Written by Tavis Mendez, PhD
I was only a few months away from obtaining my PhD in engineering.
I have always loved working in the engineering field because of the vast array of paths you can take when studying engineering.
But, as I neared the end of my studies, trying desperately to finish my thesis, I realized that I hadn’t taken the time to look at the job market.
I had been working long hours in the lab and had neglected to network.
I had not bothered to look at the world outside of academia.
What did engineering PhDs do after they graduated?
I didn’t see a lot of postgraduates shuttling back through the halls of academia.
Where did they all go after they graduated?
I decided to ask around my department and contact some of the alumni.
I set up quite a few informational interviews and learned about many of the opportunities, in the private and government sector, available to STEM PhDs.
During my informational interviews, my new connections stressed the importance of practicing my interview skills and getting my industry resume ready.
Through these new contacts, I was able to get a referral, which jump-started my job search, as I began my journey outside of academia.
I knew there was a place for me outside academia, I just had to go and take it.
Why Academia Isn’t The Only Avenue For Great Science
After spending countless days, months, and years on your PhD, it’s about time that you start thinking about what to do next.
Your future in academia is bleak.
According to Nature Biotechnology, 36,000 PhDs are awarded in STEM fields each year, but only 3,000 faculty positions open up.
Those are not good odds.
The truth is, if you stay in academia, you will very likely end up in an underpaid and dead-end postdoc.
Instead, you must realize there are many excellent opportunities suited to PhDs like you outside academia.
The National Science Foundation reported that only 2.1% of science and engineering PhDs are unemployed.
STEM PhDs are in high demand in industry.
There are many opportunities outside academia waiting for you to sink your teeth into.
Top 5 Jobs For Engineering PhDs
Do not feel pressured to stay in academia.
Leaving academia does not mean the end of your time as a scientist or engineer.
You can have a successful and lucrative STEM career outside of a university.
Here are the top 5 industry careers for engineering PhDs…
1. Chemical engineering.
Jobs in chemical engineering focus on the development of materials.
There are many types of positions in chemical engineering, and you will be able to avoid being pigeonholed into one career.
As a PhD, you are qualified for a position in project management, which is responsible for overseeing all aspects from the bench, to manufacturing, and production.
This would allow you to work on different types of projects and have an impact at all stages of development.
If you are interested in working at the bench, you may look into analytical chemical engineering.
Other areas such as manufacturing, mining, and material engineering are great options if you are more attuned to product development.
Meanwhile, positions such as production and quality managers are great options, if working directly with people is something you enjoy.
If you have a background in chemical engineering, there is definitely a job in industry suited to your interests and desired lifestyle.
Chemical engineers can expect to make a salary above $70,000.
2. Biomedical engineering.
Working in biomedical engineering gives you the opportunity to expand into medicine and scientific research.
If you have a calling to help people directly, you can look into biomechanics and orthopedic bioengineering.
These careers will place you into rehabilitation research, for those who have a need for ambulatory assistance.
Biomaterials, bioinstrumentation, and cellular/tissue engineering may be right up your alley if you are interested in doing R&D in a wet lab.
These are just a few of the options you can look into with a degree in biomedical engineering.
With the recent advances in Artificial Intelligence to help ambulatory patients, and the development of biomaterials to make long-lasting devices to replace vital portions of our bodies, there is a need for more PhDs in this area.
The biomedical engineering field is not slowing down any time soon.
Biomedical engineers can expect to earn an annual salary around $90,000.
3. Aerospace engineering.
If your dream is to work among the stars, aerospace engineering is a profession you may want to take a look at.
Here, you will be responsible for designing spacecraft, satellites, and missiles.
The work you do here will affect the globe as national defense, space exploration, and telecommunications will be in your hands.
The research and development done in aerospace engineering will not only be used in space, but can lead to real-world applications on Earth.
Recently, it has also been reported that the American Duopoly in the jetliner market is under siege, as new competitors have emerged from China, Canada, and Russia.
This will increase competition, and open up the market for new jobs in aerospace engineering.
Aerospace engineers can expect to earn a salary upwards of $100,000.
4. Computer software engineer.
Computers have come a long way since the advent of the first Turing machine.
With the continuous advancement of computers and Information Technology, it has created the need for extensive software development and security.
PhDs with computer engineering skills are in high demand.
The development and maintenance of computing systems is essential for almost every business infrastructure.
This leads back to the security concerns that come with 24/7 connectivity, whether you work in business, academia, or government.
PhDs in software and systems engineering will have to manage preventative, protective, and restorative measures to maintain the essential computing foundation for any organization.
Cyber-crime will not go away any time soon, and the cost of a massive cyber-attack is huge.
A major cyber-attack could cost up to $120 billion, giving companies huge motivation to invest in computer security and development.
Hence, one can make a lucrative career in computer software engineering.
A computer software engineer can expect to make more than $80,000.
5. Telecommunication engineering.
The new app economy, and the ability to purchase goods with virtual cash, has begun a new paradigm that requires the expertise of engineering PhDs.
If you consider yourself a connoisseur of gadgets, you may want to look into a career in telecommunications engineering.
In telecommunications, there are several specialties that are placed under one umbrella, which can be electrical, computer, and civil engineering.
In other words, you may work on circuitry, or you may be responsible for the development of wireless/broadband technology.
Telecommunications is advancing quickly, as companies scramble to develop their infrastructure and signal capabilities.
This niche career has plenty of potential and should be pursued to help the globalization of communication.
PhDs in telecommunication engineering can expect to earn a $75,000 salary.
The world of engineering has an array of choices available to PhDs. The time to start understanding what is available to you is now. The sooner you begin networking with industry professionals, the better your chances are for landing a job outside of academia. You are doing your career a disservice by limiting yourself to academia. In industry, your engineering PhD can earn you a position in chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, aerospace engineering, computer software engineering, or telecommunications engineering. The choice is yours to make.
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Latest posts by Tavis Mendez, Ph.D. (see all)
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