What do doctoral graduates do?
In the UK we have good information about the early career pathways of researchers due to systematic surveys run for the Higher Education Statistics Agency. The information on this page is drawn from a series of Vitae analyses of the data called What do researchers do? Data all relate to UK and EU nationals graduating from UK institutions. For the full picture, browse the results presented in this useful series of reports.
Analysis of the data from 2008 and 2010 doctoral graduates suggests a fairly consistent pattern across occupational areas.
|Time since graduation|
|6 months||3.5 years|
|Higher education research||23%||17%|
|Teaching/lecturing in higher education||20%||21%|
|Research outside higher education||14%||12%|
|Other teaching occupations||6%||7%|
|Common doctoral occupations||22%||23%|
Although there are some flows in and out of these occupation areas over time, broadly these data show that:
- About 43% of doctoral graduates get a job in HE after graduation and just under 40% are employed there three years later, with some progressing from purely research to other posts. Figures do not include those who work in non-academic jobs in HE, such as research management
- About 37% enter research jobs (23% in HE and 14% outside HE). Three years on the proportion in HE research is lower and the proportion outside HE is slightly lower
- Over 40% of doctoral graduates work in 'other' business areas and occupations, but most of these are jobs where a significant proportion of the workforce has a doctoral qualification.
There are significant variations in career destination according to research discipline. The table below demonstrates the position for doctoral graduates employed 3.5 years after graduation, measured in 2010. Higher proportions of social sciences (especially) and arts and humanities doctoral graduates work in higher education than for other disciplines, but far fewer of them work in research outside higher education. More physical science, engineering and biomedical science researchers work in common doctoral occupations in industry. It's worth noting that that the profile of doctoral researchers varies greatly by discipline; for example, many more of those in social sciences enter from employment rather than from prior study – so some will be returning to university jobs afterwards.
|Arts and humanities||Biological sciences||Biomedical sciences||Physcial sd & eng||Social sciences||Total|
|Higher education research||9%||27%||16%||19%||14%||17%|
|Teaching/lecturing in higher education||37%||13%||17%||10%||44%||21%|
|Research outside higher education||3%||21%||13%||16%||3%||12%|
|Other teaching occupations||14%||4%||3%||6%||8%||7%|
|Other common doctoral occupations||5%||19%||36%||30%||12%||23%|
The over-riding message is that a doctoral degree can prepare you well for employment in lots of different sectors and it is likely (statistically) that this might not be as an academic. Thinking about potential career sectors – and taking advantage of opportunities and experiences that could help build your employability in them – is important throughout doctoral study, not something to be addressed after you finish.
Most of the doctoral graduates who work outside what we think of as research occupations undertake research some or all of the time. Jobs are so individual that broad classifications don’t always describe what a job actually entails. Whatever job you are doing, if your employer knows that you can do research, it is more likely that when research needs to be done, a doctoral graduate is likely to be best placed to do it.
You can also get an idea of the range of jobs researchers do by reading the personal stories of researchers who describe their career paths and the choices they have made.