On a cold December morning, I was in the back of a taxi on the way to Schoenefeld Airport in Berlin. The sun hadn’t yet risen over the red roofs. We were on our way to London for Christmas. My kids had gone back to sleep in their seats, and my wife was dozing too. I sat looking out the window, listening as the cab driver sang “All Star” by Smash Mouth along with the radio.
I don’t know why, but that moment stands out to me as emblematic of my PhD journey. We can talk a lot about motivations to do a PhD. Travel was one of mine.
And while I enjoyed all the big, red-letter moments of travel. I especially loved the little things. Like the cab rides to the airport.
I loved feeling like travel was just our life–as if we were diplomats, instead of parents with one PhD fellowship for an income.
When I was young, I would watch James Bond movies and dream about traveling the world–only a distant dream for a kid raised in the woods somewhere in Canada’s frozen, northern forests.
Then I started my PhD and got paid to travel the world. And–between you and me–I never wanted to stop.
So if you want to travel with your PhD, or if you want to have a worldwide impact, here are some places that will pay you to do it! And yes, before you ask, you can get them with any PhD.
Government is a great place to get to do some global travel. Virtually every government has at least SOME need for people who can engage with the outside world, and in many countries these are huge departments that employ thousands of people. The obvious choices here are foreign-facing departments: The State Department in the U.S., Global Affairs Canada, the British Foreign Office.
These departments are great, but they are the usual suspects.
What people often forget is that a lot of other parts of the government also have foreign-facing roles. Militaries have civilian roles around policy and security that could be great for PhDs of many stripes. So do security establishments. My own work is in immigration which can also be foreign-facing in part, as are governments’ efforts at international development.
No matter what you want to do, if getting paid to travel is your thing–government might be a good place to scratch the itch.
There are so many international bodies that operate across the globe. The obvious one is the United Nations—and all its many parts — of which one tiny stream could give you all the career adventure you want. From the Security Council to the UNHCR to UNESCO– PhDs CAN and SHOULD look at jobs here.
Then there are all the other international bodies, and there are way too many to list here. But a few you might check out are NATO, World Economic Forum, or the World Bank. Really if you name it you can work there.
It can be challenging to get in to some of these, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do it.
It can’t be harder than getting a tenure-track job!
A few to get you started:
Ahh the NGOs. They’re everywhere. And they’re huge, international, and some of them have a lot of money. They are organizations like Amnesty International, The International Rescue Committee, or Oxfam. There are so many good ones to choose from. All of them are doing fantastic and meaningful work alleviating human suffering in one way or another.
If you have a faith background, you could chose a faith-based NGO like World Vision, the Islamic Relief Find, or the International Red Cross and Red Crescent.
All of these NGOs hire people just like you, who can run programs, think critically about risk and reward, and make tough decisions on how to deliver services.
They do fantastic things for the planet, and some of them even pay well!
A few places to start looking for jobs:
Check your country chapters of the organizations mentioned above for the others!
Whether you want to work for Microsoft or Lockheed Martin—there are so many companies that are spread out across the world. You can work for any of them.
In my town of Ottawa, our own little Shopify is poised for world domination. People who come on board as product managers or business developers might end up traveling all over to new markets.
If you want to do consulting on an international basis, you could try to work for something like McKinsey & Co. or KPMG–each of which apparently like to hire PhDs for various types of consulting.
Or, if you’re a historian, why not work for something like Toronto’s Lord Cultural Resources–that flits around the world and plans museums?
There are way too many international companies to list here, but here are a couple of places to get you started!
These are just a few of the many jobs you can do internationally, but each of these four areas represents literally thousands of potential jobs–many of which PhDs would be great for. So get looking! Maybe you’ll be living the jet-setting life post-PhD. Comment below if I missed any!