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By: Jonathan Foland

Many people enter doctoral programs expecting to build an impressive CV, earn their degree, and move on to a tenure-track, faculty position in academia. The tenure-track goal makes sense, because doctoral programs train students to develop expertise in a methodology and subject, publish in peer-reviewed outlets, present to discipline-specific audiences, and teach undergraduates.

Pursuing tenure-track is an admirable and worthy goal, and so is keeping an open mind to different career options. Given the low supply of tenure-track faculty positions, and the high number of qualified PhDs, keeping multiple career options in mind is smart planning.

The truth is many people who complete a PhD do not end up in academic faculty positions, regardless of discipline or field. In Pathways Through Graduate School into Careers, the Council of Graduate Schools and Educational Testing Service report that “about one-half of all new doctorate recipients find initial employment” in sectors outside the academy (2012, p. 20). Some PhDs may teach full-time as lecturers, or they may adjunct at universities, colleges, and community colleges. However, a substantial number of PhDs enjoy careers in academia as administrators or advisors; in industry, government, and nonprofit sectors; or in small business and entrepreneurship. Doctoral programs instill in students “soft” and “hard” skills, including critical thinking and reasoning, qualitative and quantitative research methods, and the ability to synthesize diverse and complex information. Thus, PhDs can market themselves to employers across sectors.

Exploring career options can be intimidating and scary. For a PhD who has dreamed of a tenure-track faculty position, facing a tough job market can be an uphill battle. For other PhDs, figuring out where to begin researching career options can be a daunting task.

What can doctoral students do to prepare themselves for a multi-faceted career search? First, keep an open mind because rewarding, fulfilling careers take many forms. Indeed, many jobs provide the interpersonal and intellectual stimulation associated with being a professor. Second, think about the types of work you enjoy doing or that you would like to do. Personality and interest assessments, such as Focus 2, can help you identify strengths, values, and career paths. Third, take advantage of career and professional development programs on campus. University Career Services offers annual workshops and special events designed for graduate students. Plus, UCS counselors are available for one-on-one meetings.

Doctoral education prepares students for many career paths. Exploring career options can be eye-opening. Learn to see your education, training, and accomplishments in new ways, and you may be surprised by the rewarding careers ahead.


Council of Graduate Schools and Educational Testing Service. (2012). Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers. Report from the Commission on Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.


By: Jonathan Foland, Graduate Career Services Assistant, and Doctoral Student in the Department of Communication,

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