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December 13, 2011 1:52 PM   Subscribe

What are some non-academic, non-science careers in which a PhD is a particularly desirable, even necessary, credential?

I just got a PhD in philosophy from a well-known and well-respected research institution. I don't regret doing it--I had a decent income and got to sort out some ideas that would have bugged me forever. But with the academic job market being as bad as it is, and a growing desire for a job I don't take home with me, I'm trying to think of some alternatives.

However, years in higher education seem to have stunted my imagination with respect to careers outside of academe. What I'm wondering is this: where, if anywhere, might the simple fact that I have a PhD give me a leg up?

I've heard plenty of stories about a PhD being a turn-off for some employers (here's an example from an old AskMe). An old friend is fond of telling the one where Subway wouldn't hire her when they saw it on her resume. Is this universally the case, or are there any non-academic careers where a PhD is an asset, even if it's irrelevant to the kind of work you'd actually be doing?

I'm really open-minded about what kind of work to look into, so anything that comes to mind would be useful. That said, my skills and interests are about what you'd expect somebody with a PhD in philosophy to be: writing, research, analytic thought, organizing long-term projects, and so on.

posted by Beardman to Work & Money (27 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Well, with the skills and interests you listed, it sounds like you'd make a good grant writer or foundation program officer.
posted by juniperesque at 1:55 PM on December 13, 2011

PhDs are popular at hedge funds these days, though I'm not sure about philosophy.
posted by michaelh at 2:00 PM on December 13, 2011

Friend of mine did his PhD in Philosophy, and wound up using those same skills doing high-end charity organizing, for both a university, and then a hospital network.

He's now doing data-analysis vis-a-vis grant applications and service efficacy studies in another charity setting, and he is probably underused there, but his switch had more to do with quality of life issues rather than any dissatisfaction with his previous jobs.

No-one in our Philosophy cohort actually wound up in Philosophy. Even the one who's still in academe did a second PhD first, in English Lit. He's also happier, FWIW.
posted by Capt. Renault at 2:04 PM on December 13, 2011

I'm not sure if this is the sort of thing that falls under "academia" for you, but every research institution has an IRB to weigh in on and approve the ethics of various research protocols. I bet philosophy PhDs would be exactly the sort of person recruited for that sort of board.
posted by supercres at 2:05 PM on December 13, 2011

Hedge funds typically hire PhDs in quantitative subjects--physics, math, economics, statistics, etc. and the degree is not required by any means.
posted by dfriedman at 2:07 PM on December 13, 2011

Seconding michaelh- all sorts of finance careers, not just hedge funds.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:09 PM on December 13, 2011

Management consulting/research.
posted by downing street memo at 2:14 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Philosophy PhD?

Sounds like prime law school material.
posted by Oktober at 2:16 PM on December 13, 2011

(ms. Vegetable)
I can imagine consulting firms and think tanks hiring you.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 2:16 PM on December 13, 2011

It's a turn off for employers if they think you will leave for a better job. If you can convince them that this is an area that you love and are enthusiastic about, they may want to hire you. So maybe not-for-profits and other places where people are in it for the love of it?
posted by carter at 2:19 PM on December 13, 2011

t every research institution has an IRB to weigh in on and approve the ethics of various research protocols. I bet philosophy PhDs would be exactly the sort of person recruited for that sort of board.

Just FYI -- at my university (R1), IRB board members are drawn from the faculty. So I'm not sure if this is a viable career path...
posted by artemisia at 2:24 PM on December 13, 2011

I remember on a McKinsey recruitment brochure from like years and years back, there was a picture and profile of some woman who was a consultant who had a PhD in Film Studies.
posted by anniecat at 2:26 PM on December 13, 2011

By non-academic, I guess you also mean higher education administration could be a possibility?
posted by anniecat at 2:27 PM on December 13, 2011

Some government work, especially federal. You would have to search widely, but I have seen openings calling for PhDs if they need an expert for a research, technical, and/or supervisory role. It's been a broad range - they might need an expert in mid-east relations for a political affairs position, another in 17th century art for an archival/museum job, environmental sciences for a forestry position, etcetera.

The range has been broad, and sometimes highly idiosyncratic. Competition might be stiff, but I bet there's a philosophy PhD or two working for the government, somehwere.
posted by vivid postcard at 2:30 PM on December 13, 2011

Granted this was back in 2007, before the crash, but I went to a "non-academic jobs for PhDs" talk at my university, and apparently the management consultancy firms are really into arts PhDs, or at least were then. From what I heard, they were looking for people with a prestigious degree (PhD) from prestigious universities, and having it in the humanities was fine as they were interested in good communicators (as long as you had a small amount of math aptitude). The firms who were there were McKinsey, Bain, and BCG. I have no idea how well this translates into 2011-recession times, or whether they're still interested in humanities PhDs, but might be something to pursue. I've held onto this memory as a possible escape route after the humanities PhD as well!
posted by UniversityNomad at 2:47 PM on December 13, 2011

I was going to say federal government and high finance.
Also, LSAS used to hire people to write the LSAT and other organizations hire for writing logic-based tests.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:00 PM on December 13, 2011

I was going to say Management Consulting, but other people got there first.

Also, market research.
posted by lollusc at 3:50 PM on December 13, 2011

There are jobs in academic libraries where a Ph.D. would be a resource--dunno if that meets your not-academia qualifier.
posted by box at 4:05 PM on December 13, 2011

Seconding artemesia -- IRBs are typically staffed from university staff.
posted by archimago at 4:09 PM on December 13, 2011

My mother in law has a phd in sociology and made her career as a professional evaluator - she evaluated the effectiveness of grant-funded nonprofits that had to report on their effectiveness to their funders, for example, and later worked for a school district helping it to evaluate the data that it collected.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:21 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had problems getting a non-academic job with an MA from a top school (in a social science) and I can imagine that a PhD in philosophy might be difficult to place - people who can do quant work can much more easily use the advanced degree for a jumping board, I've found. I found that really selling my skills in writing, research, analysis, project management, and etc., helped... as well as having a good answer prepared for the "why are you NOT in academia?" question that I got about a billion times.
posted by sm1tten at 4:21 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Friend of mine did her PhD in Philosophy and ended up writing about business culture for magazines and private tutoring.
posted by The Whelk at 4:25 PM on December 13, 2011

An answer from another user who prefers to remain anonymous:
I went through the McKinsey Ph.D. recruiting process recently, although I did not get an offer. My impression was that they were limiting recruiting to PhDs in science & engineering, and health sciences. During the process I did not encounter any candidates who were humanities PhDs., and the consultants I interviewed with were non-humanities PhDs, with some lawyers and medical doctors in the mix. They want people who are comfortable with numbers and can reason their way through numerical data. PhDs have to take a separate "Problem Solving Test" which involves quite a bit of number-crunching, no calculators allowed. Now there were people who had humanities undergraduate degrees, but who had gone on to do graduate work in science or engineering. Or people who had graduate degrees in both humanities and the sciences. If your undergraduate degree was in the sciences or some other heavily quantitative field, management consultancies might be worth a shot. But it will be an extreme long shot if your academic career was entirely in the arts and humanities.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:52 PM on December 13, 2011

Based on your Toronto questions, I imagine you live in Ontario? If so, apply for the Ontario Internship Program . I have (ahem) a PhD in English and managed to get in. The best part is that you don't have to send in a resume until AFTER you're accepted (totally weird, yes) so it's all based on your ability to write about how your skills will apply to the job. That should be well within your abilities. MeMail me if you want more info.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 5:45 PM on December 13, 2011

In response to the anonymous comment, I would say this might be McKinsey specific. I know someone who works for BCG with a PhD in the humanities, and she says many of her colleagues have social science or humanities PhDs. She learned to do quantitative stuff in her first year there, but had no background in it previously.
posted by lollusc at 8:04 PM on December 13, 2011

This is academic, but perhaps not what you were thinking: private school/prep school teaching?

At least at the top of the line schools, the kids are highly motivated and intelligent, and perhaps so more than older students more willing to explore ideas, which they are likely encountering for the first time. Many of them can write at least as well if not better than the average college kid. They exude energy. Classroom discipline is almost never a problem (I'm talking about the top schools).

My school had a sprinkling of ph.d.'s (10 - 15%?), the majority had masters, usually in their subject area (i.e., not in "education"), and were genuinely interested in their subject. There were a number who pursued parallel careers as authors, musicians, and artists. Teaching across disciplines was considered normal assuming sufficient knowledge, but not in the sense of the gym teacher staying a page ahead of the kids in algebra.

Class size typically about 12. I had an average of 45 students in total at any given time.

My experience is now ancient history (and thus I invite correction and clarification from anyone with recent experience), but I believe that salaries are quite a bit better than they used to be inflation adjusted. Headmasters can earn corporate level salaries depending on the school.

Disadvantage: many of these schools expect teachers to also serve as a coach and/or houseparent. So you need to ask about that. It can be a way of life, and insular one at that. Again, that all depends on the school.

There is a question of what you would teach. No doubt philosophy 101 is offered at some of these schools, but I'm guessing that you would need a mainstream subject to support a full time position.
posted by Kevin S at 4:55 AM on December 14, 2011

You might find some ideas in the forums and such at
posted by aka burlap at 10:44 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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