As you are finishing up your degree, the next big step is finding and applying for jobs. Whether you are completing a doctoral degree or a master’s degree, there are a variety of potential careers you can pursue. Regardless of whether you choose to pursue work in academia, industry, government, non-profit organizations, or something else entirely, you should plan for the job search. This means researching the requirements and necessary skills for that kind of work, learning what materials you need to prepare for the application, and thoughtfully preparing those materials.
When people talk about working in academia, they generally are referring to positions as faculty members, postdocs, or as researchers at universities. However, careers in academia also include all sorts of jobs at colleges or universities. Professorships are not the only careers for those with Ph.D.s or master’s degrees on a university campus. Many people in other positions on campus may have advanced degrees in specific academic disciplines (e.g. English, Biology, or Psychology) and not just in fields like Higher Education. For example, the staff who work in Centers for Teaching and Learning to support university teaching initiatives often have doctorates in academic disciplines. Sometimes, these positions may include some teaching or research responsibilities, so you may still be able to be involved in that work.
When applying for academic job, you will likely need to prepare a CV, a cover letter, and possibly additional materials like a teaching statement or teaching portfolio, or a research statement. More information writing CVs, cover letters, teaching statements, and research statements are available on our website.
You can find listings for professorships on the Chronicle of Higher Education Website, HigherEdJobs, or job search websites in your disciplinary organizations. For positions in academia that are not faculty positions, consider looking at the administrative listings on HigherEdJobs for ideas of other positions on university campuses. If there is a person on campus who does the kind of work you are interested in, consider doing an informational interview with them--they can share more about their work and they may also know of other specific job-finding resources in that field.
Postdoctoral Research Associate
A postdoctoral research associate (also known as a postdoc) is a research-focused position at a university for those who have completed their doctoral degree. Usually, these positions are limited to 1-3 years. Postdocs tend to be most common in the sciences, although there are postdocs in the humanities and social sciences as well. Postdocs are typically listed on job websites in your field, shared through research networks, and some may be listed on the Chronicle of Higher Education or HigherEdJobs.
Non-academic careers (sometimes referred to as alternative academic or alt-ac careers) include anything and everything that would not be based at college or university. Because that can cover a lot of ground, it’s worth being specific about what you mean when you say you are looking for work not in academia. If you are not sure where to start, first think about the skills and experiences you already have. Are you a strong writer? Have you mentored students? Do you have particular technical or programming skills? Have you held leadership positions? Have you volunteered or worked in a position besides your assistantship? Thinking about your past skills and experiences will help you determine the kinds of work you are prepared for and would enjoy.
For non-academic careers, you are more likely to be asked to provide a resume and cover letter. A resume is generally 1-2 pages long and is intended to be a succinct description of your work or professional experiences. Focus primarily on your training or experiences that would be relevant to that job. Below are some examples of non-academic career possibilities and where to research these positions.
Many people use “industry” as a catchall term for all careers not in academia. However, "industry" actually means work with for-profit businesses. If you think you might be interested in this sort of work, you need to think specifically about what that means for you because how you prepare will vary depending on the career you are aiming for. For example, industry work can include working the research labs for large pharmaceutical companies, working as a data analyst, or writing and editing work for a publishing firm. All of those have very different expectations of your prior experiences or training, so you need to be specific to narrow down what skills are needed for that work.
In most cases, finding and applying for these jobs will involve some additional work and initiative. First, most of these positions require resumes, not CVs, so you will likely have to develop a resume if you do not have one already. While a CV can be a lengthy listing of all of your publications, presentations, and teaching or research experiences, resumes are shorter (1-2 pages), more focused documents listing only your work experiences and skills relevant to that career.
Many government agencies (at the state and federal level) hire researchers to study various environmental, educational, or social issues. Research state or federal agencies in your field and the kinds of work they do. You may find that these agencies are interested in individuals who can use their research and data analysis skills to support their work. If you feel comfortable, you might reach out to those agencies to ask more specifically about what they do.
One place to search for these positions is this USAJobs website. Other specific agencies may have their own websites and job boards as well.
What kinds of organizations are you interested in working with? Maybe you have a specific emphasis from your work and intend to work with an organization devoted to addressing a particular social, psychological, or educational issue. Try to get involved with those organizations as a volunteer or otherwise before you graduate that way you can learn more about this work and see what it might be like. This volunteer work is a great way to network in those organizations and develop the connections that might help you get the jobs you want.
If you think you might be interested in working in a museum in some capacity, look into local museum in your field (art, science, history, etc.) and see what kind of work they do. Often, there are ways to get involved in programs at the museum, even in a small way, and share your knowledge. You may find that you enjoy working there and sharing your knowledge with the public in this way.
One place to find job listings for museums is at the American Alliance of Museums page. Specific museums may also post job posting on their websites or through their parent organization’s websites (e.g. a university’s website if they are located on a university campus).
- Do your research.
- Start early.
- Read the position announcement carefully.
- Talk with your adviser.
- Ask for help.
Long before you apply for jobs start looking at position announcements for the kinds of jobs you want. This will allow you to plan for ways to develop the knowledge and skills necessary for that work. You may want to complete an Individual Development Plan to help organize your planning and set necessary goals to help you prepare for that career.
Informational interviews are a great way to get more information about a field, the knowledge and skills necessary for that work, and what the application process is like.
Don’t wait to figure out your career plans until a month or two before you graduate. Even if you intend to go into one field, perhaps academia, it is worth considering other options and planning for those possibilities as well. Remember, the earlier you know you need specific skills, the more time you have to develop those. You should probably know the potential careers you would be interested in no later than your last year in the program. However, the earlier you know the better.
If they want you have specific skills or a particular educational background and you do not have it, do not assume that tangential skills will be equivalent. If you have a question about when your skills are equivalent, ask a mentor you trust or contact the company to ask.
Regardless of what your career aspirations are, you need to talk with your adviser about your plans and goals. Hopefully, they will be supportive of whatever career path you choose to take. If you don’t think they will be, consider who else in the department or around campus might be able to support your job search and could serve as a potential reference.
Don’t try to figure this out alone. OGS staff members are also available to help you talk through your options or prepare for job applications or interviews. We also offer consultations on job documents like CVs, resumes, or cover letters, so don't hesitate to schedule an appointment and seek advice.