If you’ve completed your Doctor of Philosophy, either in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field or the humanities, you’re getting ready to reap the benefits for all that lost sleep. Before you assume that you’ll always be in academia, or that you’re only prepared for academia with your Ph.D., let’s take a look at all of your options, including the private sector.
The academia field is changing, and becoming more competitive and less stable than it once was. In 2016, we produced more PhDs than there are research jobs. With fewer Professors retiring from their tenured positions and universities making cost cutting measures, recent data reports that 73% of higher education positions are off tenure track, with more and more qualified, highly educated individuals finding themselves looking to the private sector to keep their careers moving forward.
The private sector is fast catching up to academia as an employer of PhD holders. Combine that with the fact that in a private sector, your PhD is the exception rather than the norm, and you have room for an opportunity.
What Are Your Options?
If your PhD is in a STEM field, your path forward is relatively straightforward. The medical care, pharmaceuticals, and energy industries are growing right now. But it’s not only the STEM candidates who are getting hired–those with qualitative research skills in the humanities can bring value to many different fields.
It is important to adjust your expectations when making the transition from an academic career track. Job titles, salaries, and management level positions might not always track with what you might have expected within a research-based, academic position. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Your PhD can put you in the running for many project management-level roles, and for some positions within prestigious organizations where you need an edge to be considered. Any experience you may have running a laboratory or production environment can also be very valuable in many private sector applications.
If your degree is in the humanities, you may have been taught to expect that your education isn’t valid anywhere outside of academia, but that’s not the case. Your skills may have a less obvious application to the private industries, but that doesn’t in any way mean less valuable. The trick is to emphasize your core competencies. Any humanities doctorate will establish a whole host of skills in communication, analysis, composition, and management. A career coach can help you identify the types of positions to target, carefully assess the skills that they require, match those with your core competencies, and translate them into private industry lingo. Even if you don’t have a perfect 1-for-1 match, your degree demonstrates that you have an impressive capability to learn and adapt quickly, perform self-directed work, and coordinate teams.
Those letters next to your name afford you an edge that most of your competition won’t have, and it’s important to take advantage of that. You’ll be a standout candidate in project management, investment banking, marketing, communications, development, and leadership roles.
How Do You Break In to the Private Sector?
As Cheeky Scientist points out, networking is vital for the job hunt you’ll be undertaking, and is the most clear cut way to leverage your STEM or humanities doctorate. When simply applying to a posting, it’s easy for your credentials to be overlooked in the shuffle of a crowded field. In a conversation, you can hit that as a real selling point, building your personal narrative.
Having a PhD provides some unique advantages in the world of networking. First, it provides a solid foundation to build your personal brand, something that many applicants struggle with. You need to establish that you’re a leader, communicator, and a hard worker, and craft the language around your job search to sell that message. While private sector applicants end up piecing together talking points from their career, you can simply ask yourself “how did I exercise this in my studies? How will I continue to do this in the field?”
To get started, create a schedule of upcoming local networking events based around your target industry and field of study. These don’t have to be career fairs–think meetups, happy hours, trade shows, and conferences. At these, you can start building up a network within the private sector and establishing relationships with people familiar with your expertise.
You also want to build out a robust strategy of online networking, particularly through LinkedIn. Another unique advantage from your education is that you’ve likely developed a network of colleagues—don’t be afraid to use these relationships. Connect with professors, fellow students, and anybody else you might have met in your studies. Leverage them aggressively, looking for any mutual connections for decision makers in your target industry.
You can use these to build out a robust, effective job search strategy. If you’d like to continue discussing ways to leverage your education, I invite you to have a conversation. Contact me today to talk about leveraging your PhD for a career in the private sector.