Exploring career opportunities for researchers

Signpost careerCareer opportunities for researchers are not always obvious or easy to find. They cover a wide range of sectors including higher education, manufacturing, finance, business and IT, Health and public administration.

Even if your goal is a career in academia, the sector is highly competitive and so it is important to explore additional career opportunities to be prepared for all eventualities.

What do researchers do?

In the UK, a majority of doctoral graduates are not working in academia three years after graduating. A Vitae report found that just 19% of doctoral graduate respondents were working within higher education (HE) research roles three and half years after graduation compared to 26% at six months after graduation.

  • 19% were employed as research staff in HE
  • 22% were Teaching or lecturing in HE
  • 13% were in research roles not in HE
  • 6% were in wider teaching occupations outside of HE
  • 27% were in ‘Other common doctoral occupations’ outside HE and not classified as research or teaching roles, for example, working as health professionals, senior managers, engineering professionals and business and statistical professionals
  • 14% were categorised in ‘Other occupations’, containing the balance of occupations across all sectors, including science ad engineering technicians, artistic and literary occupations, and sales roles
  • only 2% of the respondents were unemployed.

What do researchers do? Doctoral graduate destinations and impact three years on. Vitae, 2010

Researching opportunities in both HE positions and those outside HE is important to make sure you have explored all your options. It may be hard to take the step away from what you know, but your ideal job may be waiting there for you. You might also have to work harder to convince employers outside higher education about your value to their organisation.

What do employers value?

If you are unsure what employers outside of the higher education sector value in researchers then our Employability lens on the Vitae Researcher Development Framework, based on employer surveys, provides an overview of the key knowledge, behaviours and attributes typically developed by researchers that are most frequently desired by employers.

The latest in our What do researchers do? series Early career progression of doctoral graduates has further information on the employability of researchers.

Labour Market information

Researching the labour market for occupations you’re interested in can help you to understand your prospects in that chosen career as well as what employers require from applicants. Labour market information is an important career guidance resource, providing context, data and practical information to inform the career decision making process. Our What do Researchers do? series analyses data on the career destinations of UK doctoral graduates. This labour market information resource provides:

  • analysis of the main employment sectors for doctoral graduates, including the roles doctoral graduates commonly occupy in these industries
  • profiles on some of the most important occupations for doctoral graduates, including numbers of doctoral graduates entering these jobs and their disciplinary backgrounds.

Less is known about the destinations of researchers moving away from academia after working in research staff posts, largely due to the lack of data collected. Vitae is working with NatureJobs and other partners to gather data for a new publication What do research staff do next?

Using career stories

Hearing the career stories of people who have a doctorate and have worked in research within and outside higher education can be a useful starting point if you are not sure what you plan to do next in your career. It can help your own planning to understand their choices, how they found their first position, how they made themselves ready to grasp opportunities and whether their career expectations have matched reality.

We have collected career stories from over 100 individuals with a research background and a variety of experience. The collection is searchable by discipline and by terms such as ‘mature student’, ‘career change’, ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘work-life balance’.