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14 In Demand Industry Careers For Interdisciplinary PhDs

Interdisciplinary PhDs – those who have research backgrounds in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts – are less likely to seek career opportunities outside of academia than their basic sciences and engineering counterparts.

The academic landscape in interdisciplinary departments is just as bad, if not worse, than that in STEM departments, yet these PhDs feel that they can’t leave. That there is no demand for them in industry,

This is simply not true, interdisciplinary PhDs are highly valuable in a variety of industry positions, but because they don’t know what tier options are and lack an industry network, they are invisible to industry employers.

Recently, a PhD shared the following thoughts about their perceived value before and after finding a job outside of academia:

I was fortunate enough to have a dissertation chair who told me to really imagine my position outside of academia.

But, at the time, I suffered from imposter syndrome and was unable to take the steps to actually leave. 

I did some teaching, but decided that wasn’t for me. So, I built a network and leveraged it to better understand my skill set and find my first position out of academia.

One of the main things I’ve learned after working in industry for a couple of years is that my skills are transferable to and useful in many industry settings. 

My current job relies on skills like decision-making, empathy, and understanding human behavior, all of which I developed during my PhD in anthropology.

What Makes Interdisciplinary PhDs Valuable In Industry

Interdisciplinary PhDs spend years trying to understand human behavior at different levels.

They also develop skills like problem solving, quantitative and/or qualitative research, different approaches to data analysis, and critical and creative thinking. 

All of these skills are valuable on their own, but professionals that have all of them are coveted for a wide array of positions across industries.
As an interdisciplinary PhD, you have the ability to interact with a person, recognize what their specific problems are, and come up with a strategy to solve their problems. This is extremely valuable in a business setting.

Top 14 Careers For Interdisciplinary PhDs (Including PhDs In The Social Sciences & Humanities)

If you have a PhD in the social sciences, humanities, or the arts, you have a lot of transferable skills that make you valuable in industry, there is no reason to stay stuck in academia.

The main reason why interdisciplinary PhDs fail to transition is because they don’t know their career options in industry and mistakenly think they are only qualified to do academic work.

I don’t want you to be one of those PhDs. So, I decided to explore 14 positions that hire interdisciplinary PhDs. This should help you overcome imposter syndrome and motivate you to get your job search started.

1. User experience (UX) researcher/analyst

User experience (UX) researcher or analyst is currently the top industry position for interdisciplinary PhDs.

UX is a relatively new field that has components of applied anthropology and cognitive psychology and aims at understanding how the experience that customers have when using a particular product affects their relationship with it.

A couple of years ago, this field focused specifically on software products, but now, almost every industry is investing in UX at some capacity. 

The main goal of an UX researcher is to to improve the usability of a given product. These professionals serve as the voice of the client in the face of the company and they bring the human element to product development.

2. Management consultant

Many PhDs think that consulting firms only hire candidates with MBAs or financial degrees. This is a myth. In fact, most consulting firms, including McKenzie, BMG, and Bain actively recruit PhDs of different backgrounds.

Management consultants work with different companies and use frameworks to make recommendations that will solve the most complex problems of that company.

The abilities to do research, analyze and synthesize information and/or data, reach conclusions, and come up with suggestions are at the core of any PhD, no matter the background. These are the exact same skills that employers are looking for in outstanding management consultants.

3. Financial analyst

As a rule of thumb, PhDs can get hired into any position that ends with the words “analyst” or “researcher,” financial analyst is not an exception.

If you used to work with statistics and data modeling during your PhD, you will still be able to do this once you become a financial advisor, but the difference between you and an MBA holder is that you will be able to inject the human behavior element to your work.

This is highly valuable because financial analysts study things like market fluctuation or what motivates people to spend their money, both of which have a strong human component.

4. International development

Interdisciplinary PhDs understand better than most how different places in the world function. Including the law, the complexities, and the localities. 

And if you didn’t study it already, you could learn it because you’re trained at being attuned to those different life experiences that people have. 

This knowledge is extremely valuable in a world where most businesses are international at some level.

As an international development professional, you can contribute to areas such as policy development and analysis, communications, sponsorship, and international relations, which will give you the opportunity to contribute to social change and forge a career helping the world to move forward.

5. Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) officer

Everyday, more companies are bringing to the forefront issues of equity in hiring. They are investing significant sums to ensure that the workplace is a safe and equitable work environment. 

These companies rely on Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) officers to achieve that goal. These professionals play an important role in shaping organization and often interact with professionals at the executive level.

As an interdisciplinary PhD working in D&I, you’ll be able to take a human-centered way of thinking and apply it to reshape how companies organize their workplaces. Making this a very rewarding and ethically sound career choice.

6. Technical writer

Launching a new product, especially if it’s a physical product requires a lot of documentation. This is where technical writers come in. These professionals write documents like instruction manuals, journal articles, how-to guides, and technical reports.

As an interdisciplinary PhD you excel at writing. You are not only able to produce a great volume of documentation – you wrote a dissertation after all, but you are also able to pay attention to the precision in language. Both of these skills are required in a technical writer job.

You can work as a technical writer for many industries, including retail, food and beverage, and cosmetics.

7. Industry researcher

Think tanks, research centers, and most medium to large private organizations engage in some form of information analysis and reporting. They need PhDs to put their skills to use in areas like fundraising, market research, public sentiment research, program evaluation, and more.

To be a successful professional researcher in industry, you must have strong qualitative and quantitative research experience, strong communication skills, and an ability to work with large amounts of data and information.

8. Business developer

The main goal of a business developer is to come up with strategies to grow the business. The ways to achieve this will vary depending on factors like company and sector, among others.

To excel as a business developer, you need to be a people person, show empathy and be able to build relationships because you will have to interact directly with clients and stakeholders.

As an interdisciplinary PhD, you have the ability to keep the big picture in mind and come up with a clear direction that considers the business outlook and the human aspect, and this can bring tremendous benefits to a company.

9. Product manager

Product Management is an essential component of business strategy, as it aligns the company with its target market. 

Product management is an end-to-end process of developing products from conception and production to the first contact with the customer, and spans the entire product lifecycle. 

The role is so important that the product manager is one of the first, and most important, hires a startup can make to ensure its success.

A top-notch product manager must have skills in leadership, influence, persuasion, innovation, and creativity that they can leverage along with product knowledge to ensure its success in the market. 

As an Interdisciplinary PhD, you can leverage the soft skills and academic discipline that you have acquired to succeed in this exciting industry role.

10. Not-for-profit officer

Not-for-profit organizations cover all humanities and social sciences areas and can benefit greatly from the background and experience candidates gain from completing a PhD in a related area. NPOs cover a range of organizations, including education, health, religion, arts, and more. 

There are lobby groups, charities, foundations, and institutes that seek the services of professionals who can write grants, conduct research, fundraise, and develop programs for their clients. 
In addition to providing day-to-day support, you can be instrumental in determining the direction of an organization through strategic advice and expert insight into the challenges it will face in the future.

11. Government policy advisor

Government institutions at different levels offer great job stability and benefits and value the skills that PhDs bring to the table.

Understanding things like different cultures, labor policy, environmental policy, and being able to speak several languages can be a great asset when it comes to applying to government positions.

By working as a government policy advisor, you have the opportunity to make a real impact, which is something that many PhDs crave.

If you are planning to make this transition, keep in mind that government agencies have a very structured application process that usually takes a couple of months.

12. Academic publishing

People who work in academic publishing ensure that submitted manuscripts align with the editorial standard of their particular publication and serve as editors of these publications.

A lot of interdisciplinary PhDs go into these positions because they already know how the publication process works and have the subject matter expertise necessary for the role.

This might be an interesting career if you want to stay in a somewhat familiar environment and, as you gain experience, you can experiment with other types of writing and editing, such as marketing pieces.

13. Higher education administrator

Higher education administrators oversee academic programs. They are often deans of directors who hand grants for an office or handle student success. 

Many interdisciplinary PhDs make an initial transition into these types of positions because they already understand the academic environment and have the transferable skills required for the job, such as project management, the ability to work collaboratively, and the ability to deal with budgets.

You can either consider this as a career or as a stepping stone before you move to another industry career.

14. High school teaching

Many interdisciplinary PhDs have found rewarding careers in teaching outside of academia. The opportunity to continue to interact with students and contribute to their education is a drawcard for many PhDs, particularly in the humanities, social sciences, and arts. 

Schools are often seeking to add new staff to their faculties with in-depth knowledge in areas such as English, Social Science, Geography, and History.

You can choose either private or public institutions, or even charter schools to pursue your education career. There are also opportunities to teach younger students, or tutor as part of a school’s learning program.

Concluding Remarks

As an interdisciplinary PhD, you have unique transferable skills that qualify you for a variety of industry positions. Your main problem is that you are invisible to employers because you don’t know your options and lack a robust industry network. I put together this guide of 14 top positions that hire interdisciplinary PhDs to help you solve the first problem and encourage you to take action and prioritize your transition so you can get hired in a role that values everything you can bring to the table.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

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