As a PhD you will find a wealth of rewarding job options in many fields outside of academia. PhDs work in research, writing, public service, consulting, advising, teaching, and publishing.

Don’t underestimate your strengths and transferable skills! Your skills as a humanist or social scientist are transferable to many careers and highly valued in many industries. 

Key Resources to Help You Start Your Search

We have provided you with some of the most common options for PhDs in this section. You will find more in other resources. The two most recommended resources are: 

  • ”So What Are You Going to Do with That?”: Finding Careers Outside Academia, by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius
  • Versatile PhD, which provides information about a broad range of careers for PhDs. It includes first-person narratives about careers outside of academia, job listings, career panels, discussion groups, and networking opportunities.

Higher Education Administration

Higher education offers many rewarding employment options outside of faculty positions. Are you interested in working at a liberal arts college, community college, or a university?

Non-academic positions and administrative jobs exist in all these educational institutions. All need staff with the skills you have developed in your humanities or social science PhD program.

Teaching/Writing/Learning Centers

Campus teaching, writing, and learning centers are growing areas of opportunity for PhDs. You may be well-suited to this type of position if you enjoy teaching and working directly with students and faculty. You may work with undergraduates on their writing or study skills; or help graduate students to improve their teaching skills. You may also find writing and tutoring centers at private and charter schools.

Research and Public AFFAIRS OFFICES

Use your strong research and writing skills in an institutional research department. These offices need PhDs to prepare and analyze data about the university and to apply that analysis to institutional problems and issues. You can look into opportunities at

  • public affairs offices
  • offices of institutional research
  • internal and external newsletters and magazines
  • the communications and foundations arms of development offices

Student and Academic AFFAIRS

Advising and support roles are available in student and academic affairs offices.  If you enjoy working with undergraduates, consider

  • academic advising
  • career services
  • student activities
  • residential life
  • counseling
  • minority/multicultural affairs
  • international student affairs

Where to Look

The best source of information about open positions will be a university’s human resources page.

These websites are also useful in searching for administrative higher education positions

If you’d like to stay at your institution, be sure to let your colleagues know you’re interested in these opportunities.

Consulting

Consultants work with clients to provide support around strategic and/or operational issues. Corporations, governments, and nonprofit organizations all hire consultants. Consultants may conduct detailed industry analyses, benchmark comparable organizations, or devise strategic initiatives. Consulting firms can have a specific industry focus—such as education—or serve a variety of industries.

Why consider consulting as a PhD? As a consultant, you will engage in stimulating projects and work with highly motivated colleagues. Consultants also have impact within their companies and get to see results quickly.

Consulting is a rewarding yet demanding field. Most consultants travel extensively, spending three weeks a month on the road. They often work 60 to 80 hours a week. There are many ways to learn about the industry and decide whether consulting would be a good fit for you. This might include attending information sessions, networking with industry professionals, or researching companies.

Educational consulting may be an area of interest to you. Higher-education consulting is a small but growing industry. Educational consultants might work in the nonprofit division of a large management consulting firm, at smaller educational consulting companies, or independently. Your higher education experience and research, writing, and advising skills are valued in this field.

Other educational consultants advise students or parents on high school and college applications. High school college counselors help students navigate the application process. Private educational consultants help parents navigate the secondary school and higher education systems. While college counselors often have degrees in counseling, this is not mandatory.

Where to Look

Nonprofits

Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) cover a wide range of organizations, including health, educational, religious, arts, and charitable organizations, as well as advocacy groups, professional societies, and research institutes. Nonprofits are funded by foundations, government grants, membership dues, and service fees.

Many PhDs seek out NPOs as their first step outside academia, because the culture of NPOs can be particularly PhD-friendly. These organizations often need staff with the skills you have gained in your PhD program:

  • grant writing
  • research
  • fundraising
  • program evaluation
  • program development
  • advising

NPOs also attract people who are passionate about particular social and civic issues. At an NPO, you can make a positive impact on behalf of your organization’s cause. That said, most jobs don’t pay very well.

Where to Look

These websites will help you learn more about opportunities in the nonprofit world:

Financial Services

Financial services companies include banks, hedge funds, and trading companies. These companies often seek candidates with advanced quantitative, research, and programming skills. Mastery of statistics, stochastic calculus, and working with large data sets may be especially valued. PhDs in these roles may use skills in

  • sales and trading
  • product development
  • analytics
  • risk monitoring and assessment
  • fixed income and equity research

Roles in investment banking are often very demanding and fast-paced. Work weeks often exceed 50-60 hours and projects may be due at 9am the day after they’re assigned. As in academia, you may have little geographic flexibility. Most jobs are located in New York. That said, you will likely be well-trained and work with smart, motivated colleagues. And, of course, the work is financially rewarding.

Another option within the finance industry is commercial banking. At a commercial bank, you may have more opportunities to work with clients and use your verbal and written communication skills. As in investment banking, commercial banks tend to have strong training programs. Commercial banking is also more geographically flexible and usually has more regular hours. Pay is high, but less lucrative than in investment banking.

Where to Look

Secondary School Teaching

If you love teaching you may find secondary-school teaching rewarding. Teachers get to interact with students in a variety of arenas: classrooms, athletics, theater, student clubs, and class trips. They also get to experience a sense of making a difference in students’ lives.

You may want to choose private schools as a first step in a teaching career. Unlike public schools, they do not require a teaching certification. Charter schools are another good option. Some charter schools have classes aimed at college preparation, research, and writing.

There are a number of organizations that help career-changers become certified quickly. One of these is the New York City Teaching Fellows Program. This program recruits public school teachers and helps them become certified. Another such program is Teach for America. Thirty-eight percent of TFA’s 2016 corps came from graduate school or another job before joining.

Experience with adolescents is important for entering this field.  While your PhD qualifies you to teach a particular subject, teaching younger students requires a different curriculum and working style. You can develop classroom management skills and gain experience in various ways.  For example, you could look for jobs teaching in a summer program run by private schools. Or you might contact schools for substitute or part-time openings. Or volunteer, tutor, or work in an after school program. 

Where to Look

Academic Publishing

Academic publishing companies print and distribute scholarship in journal, book, or thesis form. As a PhD, you will likely be familiar with the journals and presses in your discipline.

Publishing provides an opportunity to stay involved with scholarship. Most academic presses believe that PhDs’ long commitment to scholarship make them better editors.

The industry is currently experiencing several changes. First, university budget cuts and increased journal costs are putting pressure on publishers. University budget cuts have reduced library budgets and subsidies to university publishers. The humanities have been particularly affected by this pressure. When libraries can’t afford to buy monographs, presses are less able to publish them. Second, open-access is changing publication models, especially in the sciences. Academic publishing will continue to adapt to this shift in coming years.

You might also consider the field of educational publishing. These companies publish materials for secondary schools, colleges and universities, and training programs. These include textbooks, indexes and abstracts, and study guides. Unlike academic presses, educational publishers are for-profit companies.

Where to Look

Non-Academic Publishing

Non-academic publishing includes trade books, consumer magazines, and many online outlets. These publish for a more general readership, and are usually for-profit companies.

As a PhD, you have skills that you could put to work in a wide variety of roles in publishing. Some of these areas include editorial, management, marketing, sales, and production.

In publishing, you will get to work with people who love books and pop culture. That said, salaries are generally low. The industry is centered in New York, but there may be opportunities elsewhere. On the literary agency side, there may be more geographic flexibility once you’ve established your career.

Internships are the entry point to book publishing, which is an apprenticeship industry. Publishing attracts bookworms from all walks of life. You will likely intern alongside both undergrads and career changers. As many internships are unpaid or low-paid, it can be helpful to do one over the summer while you’re in school.

Newspapers, magazines, and online publications also hire PhDs to write in their areas of expertise. These will most likely be freelance or part-time positions. If you’re interested in this type of work, build a portfolio of writing for general audiences.

Where to Look

Cultural and Historical Organizations

Cultural and historical organizations include museums, libraries, and performing arts centers. They are a great fit for PhDs in many fields, like history, musicology, and art history.

Cultural organizations offer a range of opportunities that may be of interest to you as a PhD. Some areas, such as curation and research, may already be familiar to you. Outreach, education, and program development run educational programs and build community relationships. Marketing and public relations promote the museum to the broader community. Development raises money through donors and grants.

These organizations value the subject knowledge and skills that you bring as a PhD. Use your research, writing, analysis, and presentation skills to design curricula or write grants. You will also work with people who share your love of culture.

Where to Look

US Federal Government

The federal government offers a range of choices for humanities and social science PhDs, from economists to urban planners.

With over 1.7 million jobs and over 400 occupational specialties, the federal government offers more choices than any other employer in the United States. More than 100 agencies and bureaus oversee their own hiring and recruitment. Each has its own mission. 

The skills and knowledge you gained in graduate school will be useful to many agencies. For example, your specialized knowledge of a language or culture may be valuable to the Department of State. You could also use skills gained from your PhD as a Central Intelligence Agency analyst.

A useful way to find these and other positions is to do a keyword search on the USA Jobs site. Below you’ll find a list of a few agencies known to hire PhDs, though there are far more.

NOTE: Most federal government jobs are limited to U.S. citizens.

Where to Look

Professional Research

You can apply your research skills in many professional contexts. Think tanks and research centers, for instance, conduct research in many areas. They often hire PhDs for their research, analytical, and writing skills. Your research skills are also valued in

  • education 
  • publishing 
  • nonprofits
  • government agencies
  • financial institutions 
  • start-ups and more

Job areas include program evaluation, fundraising research, market research, or public opinion research. Research positions may require skills in quantitative research, qualitative research, or both. Strong written communication skills are essential.

You can approach your search in a couple of different ways. For example you might look for positions in a particular industry or field. Alternatively, you might focus on particular think tanks or research centers.

Where to Look

International Development

International Development focuses on improving the welfare of a community or communities. Many projects involve problem solving that reflects the unique culture, politics, geography, and economy of a region. In recent years, this field has focused on projects to empower women, build local economies, and care for the environment.

Projects may offer short-term relief or long-term social change through sustainable practices. A single, transformative project can address a specific problem. A series of projects may target several aspects of society at a global level.

Areas of international development can include

  • foreign aid
  • governance 
  • disaster relief
  • economic empowerment and microfinance
  • humanitarian aid
  • gender equality 
  • education
  • environmental impact
  • healthcare 
  • infrastructure
  • peace and conflict resolution, and 
  • alleviating poverty

A theoretical foundation in policy development and analysis provides excellent career preparation. Understanding different cultures and regions is a tremendous asset in International Development. Use the knowledge you developed in your humanities or social sciences PhD. 

International development may be a good choice if your studies included

  • economic development
  • environmental conservation
  • gender studies 
  • public health
  • urban/regional planning 
  • education
  • political science
  • geography
  • regional studies 
  • sociology
  • anthropology or 
  • public policy

Consider whether you want to work at an organization’s headquarters or in the field. Most mid- and upper-level positions require 5+ years of international experience.

Where To Look

Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs work in business, for-profits, social enterprise, and on solo projects. These projects may create a niche market or address a social need. You may be familiar with some examples. For instance,

  • Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, created a niche when he built a platform for people to buy and sell items online.
  • Steve Mariotti, a former business entrepreneur and a public school teacher, started a foundation to teach entrepreneurial concepts to low-income youth.  

Successful entrepreneurs are able to innovate, tolerate uncertainty, and bounce back from failure.

Many entrepreneurs start their first ventures as students. You may start a project to explore an interest or idea, and build it into a larger enterprise.

Columbia Resources

Below are a few Columbia resources for you to check out. Find opportunities and develop the skills and knowledge needed to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors:

  • Columbia Engineering Entrepreneurship: Columbia Engineering Entrepreneurship supports students, faculty, and alumni (from SEAS and across the university) at all stages of innovation and entrepreneurship activities.  Resources include: competitions, grants, mentorship, and training programs.
  • Columbia Entrepreneurship: University wide office with a mission to support, invigorate, accelerate, and motivate the Columbia community’s programs and culture around innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. The resources page includes links to initiatives, programs and groups connected to the Columbia community, including the Columbia Venture Community, Columbia Startup Lab and MakerSpace.
  • Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs (CORE): CORE runs a series of educational workshops open to all Columbia undergraduate and graduate students and alumni. Learn about important topics including business plan development, marketing, and entrepreneurial finance. CORE also sponsors an annual business plan competition to grant seed money to students with the strongest business plans.

Additional Resources

General Resources

  • All Business: Information, products, and services for entrepreneurs, small businesses and professionals to start, manage, finance and build a business
  • Entrepreneur.com: Information to help start, grow or manage a small business
  • National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance: Association of colleges and universities that support technology innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education to create experiential learning opportunities for students, and successful, socially beneficial businesses. Offers grants, competitions, courses, and networking opportunities
  • Inc.com: Advice, tools, and services, to help business owners and CEOs start, run, and grow their businesses
  • Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE): SCORE is made up of prominent and retired business executives who volunteer their time to advise people on how to start for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises
  • StartupJournal: The Wall Street Journal Center for Entrepreneurs

Government Resources

Start-up Resources

Resources for Social Entrepreneurs

  • Ashoka: A global organization that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs
  • Skoll Foundation: Global online community where social entrepreneurs and other practitioners of the social benefit sector connect to network, learn, inspire and share resources

Resources for Women

Resources for Minorities

Independent Work

Independent workers include

  • freelancers
  • consultants
  • independent contractors
  • temps
  • contingent employees
  • the self-employed

Currently, independent workers represent 30-35% of the U.S. economy. Independent and freelance work is increasingly common across many industries.

Before considering a form of independent work, you should consider the downsides. For one, you will be responsible for managing your business and figuring out (and paying) your taxes on your own. Second, independent work does not provide the security of a steady source of income. Lastly, you will likely not get benefits like paid holidays or vacation, a retirement plan, or insurance.

Independent work offers benefits too, which may appeal to you as a PhD. You may enjoy a variety of assignments, and have more control over your work. Your schedule may be more flexible, and you may be able to work from home.

Independent work is an excellent way to ease into hunting for a job outside academia. You can gain industry skills, and explore various areas of interest. You may even be able to transition into a full-time job at a company where you are currently working.

Where to Look

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