Careers After PhD

careers after phd

Career paths in the medical industry are changing. I previously wrote about how the career journey for Pharmacists has changed, as large discount retail Pharmacies increase their foothold in local markets and opportunities in Community Pharmacies start to dwindle. However, another area of our industry that has seen significant long-term change occur, affecting the careers of many of the people within it, is academic research.

Previously, talented PhD graduates would outline the research they were looking to undertake, apply for grants from funding bodies like NHMRC, publish the findings of their research, and repeat. This cycle was a standard career path for many, leading to great research and a global reputation of Australia having a really strong academic research sector.


In recent years, however, the number of grants that have been approved for Biomedical research has dropped significantly, despite the number of PhD graduates steadily increasing. In 2015, just 13.7% of grant submissions were funded. This is just under half of what it was in 2009, when that number sat at close to 25% – an alarming slide. The issue isn’t isolated to Australia either, with the same trends being reflected all over the world, so looking internationally doesn’t present a solution.

Naturally, this has resulted in opportunities for PhD graduates looking to continue their careers in research becoming increasingly limited. Furthermore, as the funding environment becomes increasingly uncertain and competitive, even those who are able to secure grants are looking outside of the sector for future career security. But the unique backgrounds of PhD graduates can often make job hunting frustrating, especially as there isn’t an established career roadmap in place.

Making the Most of Your Skills

The truth is that most who are looking at a career in research have a fantastic chance to flourish in the industry, carving out a space for themselves in their sector of choice. Completing a PhD is a hallmark of many crucial skills that are transferable to a wide variety of different roles and industries; attention to detail, analytical thinking and problem solving, and an understanding of method and process. It also shows your commitment and passion for your field to pursue higher education, especially on one focused element as is often the case with a PhD.

Here at On Q, we often speak to PhD graduates who are looking for the next step in their careers and have helped many people into roles that suit their unique skills and experience.

Joining a regulatory agency is often a popular choice for PhD graduates in the Science and Medical fields. It combines the practical aspect of a PhD – often around testing and assessing to a certain framework or methodology – as well as an emphasis on reporting. Another option is to work as a Medical Science Liaison within the pharmaceutical, medical device or biotechnology sectors. MSLs work on products throughout their lifecycle, acting as scientific experts within the organisation and establishing relationships with thought leaders, physicians, academic institutions, and clinics. You could also work as a Technical Specialist within the medical devices field, providing expert guidance to organisations as they develop new technologies. These are just a few of the options that are available to you in a wide-reaching and varied field.

Connecting with People

It can, however, be difficult to transition into the industry from academia, especially if you’re already entrenched in it and are only now feeling the pressure when it comes to grants. This is where leveraging your network can be a huge help in opening up opportunities. By being in touch with people within the industry, and ensuring they know who you are, what your skills are, and how you can add value, you dramatically increase your chances of breaking through into the field you want. One big advantage of working in the Science and Technical fields is that there are so many different industry events and conferences that you can attend to connect with other industry professionals and build your network.

Like most things, you can get more out of conferences if you’re prepared. Check out the event website to find out who is attending and what they specialise in, so you know who to talk to and what to talk to them about. Once you’ve identified a few key people, take a look at their social media presence. This will give you an insight into what they’re currently up to, as well as their areas of interest and expertise. If you can’t find a list of people who are attending, make note of the companies that are hosting or sponsoring the event, as this could give you an indication. 

It’s most likely that you’ll be attending conferences that relate directly to what you do, and cover subjects that you’re pretty familiar with, if not a bona fide expert in. However, while the content of the presentations is important, the networking aspect is often what you’ll benefit most from. Don’t be afraid to talk to the people around you, even if they might not have roles that are relevant to your interests or specialisations. Often, these are the people who can help you learn new information and open up new opportunities. While their field might seem unrelated to you initially, you just never know when having a wider professional network might come to be useful.

After the Event

At almost every industry event, there will be some kind of extra social function that takes place after the main conference or presentations. These give you the chance to get to know your peers in a more casual setting and are an enjoyable way to expand your network. The conversation here is usually less work-focused, which can actually make for more genuine, and thus more meaningful, connections – although this can also be a great chance to talk about your background and research. These types of genuine connections are valuable and are often the ones that yield better results as they tend to be more memorable.

When you meet someone at a conference, don’t just forget about them once the event is finished. Nowadays, utilising tools like social media and online message boards after the conference is crucial to getting the best out of your experience. Not only does it provide you with an avenue to continue discussions with people, but it also gives you a point of contact if you feel that they might be able to provide you with a future opportunity. On the other side, if you connect with someone on LinkedIn for example, they’ll be able to find out more about your skills and experience, which can be a significant help if you’re looking for job opportunities.

In Closing

With the current state of grant approval in Australia and across the world, more and more PhD graduates are moving away from their initial ambitions of continuing on the research path, and are taking up roles in industry. With the industry in demand for skilled professionals, this is a good time to look at your network and see how you can use it to your advantage in securing a role. If you’re having trouble breaking through, feel free to get in touch with us here at On Q Recruitment.

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