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Catherine Reynolds

December 19th, 2017

What to do after a PhD

0 comments | 1 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Catherine Reynolds

December 19th, 2017

What to do after a PhD

0 comments | 1 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

So, how do we learn about career development outside academia from LSE PhD graduates?

We want to know about PhD graduates who leave and how they move on so we use statistics and stories. In this Blog, I’ll focus on what we have learnt about moving into roles outside academia after graduating from an LSE PhD.


We collect data on the first destinations of all our students so we learn about the initial step, post PhD. This reveals that every year about 60% of LSE PhD graduates work in higher education in research of teaching roles and the other 40% move into a variety of roles in a wide range of organisations and sectors.


Learning from your peers is an important part of career progression. Every term LSE Careers invites some graduates to talk to current students about their career progression in Career Panel events held in the PhD Academy, usually with a glass of wine to help everyone relax and let the conversation flow. The PhD alumni share their career stories and experiences of finishing up and moving out of academia. A short summary of the panel events we have hosted since Michaelmas 2016 follows.

Working in Policy in Government and other public sectors

Speakers in November all work in various policy areas and are employed in a think tank, an international organisation, research institute and central government. The three panellists graduated from their PhD between 2013 and 2017, and explained the short-term and mid-term career progression after a PhD. We are very grateful to the speakers who this term were:

Julia Himmrich, LSE PhD International Relations 2016 – now a postdoctoral fellow at the Dahrendorf Forum at LSE IDEAS and was previously at the European Leadership Network.

Shuxiu Zhang, LSE PhD International Relations 2013 – Senior Policy Advisor, Department for International Trade, UK Civil Service and previously working in the New Zealand, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Angelo Martelli  LSE PhD Political Economy in the European Institute  2017. He is currently managing to juggle multiple posts across academia, the policy sector and international organisations. He is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the European Institute working on the political economy of structural reforms and affiliated with the Institute of Global Affairs where he co-leads their migration initiative. In the policy realm he works as a Consultant for the World Bank in their Jobs Group (Jobs Cross-Cutting Solutions Area) and also collaborates with the UK Cabinet-HM Treasury Open Innovation Team.

And 7 things we learnt …

Key themes from these fantastic speakers were about:

  1. ‘figuring it out’, meaning taking time and effort to explore and find your niche, not having very firm expectations and then being open to learning from all your experiences.
  2. creating networks and making connections with other people working in policy (perhaps by attending conferences where you can meet policy practitioners) were identified as helpful actions.
  3. the harsh message that ‘no-one cares about your chapter’ sent a small shock around the room.
  4. benefits of describing your project management skills by using your PhD experience in a targeted way, helps to get you through the selection processes. Transferrable skills were discussed and the ability to talk about these in the language of the employer takes practice. Examples of resilience and relationship building were useful in interviews.
  5. having a confident, well prepared pitch also helps you to convince yourself and the recruiters that you are a strong candidate.
  6. graduate entry to some organisations was seen as a good starting position and not undermining; progression can be faster and your ego can survive.
  7. some patience so that you learn from experiences and look after your personal life, as well as your career related achievements, was reassuring for the audience too.

These wise comments, based on the real and recent experience of these three LSE PhD graduates reminded me of an article by H Ibarra in the Harvard Business Review: ‘How to stay stuck in the wrong career’. She talks about ‘crafting experiments’, ‘shifting connections’ and ‘making sense’ as three steps to career change and has also written a book expanding on the theme ‘Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for reinventing your career’. I’m sure looking at these are legitimate displacement activities and will prove to be valuable long term investments.

Working in research in the ‘commercial’  sectors: April 2017, updated June 2019

Earlier in the year speakers at the Panel in April 2017 were using their research skills in a variety of sectors – public, private and education sectors:

Ben Morris, PhD Government 2004. Director, Infrastructure Advisory and Valuations at Mazars and previously Legal Specialist in Home Affairs Select Committee and National Audit Office. Ben is an infrastructure finance specialist, providing financial advisory and valuation services to funds, developers and lenders on transactions across Europe. His current role is at Mazars LLP – a top ten accounting and advisory firm based in nearly 80 countries: previously, he worked at KPMG, the National Audit Office and the House of Commons.

Claudia Mollidor, PhD Social Psychology 2013 – Associate Director in the Social Research Institute at Ipsos MORI. In her current role, Claudia directs large-scale programme and project evaluations in the children’s social care, youth crime and housing policy areas. Her main clients are the Department for Education, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office. Overall, Claudia’s work covers both large-scale longitudinal qualitative and quantitative studies (especially with children and vulnerable people) as well as smaller scale, shorter term projects. Outside of work, Claudia is a trustee of the educational charity TalentEd. Claudia completed her PhD while working part-time in a research consultancy in Melbourne, Australia.

Sasha Jesperson, PhD Government 2014 – co-founder and Director, ITERU, a boutique consultancy delivering locally-relevant and evidence-based solutions on migration, displacement, human trafficking, modern slavery and organised crime. Since completing her PhD, Sasha has moved between think tanks, leading research on organised crime at the Royal United Services Institute, academia, as director of the Centre for the Study of Modern Slavery at St Mary’s University, and practice, leading responses to migration and organised crime at Aktis Strategy. She is also a deployable civilian expert with the UK Stabilisation Unit.

Donna Baillie, PhD Social Psychology 2016. Department for International Trade. Donna  is a consultant specialising in user research for the public and third sectors. Her most recent clients include the Ministry of Justice, the Department for International Trade, and the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. Donna completed her PhD in Social Psychology at LSE in 2016.Her previous degrees were in Social and Political Sciences (BA(hons), Cambridge), and Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology (MSc, Oxford).

The key messages from the speakers are summed up in another Blog post: ‘Finding your way after a PhD’

Working in international organisations and think tanks: February 2017

In February 2017 we focussed on using research skills to work in international organisations and think tanks. The Speakers were:

Cecile McGrath, LSE PhD Government 2010, is a Senior research manager in Ecorys, a leading European public policy consultancy. She specialises in education and social affairs. Cecile is a research affiliate at the University of Maastricht and the University of California Berkeley where she was a postdoctoral student.

Emma De Angelis, LSE PhD International History 2011, is the Editor of the RUSI Journal and the Director of Publications at RUSI, a leading independent think tank on defence and security..

Nahid Kamal, LSE PhD Demography 2009, is now a freelance development consultant based in London. Before this she was a Research Associate with MEASURE Evaluation, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill from 2011 and was seconded to International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research in Bangladesh where she worked on national population surveys and impact evaluation of USAID funded health projects. Prior to joining MEASURE Evaluation, she worked for the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Geneva, Marie Stopes International in London and Population Council in Dhaka.

Again the LSE Careers PhD Blog: Working in research roles summaries their comments and also includes a list of related occupations and organisations.

Entrepreneurship, Autumn 2016

Back in the Autumn 2016 we focussed on entrepreneurship and the panel included:

Alex Green (Chair, PhD LSE, Economic History, ongoing) Alex is studying for a PhD in Economic History at LSE. He maintains a portfolio career combining academia, non-executive directorship, angel investing and mentoring to young entrepreneurs, social enterprises and charities. He is an experienced international business leader with two decades in energy commodities trading. He has a strong strategic, commercial and risk management focus and a successful track record of starting, developing and executing asset based trading, marketing and distribution businesses.

Andrea Rota (PhD LSE, Sociology, 2016) Andrea joined a small team within the Forensic Architecture centre at Goldsmiths in London working on Pattrn, a web application for data mapping and visualisation aimed at humanitarian response, data journalism and research. This is an exciting match for Andrea’s ‘dual’ background as social science researcher and software engineer, especially after having extensively researched issues of ‘computational agency’ related to alternatives to the internet services provided by Google/Facebook/Microsoft/etc. and the Silicon Valley startup political economy. Andrea is also the co-founder of Xelera, a tiny web development and IT infrastructure consulting studio, as well as Web Development and Operations Manager at the LSE Cities research centre.

Asi Sharabi (PhD LSE, Social Psychology, 2005) Following completion of his PhD in which he brought together Israeli and Palestinian children, Asi moved on to build a career in everything digital. He started Lost My Name as a DIY project with some friends. Pretty soon the project changed from being a labour of love and went on to become a funded tech + storytelling startup with the ambition of making millions of kids around the world curious, clever and kind. In three years the company sold over 1.7million copies of their impossibly personal books in 178 counties.

Giulia Pastorella (PhD LSE, European Studies, 2016) Giulia is one of the founders of ACAD Consultancy, which offers personalised consultancy and mentoring for international candidates who wish to apply to top UK universities. She is Italian and obtained a BA from Oxford University and then an MSc and PhD from LSE. She also works in tech in public affairs roles.


Stuart Theobald (PhD LSE, Philosophy, 2017) Stuart is chairman of Intellidex and a director of Leriba Consulting, both of which he co-founded. He has spent many years researching financial markets and institutions in Africa, first as a financial journalist and then analyst. He founded Intellidex eight years ago to fill a gap for research that was media-savvy but driven by excellent data analytics and market research and now has a team in Johannesburg and London. Stuart is in the final year of his PhD in philosophy at LSE, researching the foundations of theoretical finance. He has pursued it part-time whilst building his business.

Over to you

If you’re interested in PhD career stories, please read the profiles of other LSE graduates.

Current or job seeking LSE PhD students, please attend the Panel events next year and continue to follow our PhD Blog, looking back you can read about the other 60% of career paths that involve working in higher education. For example: Do you want to try the academic job market?; An emerging scholar at 50 odd; From PhD to permanent role

And for those who would like to have it both ways, how about: Should I go or should I stay?; In or outside academia, can I have both?

If you are an LSE graduate and want to share your story, please contact Catherine Reynolds. I’d love to talk to you!



About the author

Catherine Reynolds

Posted In: LSE Careers | PhD | PhD: Beyond academia

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