Career-related reasons for doing a doctorate

According to the UK Postgraduate Research Experience Survey most doctoral researchers cite a career-related reason for their choice to undertake a doctorate. Contrary to some expectations, research into doctoral graduate careers shows that the majority of people who gain a doctoral degree enter career sectors outside academia. In addition,  a significant proportion of people starting a doctorate do not have a firm idea of what they want to do as a career. 

Preparing for a specific career

You may wish to embark on a doctoral degree as an enabling step towards a research-intensive career either in higher education or in the public or private sector. While there are some exceptions, a doctoral-level qualification is increasingly essential to progress in higher education. Although there are relatively few jobs where a doctorate is actually a requirement, entry to certain other research- or knowledge-based professions or sectors can be easier with a doctorate,  including health or pharmaceutical research, design and technical consultancy, and (some roles in) investment banking. 

Differentiating yourself

The growth in undergraduate numbers in the UK, and generally across Europe, has arguably changed the status of an honours degree. Some people feel that they need a postgraduate qualification to differentiate themselves from others. So a doctorate could be viewed as a means to stand out from the crowd and enhance access to a range of potential careers other than research. However, a doctorate is rarely a requirement for non-research roles and not all employers view it as a positive. It is crucial to investigate what employers in your possible career sector think and to bear in mind that some will see no benefit in a doctorate at all and may even prefer a masters, an undergraduate degree and/or work experience. Conversely, there is evidence that the earnings of recent doctoral graduates in the UK actually increased through the last recession, while those of graduates with other degrees did not.

UK doctoral training programmes deliberately set out to enhance the employability of doctoral graduates either for progression to higher education or entry to other careers, with a strong emphasis on developing professional competencies.

Enhancing an established career

Many people undertake doctoral research when they are already established on a career path, including health professionals, other expert practitioners and teaching professionals. In the UK there is an increasing range of doctoral programmes to enable this. This could be because a doctoral qualification is a requirement for progression to a particular, higher level job. For others, undertaking research into an aspect of their working practice can make their job more rewarding, or enable them to extend/enhance the depth at which they work.


The independence and innovative spirit developed during doctoral study can encourage some doctoral graduates to pursue self-employment or a very entrepreneurial work environment such as a spin-out or start-up company.

See our examples of real entrepreneurs who are doctoral graduates.

You can find more case studies of doctoral graduates working in different careers in our researcher career stories section and on the Prospects careers website.