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Explore your options

A PhD Student shows a member of the public her research

An academic career

Many research students start a PhD with the aim of entering an academic career, but competition for opportunities is intense and gaining permanent contracts can be difficult. Make sure that you understand the realities of an academic career and make a realistic assessment of your motivation and commitment. Talk to your supervisor, academic and research staff, and use the following resources:

Transferable skills

Outside higher education your skills and experiences can be transferred to a range of career options. Find out how you can relate your research skills to the skills typically required by employers: 

Careers in other sectors

More than half of UK PhD graduates enter non-academic careers so pursuing a career outside academia shouldn’t be seen as an alternative or less prestigious option; for many, it is an active choice.

As a research graduate you develop a range of skills that are highly valued by employers in a wide variety of sectors. Even if a job doesn’t require a PhD, employers often say that researchers add value to the role and progress quickly. Some PhD graduates choose to develop a career in higher education administration, management or support roles:

Which career might suit you?

Skills training

Enrol on the Career Management for Early Career Academic Researchers MOOC on Futurelearn. This free course is available from October to June.

Attend the series of Career Planning workshops for research students (run by RETT). Search for forthcoming sessions on Skillsforge.

See careers information on getting ideas to start thinking about your skills, personality, values and motivations. When you research jobs, think about the typical tasks and work environment and whether these would suit your work preferences and skills.

Find some inspiration about where a PhD might take you:

Other useful resources include:

Explore job sectors and meet employers

Careful research is key to identifying career options that might suit you and understanding how to enter and progress within that career. Online resources are a good starting point but speaking to people in that sector and gaining relevant work experience will enable you to gain a better understanding of whether it is right for you, and to make more focused applications.

Online resources

Attend recruitment fairs on campus in autumn. Careers and Placement organise three fairs focused on Law; Technology; and Graduate Jobs and Placements (which includes a range of sectors including business and finance). These are an opportunity to meet employers, find out more about their opportunities and discuss your skills and experiences with them. Whilst many of their opportunities will not specifically require a PhD, you are still eligible to apply. Some employers sponsor you to obtain relevant professional qualifications, such as in law, accountancy, and patent attorney.

‘Careers in …’ events offer an insight into specific sectors and types of work. In the past these have included sectors such as Environment, Research, Arts and Heritage, Not for Profit and Policy. Many of the speakers who attend are York alumni and some have a research degree.

Employer presentations, webinars and skills workshops offer a more in-depth opportunity to find out about jobs and network with employers. Employers on campus have included law firms, professional services firms (consultancy, tax, accountancy), technology companies, Civil Service, McKinsey, Morgan Stanley and Accenture. Some employers will arrange presentations in academic departments – look out for information from your department.

Alumni events run by your academic department offer a chance to hear from alumni and talk informally with them.

Other career events and conferences run by your department, research councils, professional bodies and learned societies – these can offer great networking opportunities. Make sure you are a member of relevant professional bodies to gain access to external conferences and networking events.

Events organised by Careers and Placements are advertised on the Careers what's on page and on Handshake.

Get advice from Careers and Placements

Careers and Placements offer careers advice appointments specifically for postgraduate research students, bookable up to seven days in advance. Find out about these and the other appointments available to you. Appointments can be booked online via Careers Gateway.