What do PhD holders do when they become unemployed? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Unfortunately, it is very common for newly minted Ph.D.s to graduate without a job. I think 30-40% of my class at MIT didn't have a real next step (which is also true across MIT Ph.D.s based on the most recent).
I do not mean to sound arrogant, but if Ph.D.s from MIT are having this kind of trouble finding a job, I suspect that it is hard at other schools as well -- of course I could be wrong for many reasons. However, the idea here is that I suspect employment after a Ph.D. is a real problem no matter where you got your Ph.D.
So what do these people do?
The sad truth is many recent Ph.D.s will accept a post-doc somewhere while they figure out what they really want to do after. There are many reasons for this:
- In many fields, if you want to go into academia, a post-doc is necessary anyway. So taking a post-doc is seen as a 'natural next step.'
- Most often, your advisor is interested in your pursuing academia, so will encourage a post-doc.
- Resources available to Ph.D.s (your advisor, department, etc.) typically only have academic contacts, at least it is always much stronger than the industry contacts.
- Many industry jobs, especially in pharma, now require a post-doc since there is such high labor supply of Ph.D.s
In reality, what needs to happen is two-fold:
- Student should start doing their own outreach and recruiting a full year before they graduate. Making contacts at various companies they are interested in working at.
- Graduate schools and departments have to get better at placing Ph.D.s into industry, and invest into this service to continue to attract the best talent in Ph.D. programs.
In general, the biggest disconnect I have seen between Ph.D. labor and industry is a lack of understanding in industry as to how to use Ph.D. talent, and vice-versa, the Ph.D.s impression of what they should be doing. There are a lot of jobs where having a Ph.D. is truly valuable, that both sides don't recognize.
So my general advice to Ph.D.s is to keep an open mind, and talk to a lot of people about potential job opportunities if you are currently unemployed. Simply make sure you will enjoy the job, and learn a lot. Don't worry at all if you don't use your specific research skills -- that's not necessary.
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