By Virginia Steinmetz, Ph.D., Duke University Career Center


A doctoral candidate who sought confidential advice at the Career Center remarked that she had survived graduate school but had not thrived. She wanted to explore alternative ways to use her research and teaching skills outside the teaching profession. As you choose a sub discipline and a dissertation topic, build a network of colleagues, and anticipate workplace conditions, you will discover more concretely whether an academic career will fulfill your values, interests and skills.

The Career Center counselor for graduate students [at your university] is among those you may wish to consult as you review your motivation and goals. The counseling staff and resources of the Career Center provide assistance to graduate students in the process of self-assessment and career decision-making at any stage in their graduate programs.

Henry M. Wilbur, former Professor of Zoology at Duke University, developed extensive experience in guiding new PhD’s through the intricacies of the academic job search. In his essay “On Getting a Job” (The Academic’s Handbook, 1995), Wilbur advised,

“Not all graduate students are larval professors. . .Not all graduate students want to or should attempt [the transition from graduate student life to professorhood]. There is life outside of the university-in industry, in government, and in private foundations-for students in all fields. . . It is important for graduate students continuously to question their career goals.”

Duke advanced degree candidates in the sciences and engineering expect to explore a broad range of employment sectors, including higher education, government, or the corporate world. Their advanced technical skills are needed in the Research and Development divisions of many companies and government agencies. Students who obtain advanced training in the social sciences are also prized for their analytical skills in clinical work, in the making of policy and in the compilation and assessment of data. Humanities students offer employers analytical and problem-solving skills. They are excellent writers and speakers who require only a brief exposure to the government, corporate, or nonprofit sectors to perform a wide variety of job functions. They find employment in public relations firms, publishing enterprises and museums.

In her guide for academics considering alternative careers Outside the Ivory Tower (1993), Margaret Newhouse, formerly of Harvard Career Services, provides a list of jobs held by PhD’s in several employment sectors. A glance at her list will demonstrate that your opportunities to use your graduate training outside academia are only as limited as your imagination and determination to research the field and convince employers of your competence and readiness.


What you can do with advanced research and teaching skills

In Business: consulting (all fields), investment analysis (history), advertising (literature), market research (psychology), training & development (area studies), R & D (engineering / physical & biological sciences)

In Media: science writing (biochemistry), trade publishing (sociology), translation (languages), assignment editing, radio/TV (public policy)

In Education: community college/secondary teaching (humanities/sciences), administration (philosophy, classics, political science), testing (sociology), policy analysis (religion)

In Nonprofits: environmental policy (geology), association management (art history), mental health advocacy (psychology), urban policy research (statistics)

In Government: policy analysis, Federal Reserve Board (economics), state archeologist (archeology), NSF laboratories or staff (chemistry), state health department investigation (biophysics)


Cited Resources

Other Readings of Interest by Dr. Steinmetz

  • Career Insights: Timetable and checklist for the academic job search
    By Virginia Steinmetz, Ph.D., Duke University Career Center
    If you think you are interested in pursuing an academic career, your active preparation should begin well before graduation.  Here’s a checklist that can help keep you moving through the right steps during your studies.


Virginia Steinmetz, Ph.D. is Assistant Director for Graduate Students at TheCareer Center at Duke University. This article originally appeared in slightly different form on the Center’s web site, and is posted here with permission. Please do not repost without obtaining permission from the originating source.  The web site for Duke’s Career Center, which contains distinct sections with career planning information and advice for the University’s undergraduate, graduate and alumni populations, can be accessed at

Duke University in Durham, N.C. is a member of the Graduate/Professional School Channel.  To learn more about opportunities for graduate study at Duke, search for fellowships, or request application materials from Duke, please see the Duke University Profile.