3 More Amazing PhD Careers Beyond the Academy

Updated 12-03-2020

This is a follow-up to the first post on great PhD careers: “3 Amazing and Well-Paying Career Paths for PhDs.” These two posts are an introduction to some alternative careers for academics, and the options here are broad enough that almost any PhD can enter these fields.

So here are three more great career options for PhDs.

1. Public Relations

The field of Public Relations (PR) is a big one, with a lot of different directions you could go. In the last post I talked about national associations and how they hire government relations people, or lobbyists. National associations/industry associations also hire PR people. So do companies big and small. If you want to work in PR, there are a lot of places you can do it–from hospitals to fortune 500 companies to mom and pop shops.

PR is pretty much what it sounds like—it’s the relationship between an organization and the public. Being a Public Relations professional means telling the companies story to the public and occasionally dealing with negative press (sometimes). It means working to craft a narrative of what your company is and does and its value in the world.

As I’ve known it, PR is a bit of a game. On the one hand, you have to figure out how to leverage “earned media”—that is, getting your message into traditional media sources, newspapers, the news, magazines, etc. This needs to be balanced with “paid media,” such as advertising.

To be in PR you need to be creative and adaptable. Being a great writer will probably help, and the more you know about media channels from social to regular, the better chance you have. If you want to get into PR you can start developing a portfolio of work now which could include blogging, op-eds, and other social media outputs.

*Pro-tip: if you want to get into PR, try to connect it to your degree field. For example, if you have a PhD in chemistry—pharmaceuticals, if biology—health care orgs, etc. This way your PhD will be an asset.

I’ll be honest, there’s a HUGE range in PR salaries because companies big and small have people doing PR. Some entry-level PR starts at $30k a year, which YOU DO NOT WANT TO DO.

Public Relations is closely connected with, but not identical to, Public Affairs—both of which are great PhD careers. I’ll deal with Public Affairs in another article, but for now, you can read about the differences between the two here.

If you want the money, focus on big companies and get ready to move into these roles:

SAMPLE JOB TITLE WITH AVERAGE SALARY (Data from Glassdoor, Payscale, and Neuvoo)

  • Public Relations Director  $80-120,000 CAN/ $95, 528 U.S. (Washington)
  • Public Relations Specialist $62,000 CAN/ $51, 387 U.S. (okay—this isn’t that great)
  • Public Affairs Manager $121,000 CAN/ $85,755 U.S.

Wait! One more thing before I move on!

Some companies have in-house PR. But there are also companies that are dedicated specifically to providing PR, organizations hire them when they need it. In Ottawa and Washington these can be some pretty sexy, well-paying, and well-connected jobs that will grow your network beyond anything you can imagine.

2. Consulting

Ah consulting. Probably one of the best known alternative careers for academics.

How many times have you heard that PhDs can work as consultants? And do you have any idea what a consultant is? If you’re like most people, probably not.

Let’s set this to rest.

A consultant is an expert who provides advice to a company. They are not usually a full-time employee (although some companies do have roles they call “consultant.”). Companies hire consultants as they need them to perform a task or service, without making them full-time employees.

A consultant is an entrepreneur. They’re not usually an employee, rather, a company is their client.

And what sort of work do they do?

ANYTHING! Usually, consultants are brought in on an area of expertise. So if you have a specialty in biotech or AI you might consult. But you don’t have to be STEM.

Here are some of the things consultants do:

  • Experts in adult education are hired to design a training program.
  • Program evaluation specialists study a program and its effectiveness.
  • Research project managers are hired to run individual research projects.
  • Editors edit a new policy report.
  • Events specialists organize a round-table.

You can build a consulting career with just about any PhD. You just need to figure out a market for what you have and your value proposition.

I was talking to a friend the other day who’s doing work on female leadership in antiquity–using gender theory. This might be her value proposition. The Canadian government is increasingly requiring all public policy to go through a GBA+ lens (gender-based analysis +). So gender studies is potentially an incredibly valuable knowledge-base.

Of course, STEM students do sometimes have a clearer path to consulting. If you’re an expert in structural design or chemical analysis, you’ve got a very specific skill some people in industry will need.

But you can find a value proposition within just about any degree. Even if you’re in the liberal arts. It’s all about framing.

  • If you study the birth of the printing press, you might become an expert in technological disruption.
  • If you study the industrial revolution, you could probably make a shift to the future of work.
  • I studied immigration in antiquity, but with that, I became an expert in diaspora theory and the economics of migration. I now consult on refugee policy.

If you want to be a consultant, learn some basic entrepreneurial skills. Also, think carefully about how you would transition your specific knowledge into the world.

It’s impossible to post a salary range for a consultant. You might make $20,000 or you might make $500,000. Depends on how good you are at hustling, how in-demand your skills are, and how much work you want to do.

Further Reading

7 Easy Steps To Launch Your Consulting Business This Week

The 10 Informational Interview Questions that Changed My Career! (Do informational interviews to find where there’s a consulting market for what you have.)

Want to Do Consulting With a PhD? Here Are 8 Things You Should Know.

Working for a Consulting Company

There’s one more way into consulting. Work for a consulting company! They’ll get the leads and train you. In fact, there are some enormous multi-national companies that LOVE to hire PhDs! The competition is cutthroat, but getting hired at one of these companies will set up your consulting career for life—since they’ll teach you how to do it (and pay crazy well).

Check out the following on PhD careers in consulting:

McKinsey PhDs

Deloitte PhDs

3. Stakeholder Relations

On of my favorite post-phd projects was on Inuit economic development. I got to work with Inuit leaders and regional economic development officers, many of whom are the coolest people who are working hard to make their very remote communities successful.

Working closely with them brought me so much joy.

I learned pretty quick after my PhD that I love jobs that involve working with people. And I love creating relationships with people. (I can hear the introverts screaming.)

So when I discovered that there’s a whole area you can work in altac that just deals with building relationships, I was sold.

Now, stakeholder relations can mean a lot of different things. Of course, there are human relationships in just about any job. So it’s likely any number of PhD careers will have a stakeholder relations component, so learn the word now. You’ll need it.

But there are occasionally people who’s job title is “stakeholder relations.” They are charged with managing relationships with very important clients or customers, or with entities that have to work together: like governments, companies, and non-profits.

SAMPLE JOB TITLE WITH AVERAGE SALARY (Data from Glassdoor, Payscale, and Neuvoo)

  • Stakeholder Relations Manager $105,000 CAN/ $83,793 U.S
  • Stakeholder Engagement Manager/Director $67,500 CAN/ $118,000 U.S.
  • Community Engagement Director $87,109 CAN / $65,000 U.S.

That’s all!

So there are three more great careers for academics! Don’t forget to read the first post, and let me know if there’s anything I missed!

3 Amazing and Well-Paying Career Paths for PhDs.

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