What is the entry route for PhD graduates into careers outside of academia?

This is a very common question I am asked by PhD students and post-doc researchers who are thinking of moving away from academic roles.  It is also something that I know can cause frustration and stress for you as it can be time-consuming to find out the answer from employers.

The first point I want to make to you is to reassure you that you are hugely employable and that whatever route you have to take into a particular role, being a PhD graduate makes you stand out to employers outside of academia. If you look at destinations data for PhD graduates from UK universities then you will see that generally speaking, over 50% each year move into non-academic roles and mostly into professional level roles.

The answer to the question about entry routes varies between employers and, yes, can mean more work for you to find the answer. Only a small number of non-academic employers are interested in the PhD qualification itself but please don’t feel disheartened as the experience and skills that you have gained make you hugely employable to a wide range of employers. Employers are interested in your PhD and postdoctoral research experience as they know it develops a huge range of high level transferable skills. Take a look at 10 Career Paths for PhDs to see how the different aspects of your academic research experience demonstrates relevant skills.



The Entry Routes

  • The PhD Stream

In a small number of cases it may be via a PhD specific stream such as at the Bank of England or GSK – PhD streams likes this often pay a bit more than they do to graduates with first degrees or Masters degrees.

  • Experienced Professional

More commonly you could apply as an ‘experienced professional’ due to your 3 or 4+ years’ work experience as an academic researcher. This is often the case in many technical areas of work and other competitive areas such as policy work, medical writing or science publishing (to name but a few). Bear in mind that there may still be some training in the early stages of this route.

  • Graduate Schemes

In many other cases the route in for all levels of graduates is via a graduate scheme. This could be the case for both new PhD graduates and experienced postdoctoral researchers. This is perhaps the established route for all new recruits to professional level jobs in certain organisations – especially when they take people from a range of disciplines. It may be that you have to go in via a structured graduate scheme because you will have to through professional exams before you are fully qualified. This would be the case in areas such as accountancy or actuarial careers.

How do I find out which entry route?

You have to speak to the employers to find out. This could be at a careers event on campus where you can ask them face to face or via their recruitment website, or by connecting with them via a networking platform such as The Network or LinkedIn.

You may find out that some employers in industry and the public sector such as the Civil Service would employ you via either the second or third route so it may be a case of which comes up first.

Networking at Careers events

I know sometimes that your experience at Careers Fairs has been that not all representatives at an employer’s stand have been able to answer your questions about entry routes. Some representatives may be new graduate recruits who can tell you lots  of useful info about their experience of the recruitment process but have no knowledge of PhD entry routes. Most employers will send senior staff who should be able to answer this question or at the very least find out for you. We do remind employers that students attending the Fairs will be not just undergraduates but also at taught and research postgraduate level too.

Bear in mind that there are many careers events aimed specifically at PhD and post-doctoral researchers. Each year in Spring/early Summer I run 4 employer networking events on campus  – one for researchers in each of the colleges. I invite employers who recruit academic researchers and are therefore very keen to meet you. Look out for more details in the New Year when dates and venues have been confirmed.

There will be lots of other events organised specifically for researchers where you can meet employers – via university-wide researcher development training, in your institute or graduate school’s training programme. External organisations such as Vitae and Nature organise excellent careers events for researchers as do many professional bodies and learned societies so follow them on social media to keep updated.




Katrina Gardner, Careers Manager for PGRs and ECRs


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