Career Options for Researchers

Academic careers

Nowadays, a PhD, is all but essential for entry to most academic careers, you may find that the PhD is now often only a minimum requirement in job specifications. If you have thoughts of a career in higher education (HE) learning and research you will know that it is a highly competitive area. 

Not surprisingly, higher education (HE) is the most popular sector destination for doctoral graduates and early stage researchers. [accessed January 2010]

However, entering academia should not be seen as the only option on the completion of your degree. Think about whether you really know what it will involve and whether you have the motivation and determination to succeed.  Opportunities and openings will depend very much on your discipline: postdoctoral research positions are more common in science and it is not unusual for researchers to complete one or more 'postdocs' before they are ready to apply for a permanent Lectureship . This differs in the arts, humanities and social sciences where there are fewer research posts. 

Statistics on higher education careers

National statistics on the career paths of researchers is not abundant although Universities do collect data on doctoral students. Exploring the national data and trends on the first destinations of these UK doctoral candidates gives us a reasonable starting point. has analysed the data and presented it on their website under the following headings:

The following pages from the look in more detail at:

Oxford university have produced information for those considering an academic career

Non-academic career

If you feel that a career in academia is not something you wish to pursue, what are your options?

You have built up a range of transferable skills during your research including:

1. problem solving analysis 3. interpersonal skills 4. project management 5. motivation 6. leadership 7. commercial awareness

So, how do you go about transferring these skills into a tangible career option? Start by taking a step back and think about:

What do I want? Values, motivations,

What can I do? skills, strengths,

What is available? Type of work, lifestyle, employers, roles.

Go back to the getting started section to review where you are and where you want to be.  Think about what experience you have, how can you build up more experience in the area, job shadowing etc.


We have listed below some information which may help you explore your options further, remember to make an appointment with a Careers and Employability Consultant. The university runs a number of events during the year have a look at the events page for further information.  This is an excellent, comprehensive careers website for graduates, which contains a section aimed at PhD students.  A website for Arts and Humanities PhD students containing careers advice and career profiles.

Unsure of your career options

You may be coming to the end, or just started your PhD or research position and have thoughts that it may not be what you really want to pursue.  You may have some other ideas of the career route you want to take, or have none, whatever your individual  circumstances whether it is a complete career change or a job that allows you to draw on the skills, interests and experience you have,  the Careers and Employability Service is available to help you. 

If you have not already done so visit the getting started stage of the website this will put you in a position to start exploring potential career ideas. However, you may not be fully aware of the options open to you and the following methods and resources may help you generate further ideas:

  • Try using Prospects Planner - computer-based guidance programme that will help you identify your skills, motivations and interests and suggest occupational areas that reflect and accommodate these preferences
  • Options with your subject - discipline-related skills, employment options, affiliated job roles, case studies and additional resources
  • Explore types of jobs - profiles on jobs, including, entry requirements, conditions, training, progression, training, employers, related websites and case studies
  • 'Your PhD...What next?' - can help you identify options and appreciate the labour market for researchers. Links to case studies, publications and useful websites
  • Sector briefings - overview of job sectors (e.g. science, government, education), including, job roles, entry and progression, typical employers and case studies
  • the job hunting section of the researcher’s site contains general and discipline specific information.

There are many careers open to researchers. Whatever your career aspirations, the University of Stirling provides support to help you further your ambitions.

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