From PhD to Paycheck
July 8, 2009 5:23 PM   Subscribe

What are my realistic chances of getting a non-academic job with a PhD in International Relations?

For a friend:

I am a few months away from completing my doctorate in international relations. I have a BA in politics, an MA in history, and (almost) a phd in international relations. I have done some consulting on-and-off during my phd but nothing big. Other than that I have zero work experience. I want to work for a company, consulting, non-profit, or government. My sister freaked me out recently by claiming my phd made me unhireable outside of academics (too educated to get my a starter-job but too inexperienced for anything else).

What are my chances realistically?
posted by Spurious to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What are your language skills?
posted by modernnomad at 5:24 PM on July 8, 2009

The real Spurious here.

The OP (the friend) speaks french and is in his early late 20s or 30s-ish (sorry friend if I got that wrong!).
posted by Spurious at 5:27 PM on July 8, 2009

I have friends with advanced IR degrees who got jobs in the EPA and State Dept. back in the 80's-90's. So it was possible at one time, at least. Work the school connections for all they're worth!

Tell your friend that if he doesn't actually make applications, his chances are guaranteed to be nil. There's no sense defeating yourself before you've even started. The job market is bad in many different sectors, so he should prepare for a job search of 6 months to a year, if not longer, and be willing to accept short term work in the meantime. This would be true for anyone changing jobs with a lot of experience, actually.

It took me 18 months after finishing my own Ph.D. to get a "good" job (one that used at least a portion of my grad work). I had to backtrack a bit to a lower level position for the first job, but at least it kept me fed and paid the doctor's bills.
posted by Araucaria at 5:59 PM on July 8, 2009

PS: Siblings are not always a reliable source of advice.

When doing grad work, you are attempting to satisfy many different masters, and feel the need to take all criticism seriously.

Your best strategy is to stay calm in the face of any irrational or fallacious criticism, which means 99% of anything you hear outside of your research and 50% of what you get from your committee. Graciously acknowledge their input, say that they make some good points and that you will take it into consideration. Internally, reassure yourself that you're doing the right thing, the criticism just reflects their insecurities, and it's all their problem, not yours.

It doesn't matter whether this is actually true or not. Your most pressing concern is to stay calm and confident so you can finish up. The other stuff will take care of itself, eventually, and worrying about it now doesn't help anything.
posted by Araucaria at 6:08 PM on July 8, 2009

Thanks Araucaria, can you define "make applications"?
posted by Spurious at 6:10 PM on July 8, 2009

We need a lot more info: where is your friend getting their degree? What country, what school? What is their focus: security, refugee issues, health, etc? Similarly, what kind of job do they want: working for Congress or the UN? Think tank? Financial institutions?

Regardless, I'd say the biggest thing he or she should be doing is networking like crazy. Set up informational interviews, go to nonacademic conferences, etc.
posted by lunasol at 6:17 PM on July 8, 2009

The question needs more information in order to get useful answers. What is the area of specialization? What types of methods do you know? What is "nothing big" consulting? Do you have a security clearance? How highly ranked is the program? And, how well did you do? Also, where are you looking for jobs (US or other market)?
posted by B-squared at 6:17 PM on July 8, 2009

CIA or any other intel op in govt....they use analysts in addition to spies on the ground (CIA) and some folks with poly sci background have done work for them.
posted by Postroad at 6:22 PM on July 8, 2009

Come see us over here and ask--there will be people with experiences very similar to your own.
posted by LarryC at 6:56 PM on July 8, 2009

Did your PhD really leave you inexperienced? In the course of mine, I have gained experience in writing (successful) grant proposals, conducting small and large research, designing and conducting independent research, and teaching. All but teaching are directly relevant experience for the non-profit sector, and teaching can be spun into a number of relevant attributes/skills (leadership, communication, organization).

I think it's a mistake to think of a PhD as a purely academic endeavour. You've almost certainly developed a number of specific skills that are applicable outside of academia. Perhaps breaking down the process a bit and thinking about what you know how to *do* will give you some comfort (not to mention a start on a non-academic CV).
posted by carmen at 6:26 AM on July 9, 2009

« Older Real life hobby for someone who enjoys building...   |   Please identify this old set of science fiction... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.