Top 10 List Of Alternative Careers For PhD Science Graduates

Graduate Science Jobs | Cheeky Scientist | Jobs For Science Graduates

Written by Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D.

A postdoc was not for me.

I knew this well before graduating.

I simply did not want to pursue a tenure track position.

Too many postdocs and assistant professors I knew were too miserable for me to ever want to be one of them.

I wanted to explore options for alternative careers instead but my University provided me with no resources for doing so.

It was very surprising to see how little the University knew about transitioning into non-academic careers.

It was also surprising to see how limited the University’s network was outside of academia.

To make matters worse, I was an international student.

As such, immigration laws required me to be formally employed in less than 90 days from my graduation.

Three months is not a lot of time to find a job.  

I did not have the luxury of spending half a year on a job search after graduation, let alone taking a break for a few months and then starting my job search.

To get more information about career options, I started asking other science PhDs and postdoctoral researchers about their career plans.

Many of these students and postdocs said they were also interested in an industry career.

But, oddly enough, they had chosen to only apply for postdoc positions.

Why?

A Postdoc Is Not Your Only Career Option

Most PhDs transition into an academic postdoc, even when they would rather transition into an industry position, because they believe a postdoc is their only option.

Their academic advisor and the entire academic system has led them to believe this is their only option.

What does this mean?

It means the reason most PhDs do not get PhD jobs in industry is because they lack the information they need to get these jobs.

They also lack information on which non-academic career options are available to them and which of these positions fit their goals and lifestyle.

If you’re a PhD or postdoc, it’s crucial for you to understand all the opportunities you have in front of you.

You need to gain in depth knowledge of all the career tracks available to you, not just one or two.

You should also pay close attention to changing trends, making sure to note which job sectors are rising and which are falling.

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Gain a thorough understanding of your career options.

Otherwise, you will be forced by circumstances to take a position that is not in alignment with your long-term career goals.

To avoid this fate, we’ve collated a list of the top 10 hottest non-academic jobs.

Understanding which industry positions are on the rise will help you see what’s available to you outside of a traditional postdoc or professorship.

There are many alternative career options available to STEM PhDs.

It will also help you make an intelligent decision on which positions you would enjoy and which you may not enjoy.

When choosing the next step in your career, be sure to consider not only the title and salary you want to have, but the lifestyle you want to live.

Don’t make the mistake of chasing something that will ultimately make you miserable.

This is how many PhDs ended up in poor and unhappy postdoc positions in the first place.

Here are 10 top non-academic careers for PhDs to consider applying to…

1. Market Research Analyst

Marker Research Analyst roles exist in most industries, but they are especially significant in innovation-based sectors such as electronics, IT or biotechnology.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics this profession is projected to experience a job growth of 20% from 2004 to 2014.

Market research analysts are expected to gain a complete understanding of the commercial landscape associated with a specific technology or sector.

A PhD’s ability to analyze large amounts of information and identify comparative advantages between two technologies is very valuable to this role.

As a Market Research Analyst, your responsibilities include gaining information about commercialization opportunities as well as evaluating the key advantages and disadvantages of your products versus competitor products.

You will apply this information and your technical expertise to create reports that outline key niches for commercialization, estimate market size, identify current major players in the sector and recognize prospective future competitors.

Your reports will act as essential tools that administrative teams will use to plan an ideal commercialization path, thereby avoiding pitfalls and maximizing revenues. 

Since Market Research Analysts provide key market information and collaborate with strategic decision-maker, this role can open up doors to higher management positions.

As innovation based industries grow and continue to globalize, there will be an increasing demand for science PhDs in Market Research roles.

2. Business Development Manager

A recent career survey by CNN Money found that Business Development Managers, or BDMs, ranked in the top 100 careers worldwide with a projected growth rate of 16.4%.

The name of this role might suggest that it’s only for professionals with a business degree.

But, nowadays, science PhDs are being increasingly hired as BDMs.  

This is because many PhDs excel at understanding complex technologies, which is crucial to technology-based sectors such as biotechnology, software, consumer electronics, and pharmaceuticals.

A BDM’s key responsibilities include developing new business opportunities, managing existing products, developing market strategies, and building new business partnerships.

As a BDM, you will have to prioritize innovative products based on market needs and competitor positioning.

Thorough knowledge of not only a company’s technology, but its culture and products is key to this role.

BDMs are required to use a combination of scientific knowledge, analytical skills and market trends to forecast things like revenues, profits, and losses.

Your presentation and teaching skills are also valuable to this position because BDMs are expected to present to management and marketing teams regularly.

3. Competitive Intelligence Analyst

Competitive Intelligence (CI) Analysts main role is to gather information about products that are in a competing company’s pipeline and analyzing these products to determine how they will affect the market.

A Global Intelligence Alliance survey of global software, healthcare, pharmaceutical, financial, energy and manufacturing found that the hiring of CI analysts will increase dramatically in the coming years, with 60% of hiring managers reporting that they are actively looking for candidates.

As a CI Analyst, you will turn information about your competition into actionable intelligence for your company.

You will be required to gather information from key opinion leaders (KOLs), intelligence databases, scientific conferences and online resources.

These inputs will be used to determine both threats or opportunities in the market.

CI Analysts play a critical role in supporting a company’s management team in making strategic marketing decisions.

PhDs have already have many of the skills required for this role, including strong scientific and technical knowledge, strong information gathering skills, and the ability to analyze large data sets.

CI Analyst positions often act as a gateway to higher executive positions as these Analysts already contribute to a company’s executive decision-making.

CI Analyst positions are abundant in not only technology-based companies, but also inn specialized CI firms that are dedicated to offering CI services to a wide range of clients.

4. Product Manager

Product Managers (PMs) are responsible for managing the entire life-cycle of an innovative product.

They oversee the development of a product and the management of product after it launches.

An employment survey conducted between 2012 and 2013 found that the demand for Product Managers in technology-based sectors is increasing by 23% annually.

PMs are responsible for analyzing a product’s market performance as well as determining ways to boost a product’s commercial success while simultaneously determining how to phase out or terminate older versions of the product.

PM roles are multifunctional and demand collaboration spread across multiple divisions of an organization.

As a PM, you must be able to quickly identify market needs, communicate those needs with your marketing team, and find innovative solutions for these needs.

You must also possess a unique blend of business acumen and creativity. Successful PMs are able to envision new products and clearly understand the competitive landscape of their market.

PM roles are available for PhDs in most technology-based sectors, including electronics, aeronautics, IT and software, and of course, biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors.

5. Management Consulting

Ten years ago, most consulting firms only employed MBAs.

Things have changed.

Thanks to the steady rise of technology-based business sectors, there has been a significant increase in the number of science PhDs being hired by these firms.

According to a Bloomberg Business report, the consulting market is expected to experience an overall annual growth rate of 3.7%.

The same report stated that the management consulting market recently grew by 8.5% to a total value of $39.3 billion.

STEM PhDs are in high demand for consulting positions because they have a strong technical background and are specifically trained troubleshooting difficult problems.

Many PhDs fail to pursue Management Consulting positions because they believe that these positions require extensive industry experience. This is not true.

Even the most reputed global consulting firms have specialized job opportunities for PhDs.

As a Management Consultant, you will be required to leverage your problem solving skills. You will also be required to design unique strategies for overcoming these problems.

Management consultants must be able to work in collaborative “teamwork” environments where communication and leadership skills are crucial.

You must be able to present your findings both orally in PowerPoint presentations and in written form through detailed reports.

A key advantage of securing a Management Consultant position is that it will open doors for a variety of opportunities including executive management, venture capitalism, and entrepreneurship.

6. Quantitative Analyst

There are many opportunities for science PhDs to transition into Quantitative Analyst (QAs).

Most of QA positions are available in major financial institutions involved in financial trading.

A report by Recruiter showed that over the last 10 years, employment opportunities for QAs in the U.S. have grown by 29%.

A similar report based on U.S. labor statistics showed QA positions will grow by 20% through 2018.

QA responsibilities include quantitative data analysis, financial research, statistical modeling, and pattern recognition—all related to predicting trades.

Science PhD with backgrounds in “quant” related disciplines such as Mathematics, Statistics, Physics, Engineering, and Computer Science are highly sought after for these positions.

However, many Life Science PhDs are also being hired as QAs. This is due to increases in financial trading in the biotechnology industry.

Science PhDs continue to be preferred by QA firms because of their proven ability to conduct independent research and their detailed understanding of the scientific aspects of technology-based sectors.

As a QA, you will be expected to have a strong scientific background and to be able to work under pressure with little supervision.

You will also be required to gain deep financial knowledge of your markets and be able to grasp advanced mathematical concepts quickly.

7. Medical Communication Specialist

Medical Communication Specialists are broadly described as technical writers involved in the development and production of communication medical and healthcare related materials.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that Medical Communication Specialist positions are expected to grow by 15% between now and 2022.

As a Medical Communication Specialist, your responsibilities will include writing and editing materials that healthcare organizations will use to communicate with patients, clients and medical professionals.

You must be able to organize, edit, and present information in a manner appropriate for your target audience.

Medical Communication Specialists must also possess excellent written communication skills and have a strong understanding of the ethical or regulatory guidelines in their field.

The main reason for this is that Medical Communication Specialists often work to produce a variety of documents, including patient education brochures, Web content, physician articles, sales training materials and regulatory documents.

8. Healthcare Information Technology Specialist

In 2009, the US government enacted the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act).

According to this new government initiative, there is a massive push for adoption of healthcare technology by healthcare providers.

One of the major criteria of this act is to convert all healthcare related data into an electronic format.

This has made the role of Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) Specialist one of the fastest growing jobs.

A recent HIT Specialist related survey reported that there were a total of 434,282 HIT-related job postings between 2007 and 2011.

As a HIT Specialist, you will be responsible for organizing patients’ medical record into electronic databases, verifying patients’ medical charts, and communicating with physicians to ensure the accuracy of their diagnoses.

Science PhDs who are trained in Life Science fields and have experience with online databases such as Genomics and Bioinformatics are highly sought after for this position.

You must have a strong background in medical research as well as medical terminology.

You must also be willing to learn about medical coding, information technology, clinical database management, and medical billing.

Hospitals, ambulatory healthcare services, clinical research centers, academic research institutions, and health insurance providers are the main sources of employment for HIT Specialists.

9. Operations Research Analyst

Operations Research Analysts are responsible for investigating complex issues, identifying and solving operational problems and facilitating a more cost-effective and efficient functioning of an organization.

In short, these Analysts are very high-level problem solvers. Their job is to systemize organizations as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Operations Research Analysts were first implemented by the military a few decades ago but now they are used in almost every sector.

The demand of this role has increased investments in big data analytics platforms.

Job reports show that Operations Research Analyst positions are estimated to grow by 27% per year until 2022, making it one of the hottest jobs of the next decade.

As an Operations Research Analyst, you must be able to use data mining techniques, mathematical modeling, and statistical analyses to provide real-time operational guidance to large biotechnology and biopharmaceutical companies.

STEM PhDs with academic training in Mathematics, Statistics, Computational Modeling, and Data Mining are highly sought after for these positions.

Although a bachelor’s degree is often mentioned as the minimum qualification in Operations Research Analyst job postings, graduate degree holders are heavily favored.

10. Medical Science Liaison

Becoming a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) is a rapidly growing opportunity for STEM PhDs.

A recent McKinsey & Company report found that MSL roles will continue to increase rapidly through 2020. The same report also showed that advanced degree holders with a strong scientific background will be hired more and more for these roles.

A international recruiting survey found that MSL positions have increased by over 38% and is one of the fastest growing, science-related jobs in the world.

MSL positions can be found in a variety of healthcare-based sectors including pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device sectors.

The biggest misconception regarding MSL positions is that it is a sales position. This is not true.

In reality, MSLs act as scientifically trained field personnel who are considered to be part of a company’s medical staff. Most MSLs are not even allowed to discuss drug prices or conduct sales.

This provides MSLs with more freedom to learn and teach. As a result, they gain a deeper knowledge of therapeutic areas and are able to discuss detailed medical and scientific issues with physicians.

As an MSL, one of your key responsibilities is to build rapport with KOLs in various therapeutic research areas.

You must have extensive clinical or medical knowledge and, at the same time, be a “people-person.”

Strong communication skills are important but you must also be able to work independently and travel extensively.

Twenty years ago, MSLs were selected from experienced sales representatives that had strong scientific backgrounds. This has changed. Now, PhDs with relevant scientific knowledge are often hired.

Currently PhDs with medical knowledge have a significant advantage in finding employment.

However, MSL positions are highly competitive with only 1-2% of applicants getting hired.

You can make yourself a more competitive candidate for these positions by first taking a Clinical Research Associate (CRA) position.

A PhD combined with CRA experience is considered by industry experts as the best way to prepare yourself for an MSL position.

The two most important lessons you will learn by searching for an alternative career is that there are several jobs available to you and other PhDs outside of academia. You do not have to do a postdoc or continue doing a postdoc. The key is that you must work to change your situation. In order to secure your ideal industry position, you must prepare yourself by gathering as much information about alternative career options for science graduates as possible. You must also begin to grow your non-academic network. Only then will you be able to transition into the non-academic career of your choice.

To learn more about transitioning into industry, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association. 

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Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D.

Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D.

Arunodoy is a Ph.D. in Integrative Biology and has training in intellectual property, entrepreneurship, and venture capitalism. He also has experience with global biotechnology and biopharmaceutical companies, including clinical trial consulting. Arunodoy is passionate about the translation of academic research to the real world and commercialization of scientific innovation so that it can help solve problems and benefit people. He possesses in-depth understanding of both technological and commercial aspects associated with the life science industry.
Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D.
  • Mark

    I think all PhD students should get the experience in one of the above fields while pursuing PhD. This can be very handy in case your academic / research career doesn’t work out. I personally prefer Market Research analyst career. It has very bright future. And yes, this blog has been really helpful to me throughout this. Thanks!

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hi Mark,
      Thank you for reading the article. As you correctly pointed out it is important for PhDs to start developing skills that will help them to be successful in careers outside of academia once they graduate. Hope you find success as a Market Research Analyst in the future.
      Thank you,
      Arunodoy

  • Dr. Reese

    That’s an awesome compilation of career alternatives for PhD grads.but I want to add something in it. It’s little bit off-course but can be an option for many, What about an entrepreneur? If you have done some research during pursuing PhD and you think that addresses current needs of society, then no career can be better than this one. And I don’t need to say the financial reward of an entrepreneurship. Do I?

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hello Dr. Reese,
      You have brought up a very valid point. I agree with you that entrepreneurship is something that more science PhDs should look into. But I feel it is quite difficult to be a successful entrepreneur immediately after graduating unless he/she has worked on (and acquired patent) on a technology with high translational/commercial value. Maybe after gaining a few years of corporate experience they are better prepared to be an entrepreneur.

      Thank you for reading and commenting on my article,
      Arunodoy

      • dd

        this is an eye opening article especially for third world under developing countries like Pakistan where industry academia links are developing. scientists are still reluctant to commercialize their research, know less about IP, and useful partnerships are seldom seen.

  • Ibrahim Javed

    The real benefit of a PhD to his/her country is when they contribute science to the industry and market i.e. Product development and bringing it to market. This is more feasible when a PhD is in industry not in academia.

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hi Ibrahim,
      Thank you for reading the article. Product Development can be indeed a very rewarding and fulfilling career.
      Thank you,
      Arunodoy

  • NicolaPhD

    You are totally right about the current scenario of the academic system, they are teaching students that academic postdoc is the only option they have after the PhD. The university itself lacks information regarding non-academic career and industry. If one can work hard under the proper mentorship, he can surely achieve one of the best industry positions from the above list.

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hello Nicola,
      Thank you for reading and commenting on my article. Hope it was helpful. You are right. It is true that those responsible for training graduate students are not doing enough to make students aware of alternative options or mentoring them for these roles. That is one of the reasons I started writing articles like these after graduating. Students need to realize that science PhDs can be successful in a variety or roles. Good luck with your career.

      thank you,
      Arunodoy

  • Joe

    Wow, another informative and too useful article by cheekyscientist. you guys are just amazing. Honestly I didn’t know a PhD grad has so many career options besides academics. These are not just challenging and interesting jobs but also gives a good financial reward. This article will be a ‘career saviour’ for so many. Thanks again.

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hi Joe,
      Glad you found the article helpful. Thank you reading it. These are just a few examples of alternative careers. There are even more options for science PhDs. You just have to identify the right career path for yourself and prepare for it.
      thank you,
      Arunodoy

  • Curtis

    Every PhD and postdocs should read this article once. Some of them think that they only have an academic career path and it leads them to anxiety and depression. They go and try to find a well-paid industry job, but they failed. Because they don’t know about current industry trends and knowledge. So you said it right that everyone needs to gain deep knowledge of their field and industry so they can easily get a well-paid industry position.

  • Darren Smith

    Great article by Mr. Sur. Most of the students are demoralized when their PhD graduation doesn’t end up in Academic career. I don’t understand why. There are lots of opportunities out there which are more lucrative than an academic career. One would make a solid career in these fields than in an academic career.

  • Natasha

    These are great alternatives to get rid of your mundane postdoc academic life. I would like to go in management consulting field. As my parents work for the management company, I have a reasonable background to join it and on the other side I also have much interest in this particular thing. Great to know that it is growing market and have a good future ahead! Thanks for sharing such statistical details in a single article.

  • Jin Sun

    This is a great article that I hope I read right before I got my MBA degree. Mr. Sur, do you think that I can leverage my PhD as well as MBA for business development manager opportunities? Thank you very much for the great article.

    Best regards,

    James

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hi James,
      Your combination of PhD and MBA will make you an even better candidate for business development roles. With this background you now have both scientific training and business knowledge. So you are on the right path.
      Good luck with your career,
      Arunodoy

  • Pamela L

    Hello sir, I am pursuing seconds last year of my PhD and I don’t want to be part of academia. I want to do something new and innovative that can help industry and market. And I think product management is the best alternatives for me. SO can you please guide me which skills and technologies I need to learn prior to transform my career in product management. Thank you very much.

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hello Pamela,
      It is good that you are thinking about and planning to follow an alternative career path well before completing your PhD. Product Management can be a good career path for those who can develop business skills, communication skills and ability to understand market demands. Without knowing much about your background or even what field you are getting your PhD in it is difficult for me to give more specific advice/guidance. If you want you can connect with me on LinkedIn.
      Thank you,
      Arunodoy

  • Lobo Cutler

    You must did great RnD to provide us such huge list of alternatives for
    career transformation. Many of PhDs are trying to make their career in
    the industry and leaving academia back. And this blog helps them very
    much. Sharing this article with my PhD friends now.

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Thank you reading the article and sharing with your PhD friends
      Arunodoy

  • madhu

    Hi, great read! I guess one good addition to the list would be scientific publishing.

  • Fadwa

    Great article and very useful. I had my Masters in Math and currently doing my PhD in Biology. My research is focused on mathematical and statistical biology, and my goal is to work in industry eventually 🙂

  • nagato

    Thanks for the awesome article.

    I am a Master’s student of Molecular Biology (in Europe) and I would like to do a PhD but later make a transition from academia to industry. What I find the most troubling about the majority of jobs that you describe here is how they require in-depth knowledge about the economy and great communication skills. Unfortunately, I have a feeling I am lacking both. I am really the most interested in the science itself (not necessarily wet lab) and I find teaching very fulfilling (despite my shyness). Can you advise me on the career tracks that are suited for my personality and interests?

  • Pooja Dabke-Gokhale

    A comprehensive article which gives one an insight in to the non academic options for a PhD. Very informative and very well written Dr. Sur. In fact, it opens the doors to thinking beyond academia and postdoc.
    I am a PhD in Biochemistry and currently looking to switch in to healthcare data management or IT in healthcare or likewise. It would be helpful if you could guide me on taking up a course in clinical data management.
    Thank you,
    Pooja