3 Reasons Why Management Consulting Is A Great Fit For PhDs

Was your postdoc experience disappointing?

If not, I’m happy for you.

But for me—and many other PhDs out there—the postdoc experience was not everything it was cut out to be.

If you’re one of these PhDs, you know what I’m talking about: low pay, no independence, and terrible hours (to name just a few issues).

If I didn’t want a career in academia anymore, what could I count on?

Academia tells you that the “noble work” work is done at the university…

And that honest PhDs don’t “sell out” to the dark world of business and profits.

This is a lie to make you accept academia’s poor working conditions.

I started thinking outside the box because I felt like I had no other choice.

I decided to go full-throttle and aimed for a position in management consulting.

It doesn’t get more “business” than that, and the more I learned about this new field, the more I realized how hollow the old academic warnings were.

In management consulting, every day is unique.

PhDs in this role thrive on diverse challenges – they love solving problems and figuring out efficient solutions to complex business problems.

They show companies how to make a positive impact on the world through good business practice – the complete opposite of what academia wants you to believe about industry work.

This is a highly rewarding career track.

If you’re curious about it, let me be your introductory guide.

The Consulting Industry Needs PhDs – Here’s How You Can Tell

saucy-looking management consultant

Management consulting is not going anywhere.

Ibis World reports an annual industry growth of 3.4% with consulting businesses currently numbering nearly 800K.

Given that consulting is thriving, management consultant salaries tend to be on the higher end.

According to ManagementConsulted.com, consulting giant McKinsey has raised the base salary of PhD-holding consultants to $165K.

And the most exciting part is that this number seems to be growing for PhD hires.

A business willing to pay salaries of this quality values its employees to a high degree.

PhDs deserve pay that reflects their unusual and highly functional skill sets.

And industry is willing to pay that amount to PhDs who understand the business world.

Your time in academia has probably been one of the greatest challenges of your lifetime…

But all that work has prepared you for a high-end industry role like that of a business consultant.

The consulting industry has a powerful need for PhDs with business acumen to fill high-level roles as management consultants.

And it’s no surprise that PhDs are in high demand for a job like this…

Management consulting is made for PhDs: candidates who can apply their academic skill set to the analysis of large datasets.

Candidates who can provide solutions that other employees can’t.

A PhD armed with business knowledge can identify relevant patterns for a given company, and that’s incredibly valuable to any industry.

Why PhDs Make Valuable Management Consultants

management consultant smiling

It’s clear that the consulting industry wants PhDs in its ranks.

But why?

Some might suggest that management consultants only rely on business knowledge to do their job.

This is not quite true.

The consulting industry needs professionals that can combine business acumen with the transferable skills that PhDs already have.

Despite possessing these valuable skills, PhDs often think that they will have to completely change their mindset and values to succeed in the management world.

This is not the case.

Here are 3 reasons why PhDs are valued in the management world.

1. Acquiring relevant business knowledge might be easier than you think.

There is a myth going around.

This myth seems reasonable on the surface, but who would have guessed it isn’t true? 

The story goes that in order to do management consulting, you need formal business education.

As recently as a decade ago, this was true.

Consulting firms employed only MBAs as management consultants.

However, the rapid advance of innovative technology on the market has pushed consulting firms to hire science PhDs who understand the nitty-gritty of these technologies.

In fact, some of the top consulting firms have specialized job opportunities for candidates with advanced science degrees.

As a PhD, you are a rigorously trained critical thinker.

You’re an expert when it comes to identifying specific issues and solving complex problems.

In the world of consulting, science PhDs are sought-after assets because they know how to troubleshoot problems and develop better strategies.

PhDs are also fast learners, and consulting companies know that.

You can learn the necessary business skills you need as a management consultant in little time and without spending extra time and money on an MBA.

Additionally, consulting firms offer workshops or short internships specially designed for science PhDs, Postdocs, and MDs. 

These courses—known as “mini-MBAs”—last a few weeks and give new hires the business knowledge they need to succeed at their new role.

So, if you think that a PhD will never acquire that business skills necessary to succeed in management consulting, think again.

2. The consulting world is highly team-oriented.

phd looking out window

Management consultants work in a collaborative environment.

That means prospective employers are looking for teamwork and communication skills, not to mention leadership capabilities.

The presenting skills you developed by holding weekly group meetings and going to conferences will come in handy once you land that consulting job.

Writing is also a highly valuable skill.

Brainstorming in groups, being analytical, and delivering solutions to technical problems are key requirements for success as a consultant.

Even though you are troubleshooting and applying analytical skills in a manner similar to scientific research, there are two key differences to consider.

PhDs working in industry have to adapt to providing solutions at a faster pace than in academia.

Another difference is that when offering a solution, you need to keep the big picture in mind, rather than taking a long time to deeply analyze a highly specific problem.

You will get more comfortable with this change in pace over time.

3. Big consulting firms are not the only option for management consultants.

Science PhDs often apply for large, well-known firms like McKinsey or Boston Consulting Group.

But instead of limiting yourself to a handful of firms, you can increase your chances by applying to smaller “boutique” consulting firms.

These smaller operations usually cater to clients in a specific technology-based sector. (Biotechnology, IT, etc.)

If you apply to one of these smaller firms, you have a much better chance of getting hired.

Once you gain some experience, it will be easier to secure a position in one of the larger firms.

After working in consulting for a while, you may decide to take your career in a different direction, your experience will open up a lot of doors to different job opportunities.

After leaving consulting firms, successful consultants have gone on to become entrepreneurs, advisors for startups, teachers in business schools, and even to hold management positions in technology-based companies.

So remember, if you were concerned about your limited business experience, don’t be – PhDs can easily acquire the business skills they need to do consulting. One change you will have to make is the adjustment from working solo. A PhD in consulting must adapt to team-style analysis. Applying to smaller firms might be a good idea to break into the field. Management consulting can take PhDs to exciting (and surprising) places. Far from existing within the “dark side” of PhD work, management consulting represents a bright future for academics who are ready for meaningful change.

Ready to back up your PhD with MBA-level business management training? Our ScientistMBA program is tailor-made for PhDs who want to dig into core business concepts like corporate strategy, organizational behavior, management hiring, and more. SMBA provides members access to exclusive content including training videos, live webinars, case studies, industry insider documents, and a private online network of business-minded PhDs. Join hundreds of other PhDs who are taking their degrees one step further for that razor-sharp business edge. Enrollment for the Cheeky Scientist SMBA program opens soon – get on our waitlist today!

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Aditya Sharma, PhD
Aditya Sharma, PhD

Aditya Sharma, PhD, earned his advanced degree at the University of Toronto, Canada. Now, he combines his passion for all things STEM with keen business acumen, and he works as a scientific consultant at a top Canadian consulting firm.

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