
Recognise that a PhD may shut the door in some jobs
Unfortunately, due to a PhD being a highly specialist, having one may make it more difficult to get some jobs. This may not be that you are overqualified per se, but because many employers will question whether the job you are applying for is 'enough' to retain you in the longer term. They are worried that once something 'better' (for you) comes along, you will leave and pursue that instead. They don't want to need to find someone else in 6 months time when you find something more suited to your skills/ you get bored.
So if you are applying for a role whereby a PhD is seen as a little bit too much, you'll really need to explain your corner as to why you want the role. Often times it's because you've decided that a PhD was too much and you're happy doing something else for a least a while!
Don't undervalue the skills you have
Research skills are incredibly valuable but not always recognised. If you can provide good evidence of these skills, then they will help you get any job! Here's some of the other under-recognised skills that you may develop when you undertake a PhD:
- You are literally the world's expert on your particular topic!
- Writing technical documents and long form content (i.e. a book!)
- Speed and critical reading
- Statistics and hypothesis testing
- Making useful and representative graphs
- Basic skills in coding/programming
- Outlining, planning and summarising all manner of things
- Self time management, motivation and organisation
- Knowledge management
- Creativity and 'thinking outside the box'
- Engagement and networking
- Creating diagrams and images
- Dealing with disappointment and rejection (regularly!)
- A wider understanding of barriers and inequality (and hopefully doing something about it)
- Teaching at multiple skills levels
- Public engagement
- Presentation skills
- Resource management and budgeting (aka finding the cheapest option!)
- Negotiation and persuasion
- Project management
- Lab/group etiquette and teamwork
- Perseverance, drive and passion
- Both an eye for detail and an eye on the bigger picture
Start thinking about it now
Wherever you are in your PhD journey it pays to start thinking about it now. Where do you want to end up after it's all over?