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Career options for researchers

Find out about the different career options available to researchers.

Introduction

Probably the most common question researchers ask careers advisers is 'What are the options after my PhD/current research contract?' You may wish to work in a role where research is a core activity, use your subject knowledge in a non-research role, continue to work in Higher Education but in a non-research role, or use your transferable researcher skills, such as analytical skills, complex-problem-solving and project management, in other areas like finance, risk modelling (working in sectors such as insurance, healthcare planning, the environment or climate) or consulting.

You may also be interested in academic adjacent careers, for example working in knowledge exchange or technology transfer, knowledge transfer partnerships, or working for research councils or professional bodies. This video on MyFuture has an overview of career options for researchers and approaches to working out what is best for you, and below is careers information relevant to your Faculty.

Our Get Started guide for researchers on MyFuture has further resources to help you research common career pathways for researchers, find out how other researchers have got to where they are now, and market your skills effectively in CVs and interviews

Faculty of Science

As a science researcher, you may choose to work in a role where research is a core activity, whether in academia, industry, government laboratories/agencies, research councils or research institutes. Our help-sheet on careers in scientific analysis and R&D has further information on the kinds of organisations that carry out research and advice on job-searching, and this information from the University of Cambridge has useful information on industrial research careers and how they can be similar to and different from academia, as well as guidance on CVs and interviews for industry. You could also look at roles that support research and development, such as health and safety, regulatory affairs, clinical trials, technical support and consultancy. The University of Birmingham also has useful information on careers for PhD holders in the biotech and pharmaceutical sectors and contract research organisations.

There are many other roles which will directly use your scientific skills and knowledge, such as patent work, policy, science communication, research commercialisation/technology transfer, outreach and public engagement and science publishing. You may be carrying out some of these activities currently as part of your research. Our help-sheet on alternative careers in science has more information on these roles.

You may also want to apply your analytical and numerical skills in areas such as finance, data science and bioinformatics.

Computer Science

As research in computer science spans a broad range of areas from mathematics to psychology, a wide variety of career options and sectors and industries may be open to you, including cyber security, games design, robotics, telecommunications, AI, data science, health, education and finance. If you would like to use your specific research skills and knowledge as part of a job, ask yourself where they might be applied and which organisations may be able to use them. Sector briefings like the TARGETjobs IT and Technology briefing can help you relate your skills and research interests to the labour market.

If you want to move away from your immediate research field and specialist research skills but stay close to Computer Science, there are many occupations in which your PhD would be valuable, including systems/business analyst, IT consultant, communications engineer, patent attorney or technical writing.

Mathematics

In addition to the most obvious career options (finance, academic research and working as a statistician), there are many occupations in which research experience and higher level mathematical skills would add value, including operational researcher, data scientist, financial risk analyst, systems/business analyst, communications engineer, meteorologist, market researcher, patent attorney or technical writer.  You can use the Prospects website to find out more about what these roles involve. Maths Careers is the careers site for the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA). It has career profiles showing how maths can be used in a wide variety of sectors and industries. They also produce a guide about how mathematical skills are used in the labour market.

Faculty of Engineering and Design

If you want research to be a core activity of any future career moves, you can consider working within academia or as a research engineer in industry (or potentially government labs or the charity sector). Research in industry tends to focus on the development of new products or enhancements to existing products, and may be more team-orientated and focussed on shorter-term projects with real-world impact. This web page from the University of Birmingham Careers Service has further information on working as a research engineer and in the variety of commercial roles available within the engineering sector, including sales, marketing, product development and finance.

You might want to continue in engineering as a whole, but leave lab-based Engineering behind. There are many occupations in which your research experience would be valuable, including technical sales engineer, health and safety specialist, quality assurance, production or operations management, energy conservation, environmental engineer, patent attorney, scientific journal editing or technical writing. Teaching (of design & technology, or maths or physics following an extension course) can also be an attractive option.

You could also use your analytical and problem-solving skills in areas like finance, data science and consulting, or apply your technical skills in areas such as software engineering.

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

If you wish to work primarily within research, and depending on your areas of interest and expertise, you could work in the commercial sector, academia, NHS, think tanks, central or local government, parliament, libraries, research councils, charity sector, market research organisations, campaign groups or social research organisations. Consider the type of research you have done and how the methods you have used could be applied in a range of roles and sectors; for example, qualitative methods can be applied in market research and quantitative methods may be used in statistics, policy analysis or consumer analytics

You may have partnered with, or encountered, organisations in the course of your research that interest you, so start by listing those and connecting with people who work for them; your existing research collaborators can also be invaluable career contacts.

Research in sectors other than academia may involve:

  • Working on projects that don’t relate to your current research specialism
  • Working on multiple projects at once
  • Working to tighter deadlines

Research roles outside of academia may not necessarily require a PhD, so you will need to think about how you articulate the added value of your PhD. If you are considering research roles close to your current field of expertise, you could consider marketing it as research/professional experience rather than education.

You may wish to apply your subject knowledge in roles that don’t have a primary research focus; economics researchers may wish to apply their economics knowledge in financial risk analysis; education researchers may wish to work in education administration or policy; health and psychology researchers may wish to apply their knowledge in clinical trials, health policy, public health and community and support work, healthcare consulting or science and medical writing.

To research sectors and areas that may interest you, see the Careers Service helpsheets on Careers in SPS; Criminology, Social Policy, Social Sciences & Sociology, Careers in international development, international organisations and international relations, Careers in Politics, including working in Westminster and Europe, Careers in the Charity and not-for-profit sector and Careers in Psychology and mental health. You can access these helpsheets through the career options Get Started guide in MyFuture

You may also wish to return to previous professional experience or use this in some way in your future career. Consider re-connecting with contacts from previous professional roles to find out about opportunities and get advice.

School of Management

While the most obvious options for researchers in Management may be academic and commercial management jobs, and consultancy, there are many other options too

You might want to move away from Management themes, but stay within your broader subject area. There are many careers in which your PhD may be valuable, including training and development, policy, systems or business analysis, sustainability, human resources, data analytics, logistics, procurement, industrial relations and marketing, among others.

If you are considering management consulting, it's worth being aware that management consultancies value the high level- research and problem-solving skills of doctoral graduates, and some companies, such as Mckinsey and The Boston Consulting group have specific entry routes.

Professional bodies - Faculty of Science and Faculty of Engineering & Design

Faculty of Science

Faculty of Engineering and Design

Professional bodies - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and School of Management

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

School of Management

Further help for researchers

Enquiries

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