Here Are The Best Government Careers For PhDs

Think academia and industry are your only two options for a career? Think again.

For PhDs, government careers can represent exciting and unusual ways to apply your expertise in meaningful ways.

Imagine helping craft the policy that leads to cleaner air or lower emission vehicles. 

Or, imagine identifying a troubling trend before it comes to a head—and helping agencies take the steps they need to mitigate a crisis.

Government jobs are as specialized and as varied as PhD programs. They need smart and intelligent people who are trained to work with dedication and discipline. None better than PhDs to fill these crucial roles.

With that in mind, here are the best government careers for PhDs … no matter your specialty. 

What To Know About Government Careers For PhDs

Landing a government job means steady employment, predictable promotions, and plenty of benefits that improve the quality of life all around.

Not to mention that paycheck. 

That all said, securing a government career isn’t like finding a job in industry or academia. 

Be aware that:

  • The screening process will be long. Do you have months to spend getting this job? If so, it’s worth it. If not, you may need to start the process while you look for something in the meantime.
  • Citizens are usually given preference over non-citizens. In some cases, like certain jobs within the U.S. federal government, you must be a citizen or national.
  • It’s not always as competitive as you think. At one point, as many as 50% of the vacancies posted to USAJOBs went unfilled. 
  • You might want to consider relocating. Government jobs may lie scattered throughout the country. If you’re willing to relocate, it opens up a lot more doors.
  • Governments love a variety of perspectives. Don’t be afraid to apply for an interesting position because it seems “too out there.” You’ve got soft skills that other candidates won’t necessarily have, which will make you especially valuable.

Three Areas To Consider A Government Career As A PhD

Government positions are a strong choice for people who are service- or community-minded, who wouldn’t find fulfillment in the private sector. In government, your work will have real-world impacts in some very direct ways.

The best part? It doesn’t matter if you’re a STEM PhD or not. A PhD in humanities can serve just as effectively depending on what they’re doing.

Here are three routes to snag a government career as a PhD, no matter how specialized your knowledge base may be.

1. Policy Advisory & Analysis

Politicians need to make informed decisions, but they don’t always have the expertise or knowledge they need to do so. Who do they turn to in that case?

Their Policy Advisors.

These are specialists who bridge the world between an academic discipline and public policy. In the government, they often take the form of:

  • Science Policy Advisors. If you’re any sort of STEM PhD, look into science policy. Your leaders will call upon you when making decisions affecting things like technology, infrastructure, climate change, healthcare, and more.
  • Public or government Policy Advisors. Social Science PhDs often fill these ranks. Here, your specialized knowledge in things like culture, language, or history can help you develop effective policy that creates social change.
  • Policy Analysts. In this role, you may work on policy analysis, research trends, or spend time looking into the impacts of political actions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, such professionals usually have a PhD in political science, public administration, or another closely related field.

2. Regulatory Affairs

This involves the creation of regulations to safeguard consumer or public health and safety. Professionals in regulatory affairs interface with the government and various industries to negotiate regulations, promote consumer safety, and protect the economic interests of businesses in that industry.

In a nutshell, it’ll be your job to make sure that unsafe products in your industry don’t make it to market. 

The range of products and industries that regulatory affairs may cover is huge. Take Airama Albisa, PhD, who became a Regulatory Affairs Specialist in the pharmaceutical industry. Or Dignesh Shah, PhD, who performs a similar role for a healthcare technology firm.

Regulatory affairs are neat because a wide range of PhDs is applicable in the field. The role often focuses more on certain skills that you need to succeed. 

If that sounds interesting, check out the Regulatory Affairs Council. In this Advanced Program, we’ll help you leverage your existing skills throughout the hiring process. 

3. Labs & Research

Universities and private industry aren’t the only places you’ll come across Research Scientists. Governments love them, too.

Like with policy advisory and regulatory affairs, the variety of ways to apply your PhD might surprise you. 

For example, did you know that governments are the largest employers of Molecular Biologists? They end up in federal roles in fields like:

  • Forensic science
  • Biotechnology
  • Disease research
  • Agricultural research

Of course, even if you’re not in a life science field, you can still land a sweet government research job. Engineering, political science, and mathematics are all good fits for many government agencies who need researchers for their specialties.

And if you’re in a “soft science” like humanities or social sciences? Don’t fear. Even the U.S. Department of Defense needs people who excel at researching people, behavior, societies—and everything else related to human life.

Plus, a Research Scientist for the government just screams “I know classified things.” Doesn’t it? 

PhDs Work Everywhere: A Government Career Lies Within Reach

We say it around here a lot: academia isn’t your only option.

In fact, it’s an option you want to avoid. There are so many better career paths out there. 

For PhDs, government careers may mean a challenging, fulfilling position that has direct impacts on the world.

We’ve just covered three ways for PhDs to land government jobs—plus the predictability, stability, and paycheck that comes with it. Whether you’re a STEM PhD or an expert in the social sciences, there’s a government career out there for you.

As the world’s largest job search training platform for PhDs, we know all about the awesome (and even unexpected) options you have. 

You’re now one step closer to becoming that confident, successful industry professional we know you are.

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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Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of the largest career training platform for PhDs in the world - Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 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 two bestselling books with Wiley and 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.

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