Finding the post-academic career path

I often make the case that PhD students should prepare early for their post-academic career. One sign that lack of planning is a problem: the rise of a growing business in post-postdoctoral career training. Here I’ll show the different ways career coaching and other services can help graduates, and list resources specifically for PhD scientists.

While this article is about post-PhD career services, students should be aware of the many ways to prepare for a career as part of the PhD and postdoc experience. For example, the NSF Innovation Corps program is a crash course in entrepreneurship; there are student-led DIY consulting companies like the BALSA Group; and there are resources to help find your scientific career path like MyIDP. You can subscribe to the Lab Without Benches Newsletter where I compile career development resources and events. Finally, universities often host career preparation workshops and seminars specifically for PhD scientists. If these aren’t happening at your institution, check out the websites of nearby schools and request training programs for your campus.

A little context on the different type of career services available to PhDs: First, there is the traditional “job board” type service offered by career centers. These sites aggregate job listings and help match seekers with opportunities. These are mostly free and should be; they are basically the Craigslist of career development. They are fine – assuming you already know what you want and are prepared for it – but they offer no strategy to prepare for your career.

There is the “PhD coaching” model. These services offer mentorship to students, helping first identify the type of career that fits their skills and interests, then organize their research projects and activities to fit that career path. In theory a graduate research advisor could do that, and many do. However, many professors simply don’t have the knowledge or experience to help with a non-academic career. A large part of what these coaching services do is simply educate students about the opportunities outside of academia (or, alternatively, frighten them about the lack of opportunities inside academia).

Finally, there is what I call post-postdoctoral career training. This may take the form of workshops or personalized training programs, and often includes internships with companies. To my knowledge, this is a new phenomenon, and it is likely fueled by high numbers of highly trained scientists at the end of their academic pipeline. But the picture of many scientists scrambling for a few positions doesn’t tell the whole story. There are many opportunities for scientists to begin meaningful and rewarding careers, but it does take an adjustment of the academic perspective. Much of career training is finding out what skills and qualities are important in a company, in contrast to an academic lab. Another important aspect is building relationships, networking, and learning to collaborate with non-scientists.

When it comes to picking a particular service, my best advice is to go with your gut. Career coaches have different business models and approaches, and you need to find someone you trust. Note that people like myself and the Curium Group do similar things for free, but we don’t have the resources to help more than a few people. And in the case of planning your career, free is not always the best deal. Joanne Kamens wrote an excellent piece on how career coaching can help scientists build on their academic training, so I would read that first:

If you are approaching a career transition point, here is a list of career coaching and career-matching services specifically for PhD scientists. It is by no means exhaustive, and I don’t endorse anyone. Feel free to let me know if there are other services that should make the list. Also, the comments would be a good place to briefly share your experiences, good or bad, with career services as a science PhD.

Course Correct

Next Scientist

Career matching and coaching for STEM students, postdocs, and professionals.

White Consulting Group (Boston)

Propel Careers (Boston)

Cheeky Scientist (UK)

Jobs on Toast (UK)

The Thesis Whisperer (Australia)

ThinkWell (Australia)
Services for PhD students and other high achievers (this means you, I think).

The following are humanities-focused:

From PhD to Life (Canada)

Anne Krook

6 thoughts on “Finding the post-academic career path

    1. Thanks Dana, I’ll include this in my next newsletter, and update the links in the essay as well. If you have any experiences with these career-development and job-search services, the community would love to know!


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