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Six Things You Can Do With a Ph.D. (Instead of Becoming a Professor)

Dec 30, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Going into academia isn’t exactly a ticket to a cushy tenure-track job these days. While some lucky Ph.D. holders—mainly those in the STEM fields—might have an easier time landing a well-paid, tenure-track job at a university in an interesting city, most aspiring academics wind up in adjunct positions that pay very little, and with huge amounts of debt from their studies.

However, other sectors besides academia might not be so unfriendly to doctoral degree holders—they might even welcome your Ph.D. with open arms. Here are a few options for Ph.D. holders other than becoming a professor.

Work for the government

The government hires Ph.D. holders to work in setting public policy, run agencies, conduct research—the list goes on. The type of degree you hold will determine your path, but the Congressional Budget Office, the Congressional Research Service, multiple public health agencies, and more hire Ph.D. holders for research and policy positions. You could also work for a think tank, write speeches, advise politicians and government leaders, and more. 

Go into research

There are plenty of research opportunities for Ph.D.’s in government. But if you have a Ph.D. in biology, chemistry, or another hard science, you could potentially go to work for private industry and make a lot more money. Pharmaceutical companies hire biochemists and other scientists to develop medicines; oil and gas companies hire geologists to help them extract resources; and there are plenty of other research opportunities for Ph.D.’s in the right field.

Run a nonprofit

A Ph.D. in a field such as literacy, social work, public health, or a range of other issues could lead to a career serving your community in some way. Many nonprofits look for people with Ph.D.’s when hiring in leadership positions. Or, with the right idea and a source of funding, you could start your own organization.

Become a consultant

There are consulting opportunities for Ph.D.’s in a wide variety of fields, from business to marketing and media to the sciences. Consultants serve advisory positions and often are able to set their own hours and choose their own clients. Depending on your field, you could consult in a variety of areas—some of them lucrative.

Work at a public school

If your passion is teaching, you could always become a high school teacher in the field in which you earned your degree. However, a Ph.D. qualifies you to go into administrative leadership as well. With a Ph.D. in an education-related field, you could run a school, develop curriculums, train other teachers—the opportunities are out there.  

Go into business

If you have a business-related major—from media and marketing to management and leadership—you could have a lucrative career in business waiting for you. Many corporations look favorably on doctoral degree holders when hiring people in management positions full-time—as well as consultants. If you studied in a field that translates well in the corporate world, you could have plenty of opportunities.

The types of opportunities available to you will, of course, depend largely on the subject you studied. However, no matter what you focused on, it’s possible you can sell an employer on your Ph.D. in almost any sector—including government, corporations, nonprofits, education, and research. Ph.D.’s are not as common in the outside world as they are in traditional and accredited online schools—and as such, they tend to be much more valuable. Do some research into the types of careers you might be qualified for outside of colleges and universities—and you might just be surprised at all the options.


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