There are many (valid) reasons as to why one might consider alternative careers to academia as their PhD journey comes to an end: a change of pace, job security and stability, inability to find a suitable post-doctoral position, or simply feeling like academia is not the right fit. The skills one builds during a PhD enables the pursuit of diverse career paths. LSE PhD alumni work in international organisations, governmental institutions, consulting firms, tech companies, start-ups, national and international charities (etc.).
Some alumni shared reflections on their transition from academia to their respective non-academic jobs. Despite being happy in their new roles and acknowledging the many pros of their positions, they candidly shared some difficulties they faced:
- Be prepared to have less autonomy. There are many differences between doctoral research and a non-academic role: working in a team vs. independently, attending weekly team meetings vs. checking-in once every month with your supervisors, reporting to a manager vs. holding yourself accountable to achieve your deliverables, attending strict work hours as opposed to being flexible with your time (etc.). While these differences can make up the reasons why one might leave an academic path, PhD alumni reported missing this autonomy at times.
- Be prepared to conduct research quicker, and sometimes less deeply. The project turnaround times can be much tighter in non-academic careers, requiring researchers to work at a faster pace, forgoing a certain level of depth one might reach in a PhD. This has the advantage of assured completion of a project by a certain date, however some alumni mentioned they missed the ability to pursue their intellectual appetite to its fullest.
- Be prepared to conduct research in a completely different field/topic. Your expertise can provide you a head-start on the competition, but often non-academic careers will hire you for the skills you’ve built during your PhD, not because you’re an expert in a particular field/topic. Some alumni mentioned they had no prior background in their current non-academic roles, and that they sometimes missed the occasion to apply methodologies they’d refined during their PhD.
- Your job might be very different than its advertised description. As you settle into a non-academic role, you might find that your obligations are somewhat different than what was advertised. You might not have as much responsibility; this is likely to change and evolve as you grow into your new role and gain the trust of your team.
- You might not completely lose touch with academia. Even if you’ve decided to pursue a non-academic opportunity following your PhD, you might very well remain in touch with academics in your field. This was the case for alumni in international organisations working collaboratively with professors around the world, and alumni working in governmental institutions. Make sure to connect with faculty in the LSE Departments to stay in the loop of what they are doing, as these might open paths allowing you to return to academia following non-academic experiences.
I hope that by sharing some alumni experiences, you will feel less alone navigating this change. LSE Careers regularly hosts PhD alumni careers panels (which you can book on the LSE Careers Hub); read about these and other related matters here: LSE PhD Careers Blog.