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Career Options

After you have spent some time with self-assessment activities and identified key values, skills, and interests, it is time to explore potential career matches. There are a multitude of career options for graduate students in all disciplines, but research, creativity, and resourcefulness are necessary to identify them. You must be proactive and take responsibility for defining your new career.

Career Options by Skills Group | Exploration Resources by Industry


The following resources are useful consult as you evaluate your experiences:

Basalla, Susan and Maggie Debelius. "So What Are You Going to Do With That?": A Guide to Career-Changing for M.A.s and Ph.D.s. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
Includes anecdotes and advice for researching and obtaining positions outside of academia.
Fiske, Peter S. Put Your Science to Work: The Take-Charge Career Guide for Scientists. Washington, D.C.: AGU, 2001.
Guidance for researching and recognizing opportunities outside of academia while maintaining research career goals.
Resource on non-academic careers for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields.
  • Join a thriving, supportive web-based community where you can dialogue with “Versatile PhDs” in and outside the academy
  • Participate in Career Panel discussions with Versatile PhDs working in a given field
Read interviews with advanced-degree-holders in a wide range of exciting careers and learn how they got there

Career Options by Skills Group

Students completing advanced training in virtually any discipline have skills that will transfer to a multitude of careers found in a wide variety of organizations. Here are just a few of the options.


The research skills honed in graduate school often lead students to positions in major corporations, government, or not-for-profit agencies.

  • Corporations and government agencies: science and technology researchers, market and financial research
  • Museums, historical societies, and research institutes: research and curator positions
  • Not-for-profit think tanks: research and analysis positions


A multitude of communications careers are available to individuals with excellent analytical, writing, editing, and public speaking skills.

  • Publishing: academic and trade publishing firms offer positions such as freelance editor, copy editor, or acquisitions assistant
  • Corporate communications: editing corporate newsletters, directing communications initiatives, and developing training materials
  • Public broadcasting and journalism: newspapers, radio, television and print communication offers opportunities for speech writers, technical writers, critics, columnists, and reviewers

Administration and Management

Administrative positions exist everywhere: in government agencies, private corporations, and not-for-profits (see below), as well as in higher education.

Private corporations

  • Management: often graduate students with outstanding leadership and organizational skills make excellent managers, especially after entering an organization in an entry-level position (often in sales, marketing, or advertising).

Higher education

  • Administration: students with master's or doctorates may find positions such as academic adviser, assistant dean, or director of a student services office attractive.
  • A doctorate is often necessary for career advancement.

Secondary schools

  • Teaching positions at private day or boarding schools
  • Secondary school administration
  • Administration at an independent music or arts school

Human Resources and Training

Teaching experience can help advanced-degree holders land positions in human resources departments, especially in the areas of training and development. Corporations are now the largest provider of adult vocational and technical education in the United States.

Types of positions available:

  • Instructional designers
  • Trainers
  • Curriculum specialists
  • Master instructors

Types of training:

  • Basic skills remediation
  • Management and supervisory training
  • Technical skills instruction
  • Safety and procedures
  • "Soft skills" such as communication, conflict resolution, and project management

While specialized graduate degree programs are available to train students for these careers, individuals with teaching experience and advanced degrees in other areas are also desirable candidates.

Not-for-Profit Organizations

Many individuals with advanced degrees pursue careers with not-for-profit organizations, particularly in development and fundraising, and education-related organizations are particularly receptive to candidates with advanced degrees. These positions require excellent interpersonal and verbal communication skills.


  • A wide variety of administrative positions are available in not-for-profit organizations, depending on the kind of organization
  • For example, PhDs have acquired positions as executive directors of scholarly organizations (such as the Society for American Music), researchers and directors at testing agencies like the Educational Testing Service (ETS), and as professional administrators for educational organizations like the Committee for Institutional Cooperation (CIC).

Grantwriting, Development and Fundraising

  • Grantwriting can be a rewarding career for individuals with advanced degrees, because it often requires a great deal of research and the ability to translate information for a wider audience.
  • A good way to get experience in this field is to do some volunteer grantwriting or development work at a not-for-profit organization in your area.
  • For more information, see the WRK4US discussion.


Large consulting firms such as McKinsey look for motivated, hard-working individuals with skills similar to those developed in graduate school. Smaller consulting firms abound, usually in more specialized fields. Entrepreneurial students with specialized and marketable skills often become independent consultants.


Many graduates establish successful businesses in numerous fields, including counseling, freelance editing, writing, consulting, engineering, and software design.

International Opportunities

Students with proficiency in multiple languages and extensive travel experience have numerous opportunities in multi-national corporations and not-for-profit agencies, particularly if they are willing to live abroad.

Sales and Marketing

Like individuals with bachelor's degrees in the humanities, graduate students in the humanities, arts, and social sciences may pursue opportunities in business, often through entry-level sales positions.

  • Often an excellent entry-level position in an organization.
  • Humanities backgrounds can be just as useful as business backgrounds here.

Exploration Resources by Industry

Graduate students may leave academia and find successful careers in private corporations, not-for-profit agencies and foundations, higher and secondary education, as well as in government and public policy careers.

Start looking at online job postings. Even if you are not looking for a job yet, this can help you start imagining new career options and learn about new jobs.

The following resources can help you explore and research your career options.

Higher Education | Not-for-profit Organizations | Secondary Education | Government

Science & Mathematics | Humanities & Social Sciences

Higher Education

Use Vitae’s job search tools to find positions by keyword, type, location, or date posted, or choose “More Options” for additional search fields.
Higher Ed Jobs
Job and career information in academia.
Academic 360
Faculty, staff, and administrative job listings.
Provides jobseeker tools including webinars, diversity resources, relocation resources, and job postings.

Not-for-profit Organizations

Search for nonprofit jobs by field (such as advocacy or research) or position (such as fundraising or program).
Search jobs, internships, organizations, or people in the nonprofit sector.
Search jobs and learn about organizations in the nonprofit sector.
Information about “impact jobs” in nonprofits with socially or environmentally responsible missions.
Locate funding sources domestically and internationally and learn about proposal writing and nonprofit management.

Secondary Education

Written by an English PhD on the secondary education job market, this article from The Chronicle recounts his successes and struggles.


Learn more about where you might fit in federal government and how to apply for federal positions.
Federal government job postings. Search by keyword or location, or use the Advanced Search function to search by salary, agency, or other criteria.
The Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program is a two-year rotational program for advanced degree holders pursuing positions within the United States government.
Path to PMF
Guide to help prospective applicants navigate the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) process from application to placement.
A site dedicated to serving and inspiring government employees by providing training, resources, and collaboration.

Science and Mathematics

Science Careers
From the journal Science and sponsored by AAAS and has a wealth of information for scientists.
Identifies career options in the chemical sciences and includes needed education, opportunities, profiles, and salaries.
Advice for new graduate students in math, including information about academic and non-academic careers and resources for career services.
View profiles by highest degree earned, job sector, or “hidden” physicists.
Feibelman, P.J. A Ph.D. Is Not Enough!  P.J. Feibelman. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1993.
Advice from choosing a dissertation or postdoctoral adviser to interview preparation and identifying and selecting research jobs in various sectors.
Robbins-Roth, Cynthia., ed. Alternative Careers in Science: Leaving the Ivory Tower. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998.
First-hand accounts of alternative career paths for scientists, including consulting, finance, or public relations.

Humanities and Social Sciences

Developing a Nonacademic Career - Modern Language Association (MLA)
Answers frequently asked questions about exploring nonacademic career options.
Profiles of psychologists in non-faculty careers.
Produced by and for historians, the tips on this site can also be helpful for broader audiences.
Archived WRK4US (precursor to Versatile PhD) discussions with advanced degree holders in varied careers.