Life after your PhD and when to start thinking about it

The PhD is the pinnacle. The highest educational qualification you can receive. Beyond then, it’s just professorships, and who wants one of those? But does the PhD being the pinnacle of education mean it’s the pinnacle of your education. Should it even be a pinnacle at all? Not necessarily. In this week’s blog, Ellie discusses life when you’re PhDone.

By Ellie King

Image: Ellie King

When I was going through my undergrad degree, I always knew I wanted to continue onto a Masters and then (hopefully) a PhD. At that moment, that was the goal. But now I’m doing the PhD, and around 14 months from the end of my funding, that goal is no longer the end. It doesn’t mean I don’t still have the goal of getting the PhD, that’s still there, but because I’m on the path to getting it, I need to start thinking of another goal. PhDs are a peak of education, but that doesn’t mean they have to be a peak of our lives.

What I’m saying is, it’s really important to think about what those goals are beyond the PhD, and what you’re going to do with life after it. And it’s important to also remember that you can’t start thinking about those goals purely when you’ve finished your PhD one. It’s almost like you’ll be back to square one again. Don’t negate the success of your PhD, but at the same time don’t think it’s the be all and end all of your success.

So, you’re now thinking about life after your PhD. But what options are available? Well, at Warwick, there’s a taste of the various different routes you want to go down, and various people to help you wherever you choose to go.

The Academic Route

According to a Higher Education Policy Institute report, 67% of PhD students see academia as their career path post-graduation. This makes sense, with a clear interest in the subject and belonging in an academic environment, for PhD students to want to continue down the university path even further.

If this is you, there are several things you can do. Firstly, it’s probably important to have some teaching experience under your belt and complete the Preparing to Teach in Higher Education course beforehand. Many departments offer teaching positions for their PhD researchers, and this gives you a dip in the pool of academic teaching and university lecturing. These often come in the form of Graduate Teaching Assistant positions, and you can check for internal current vacancies here.

Image: University of Warwick.

There are also funding opportunities available to take a position as a post-doctoral research fellow. At Warwick, one of the most common schemes is at the Institute for Advanced Study (or IAS). If you’re thinking of a post-doctoral position, the best person to speak to is your supervisor, who will have knowledge of the department and any potential positions available. They’ll also have a wealth of knowledge about an academic career, so it’s a good idea to explore whether it’s right for you.

Image: University of Warwick

The Industry Route

This sounds more dramatic than it is, but the industry route is essentially leaving academic and getting what my mum calls ‘a proper job.’ If you’re interested in moving outside of academia and research, or potentially taking a research-based position at a non-academic institution, Warwick has a great host of support available.

In going to industry, it’s crucial to spend time during your PhD honing your transferable skills. This encompasses everything from team-working (that you did working with your supervisors) to time management (keeping your research to a schedule) to engaging non-specialist audiences (writing blog posts). If you’re worried you don’t have any of these skills then fear not. It’s more than likely that you do, but you don’t know it, and there are so many things at Warwick which can help you develop them. The Certificate in transferable skills is available to those studying with the science faculty, and the Doctoral College runs the Researcher Development programme with a range of events. There’s also a whole department for Student Opportunity who support job applications, careers, skills development, and more.

The Innovation Route

If neither of the other two routes suit you, innovation may be for you. If you’re research is something that could be turned into a product, business, or service, then you may want to think about taking a entrepreneurial route and starting a company. This is probably the most daunting of the three to take, as it often involves going it alone, taking risks, and figuring a lot of things out for yourself. But do not fear, because once again Warwick is here, this time in the form of Warwick Enterprise. This team can support you from idea generation to setting up a start-up, with funding, guidance, events, and incubator programmes along the way. Most importantly, you can book appointments to speak to someone about your ideas, to simply see if this is an option you might explore.

Image: Ivy Zhuo

The most important thing however, is that you start to think about this stuff early. Ideally, in your first year you’ll be taking advantage of the various courses available across Warwick to help you upskill (such as learning programming or taking part in conferences). In your second year you’ll be really thinking about the path you want to take after the PhD, setting in place some activities to support this, whether it’s teaching or engagement activities. By your third year and towards the end of your research, you should have a clear path ahead of your plans. They don’t need to be realised yet, but it’s good to have them there.

What are your plans for after your PhD? Let us know by tweeting us @researchex, messaging us on Instagram @warwicklibrary, or by emailing us at

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