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PhD Job Prospects — Your Career Is Not a Casualty of Your PhD

Updated 12-03-2020

If you’re somewhere at the beginning, middle, or end of a PhD, there’s something I want you to grasp before we can get down to the brass tacks of actually starting a career outside of academia.

You have a lot to offer the marketplace. Your PhD job prospects are good!

There’s a weird phenomenon that starts to happen while you’re studying. Academia crushes you. Going through an advanced degree program is like running a confidence-destroying gauntlet. Maybe it’s getting papers rejected for conferences. Maybe it’s toiling over a dissertation chapter only to have your supervisor send it back in shreds. All this mixes in with the dose of imposter-syndrome that most PhDs have anyways and the average PhD graduates—if they graduate—as a bundle of self-hating nerves.

Depending on the field, the attitude among academics towards non-academic careers is unenthusiastic. They often don’t speak of those students who have left academia as if they’ve vanished into a dark void of failure. When so many PhDs offer little to prepare you for the world outside (and let’s be honest—a lot of people employed in academia have no idea what goes on outside), it’s easy to come to the conclusion that everything’s hopeless, that you’re worthless, and that a Starbucks position might be all you’re good for.

Let’s start to break that mindset right now.

I’ve been to the other side, and I know that the world is dying for the skills you have to offer. I’ve met PhDs outside of academia who love what they do. Many make more money than they ever would in the academy, do more rewarding work, and impact humanity more than they ever thought possible. Time and again, I ask them the same question: “Do you miss academia?”

The answer is usually a laugh.

Surrounded by academics, it’s easy to imagine that your PhD is only useful for one thing—higher ed—and that looking outside is some sort of failure.

Nothing is further from the truth. It takes guts to reinvent yourself. It’s thrilling to step into a new career and learn how useful your skills are. I meet PhDs who are having way more impact on humanity than those academic publications that only 4 people will see.

You can do better.

You can make more money.

You can be more inspired.

You can have a more fulfilling career.

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