Daniel Lemire's blog

, 5 min read

Alternative careers for Ph.D. holders

5 thoughts on “Alternative careers for Ph.D. holders”

  1. Another perspective would be to stop thinking of “jobs” as the end-state. With all of that education, how about creating a new business? I think that long-term jobs are a thing of the past, so get over it folks. Academia is the only place left with tenure so enjoy it while you can.

    My advice to a potential PhD student? Do something that you love to do, and don’t worry about the return on investment. If you want ROI, get an MBA (but even these are depreciating in value).

    As the most educated members of our society, doctoral graduates should be leading the way in creating new business models, and not just asking, “where can I get a job?”.

  2. Well, the trouble is that when you finish your Ph.D., you have no money saved up, no house, often no car,you are probably thirty something or older (or slightly younger). You have much less work experience than anyone else, you have much less business experience. You have spent many years preparing yourself for a world that doesn’t really exist.

    So, telling them to create new business models is to expect a lot from someone who has learned the nuances of a specific author or how to best design a specific type of robot. They are simply ill prepared to go into business (in general), more so than people who did go for the Ph.D.

    I knew someone who started a Ph.D. in robotics. I have no idea if he finished it since we lost touch. But I remember asking him where he thought he could work with a Ph.D. in robotics. It seemed obvious to him. First, he agreed with me that a university job might be hard to get, but then he assumed an industry job would be much easier. After all, he would be an expert in robots… surely a highly sought-after skill? Well, no. Very, very few companies make robots; very, very few people buy robots. So, even if you do a Ph.D. in something that seems industry-related, you might still get into deep trouble and have trouble paying your student debts later. My friend was not silly though. I know he did find a job, and it is robotics-related, but I doubt he finished his Ph.D.

    A Ph.D. is not something that will help you start a company or get a job. This is the cold hard truth. 5 years of experience in almost anything can be more valuable on the job market than a Ph.D.

    Don’t get me wrong, it is not all bleak… And I did go into business after my Ph.D. and I was succesful. And I did get to do cool things like run the NRC eHealth Research Group, or be a professor in Nova Scotia, and now a professor in Montreal. Doesn’t it sound like fun? Well a lot of it was… But not all of it is fun… competing for an ordinary job against 150 other Ph.D. holders can be tremendously frustrating.

  3. Good points. I guess what academia really needs is a little truth in advertising.

  4. Dave says:

    University is a complete waste of time. Go to a technical college or learn a trade. I’m dumping my Masters degree in favour of a technical diploma………. enough said!

  5. Ragib Hasan says:

    Unfortunately, for International students, things are much more difficult. At least in the US, if you want to stay, then you’d have to get a job before you can finish your PhD. I think things are easier in Canada, which gives immigration status to students by the time they graduate , at least my friends became residents or even citizens by the time they finished their PhDs. The US scenario is weird … there is a huge need for people with skills, but tons of obstacles are thrown in their path.

    Many of the alternative careers are, therefore, not suitable for Intl students. And from what I see, they are the largest group among PhD students. At least in my school … >75% PhD students are International.