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3 Entry-Level PhD Jobs Pay Six Figures A Year

I was determined to stay in academia… until I wasn’t. 

It took almost six years for me to reach the conclusion that academia just wasn’t for me

My PhD defense was just a few months away, and I can’t lie: I was literally willing myself to stick it out.

But what about after that? Professorship had been the goal for me before I ever even enrolled in college. It had been my dream.

I had absolutely no idea what to do if it wasn’t going to teach.

I knew what I didn’t want: I didn’t want to be tethered to research. Not exclusively, anyway. 

The biggest problem I had now was uncertainty. 

I didn’t know what my options looked like outside of academia – not even a clue.

When I sat down to apply for jobs, I started searching for terms I knew I’d seen before.

Research scientist.

Clinical research associate.

Grant facilitator.

I searched for terms I recognized. As a science PhD, that’s what I was qualified for, right?

But what else?

Determine The Lifestyle You Want – Then Narrow Your Search From There

If you’re unsure about where to start with your industry job search, you need to first consider what every job you apply for has in common: you.

Your first priority, as you begin your industry job search, should be to determine what qualities you’re looking for in a job – not what qualifications you have.

I know, I know, that’s a novel concept. But in order to find a job that’s a genuinely good fit for you and the positions you’re targeting, you should consider what makes you happy first. 

Ask yourself questions like these: 

  • What do you enjoy doing most?
  • Would you prefer to work in-office or remotely?
  • Are you open to traveling for work?
  • Do you like spending a significant amount of time in meetings?
  • When it comes to teams, would you prefer small and independent or large and collaborative?
  • Do you see yourself working in the private or public sector?
  • What kind of career growth are you hoping to achieve in the years to come?
  • Does interacting with clients, stakeholders or regulatory agencies sound appealing?
  • Do you enjoy leadership roles?
  • Is salary important to you? What range are you looking for?

You Don’t Need Industry Experience To Get Hired In Industry

Too many PhDs operate under the assumption that they aren’t qualified to work in industry careers. 

They believe that they traded years of work experience for years of academic training and research. 

What’s important to understand is that the work you put in toward your PhD amounts to so much more than just a few lines of text in your resume’s education section.

As a PhD, you’ve earned and developed many, many transferable skills in pursuit of your degree. 

In combination with your technical expertise, these skills make you a formidable candidate for most industry positions.

Your skills are needed in every area of industry. That means that every single department in almost any company is seeking PhD-level candidates.

There are five core industry career tracks. Each one is full of opportunities for PhDs to do meaningful and rewarding work.

  • Information and Data Management
  • Research and Development
  • Clinical and Regulatory Affairs
  • Classical Business
  • Sales and Marketing

Many PhDs find that they possess most of the skills it takes to land any given industry role. 

They just need to look past the disqualifying language in job descriptions. 

For instance, “Experience with software and hardware components of relevant automation platforms such as…” 

Most PhDs read the list of software or hardware that follows and take themself out of the equation if they dont’ recognize those programs.

Or, “At least 5 years of experience in…” If you’ve read this and stopped yourself from applying to a job that you’re qualified for minus the years of experience it asks for, I’m talking to you.

Don’t. Stop leaving these jobs on the table. You are sabotaging yourself. 

Challenge yourself to find the commonality between your experience and the key skills listed in the job description – and to prove it to employers with your resume and cover letter.

3 Entry-Level Industry Careers Paying PhDs $100K Or More

Something many PhDs don’t understand is their value. Their experience in academia is largely to blame.

Academia conditions PhDs to associate a generous salary with greed. Your work can either be good and noble or lucrative and sleazy. But this is 100% false.

There is nothing wrong with asking for compensation that you deserve. It is not greedy to set the bar above the bare minimum. (In fact, experts recommend that you should ask for double what you believe should actually earn during salary negotiations.) 

And, as a PhD, you are a leading expert in your field. You didn’t just master a subject, you contributed to the global knowledge of it. 

Your degree is powerful. Earning a PhD is a distinction that only 2% of the world can claim. If you aren’t qualified to earn a fair wage, then who is?

1. Computer Scientist

Computer scientists research how computers function with the aim of finding new ways for technology to solve problems. They work to understand, develop, and test new computer systems and software. 

Depending on their particular specialty, a computer scientist’s duties may include writing new programming languages, designing models to solve computer problems, and conducting research to test new theories. 

Computer scientists also design new software, communicate their theories and findings, and collaborate with computer engineers and software developers to create new technology. 

Graduates with computer science, physics, or engineering backgrounds who want a job centered on computer science research activities should consider a role as a computer scientist. 

Due to the increasing role that technology plays in people’s lives, computer scientists have excellent job possibilities. These professionals get to enjoy the satisfaction of contributing to the use of technology and are well-compensated. 

Computer scientists can work in healthcare technology, social media, software, financial, and manufacturing industries. There are also employment opportunities for computer scientists in the government and at research institutes. 

Examples of computer scientist employers include Adobe, Meta, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the US Air Force. Aspiring computer scientists should emphasize their programming, research, data analysis and problem-solving skills as well as their knowledge of computer systems.

 2. Patent Examiner

Patent examiners evaluate patent applications. They decide whether an invention is novel enough to be granted a patent and communicate their decision to applicants. 

To make their decisions, patent examiners search patent databases to gather information on existing patents and compare them against new submissions. 

They also draw on their technical and legal knowledge. The role of a patent examiner is a writing-intensive position; in this position, you’ll need to write a thorough report about every decision you make. 

This role may also involve negotiating with inventors or their legal representatives to make changes to a patent application. 

Graduates with technical backgrounds who enjoy writing, legal duties, and research may enjoy a career as a patent examiner. Like other IP roles, it provides access to information on new inventions. This can be a great benefit to those who enjoy working with emerging technology. 

Patent examiner roles can be found at government agencies such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or European Patent Office (EPO). Applicants will need to be comfortable working alone and being restricted to one of the few cities where one of these patent offices are located. 

To stand out as an applicant, you’ll want to leverage your research, writing, and critical thinking skills. Being fluent in multiple languages can be helpful as well since, more and more, patent work involves communication with international stakeholders. 

3. Health Economics & Outcomes Research Professional

Health economics and outcomes researchers (HEOR) are responsible for the efficient economic management of healthcare. In general, they perform research using economic evaluation tools and then use the results of their research to advise healthcare organizations on how to best utilize resources. 

More specific work activities vary depending on the type of organization for which they work. For example, HEOR professionals that work in the public sector may serve on advisory boards that support and provide guidance to policymakers for cost-effective planning of public health initiatives. They may also help their employers understand the economic impact of major epidemics. 

This is a great position for graduates from a wide range of academic backgrounds; epidemiology, public health, policy management, economics, international relations, or biostatistics students are all well-qualified to work as HEOR professionals. HEOR positions are financially rewarding and are ideal for those interested in serving others and solving health issues. 

There are HEOR positions available in both the private and the public sector. The types of organizations that employ HEOR professionals include hospitals, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, government health agencies, and intergovernmental organizations. Specific examples include Anthem, Inc., Novartis, HCA Healthcare, and the United Nations. 

In their application, candidates should leverage their scientific/medical knowledge, business acumen, and their research, data analysis, and communication skills.

Concluding Remarks

Your PhD has prepared you for many different careers in industry. The first hurdle you face as you consider which careers are right for you is to understand what kind of lifestyle you want. Then, you can discover and research the career options that tick all the boxes. Then you can create a winning industry resume that highlights the skills you have that employers are looking for in industry. But no matter what career path you choose, keep your value as a PhD top of mind. Believe that you are worthy of earning upwards of six figures a year – because you are. Pursue careers at companies that are willing to pay you what you’re worth. There are more of these than you think, especially once you learn to start thinking and acting like a successful industry professional.

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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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