PhD dropout
April 17, 2013 7:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm dropping out of a PhD program in a social science with only a masters degree. I need a real job.

I am in a top 15 PhD program in my field. I was an average/mediocre grad student by that standard - I did complete a publishable first project, but had a very hands off advisor and I figured out how to do the work too late to stay on track to finish in a reasonable time with my sanity intact. I didn't fit into the academic culture and have no desire to be a professor anymore. I'm taking the masters and leaving at the end of this summer.

I am trying to figure out what jobs I will be qualified for. My degree does not come with a skill set that is directly applicable in industry, but I have sub-PhD level skill in research and statistical analysis. I am open to pretty much any job where I can use some of those skills. I do not want to go back to academic research unless it's in a very different role. I would entertain almost any other idea at this point. Yes, I am asking my university career center and those few people in my department who still want to help, but at this point my only firm criteria are the following:

1) pays $25K a year or more
2) does not require much additional training; I've had enough of school, but I would take additional classes this summer or get some kind of certification if necessary, but no more grad school for now
3) does not require a special skill set other than research, writing, and statistical analysis. I don't know any programming languages well enough to use them on the job right now, but grad school involved constant technical self-teaching as needed.
4) I don't want to teach my subject at the high school or community college level

I would like to leverage the additional degree for whatever it's worth, but it doesn't seem to have any obvious value since it is not a practical professional degree, and it looks like I'm going to be competing for entry level jobs with a crop of 22 year olds with fresh bachelor's degrees. Is this correct? What can I do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Can you specify which social science? That could be helpful.
posted by vivid postcard at 7:19 PM on April 17, 2013

Depends where you are. In my area, you'd be fine for project coordinator roles in non-profits; junior policy analyst positions in government; research assistant I in hospitals (maybe, if psych or similar's involved), and probably non-profit or government geared consultancies, at ~35-50k. Also if you've had stats at all, there's always market research in the private sector.
posted by nelljie at 7:24 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Market research (design, execution, & data analysis of consumer or customer surveys) is a possibility with psychology, economics, political science, sociology, or anthropology training, when it includes theory & methodology/statistical training.
posted by lathrop at 7:27 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have experience with statistical analysis you could be a business analyst, sales operations worker, or computer programmer (if you can program). The master's degree will impress people more than you would expect.
posted by twblalock at 7:41 PM on April 17, 2013

Yes, depending on your experience with research there are several research analyst or research coordinator jobs for social science scholars. Typically, however, they require 3-5 years in a professional research position along with a graduate degree and many require a strong background with SPSS or SAS. Your PhD work and/or publications might sub for experience depending. Most pay between 35 and 50 grand depending on location.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:44 PM on April 17, 2013

I would like to leverage the additional degree for whatever it's worth, but it doesn't seem to have any obvious value since it is not a practical professional degree, and it looks like I'm going to be competing for entry level jobs with a crop of 22 year olds with fresh bachelor's degrees. Is this correct?

No, it is not true. Some jobs would consider you an "above entry level" hire with a graduate-level knowledge of research and analysis methods. You want to start applying for analyst-level roles at consulting companies. And don't sell yourself short. The minimum salary should be around $50k. Along with the prestigious consulting companies that command high salaries and have hyper-competitive interview processes, like McKinsey, Bain & Co., and Boston Consulting Group, there are plenty of "we need to hire all the warm bodies we can" consulting companies like Accenture and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Also, talk to your friends who you did your undergrad with in your major and ask what they're up to.
posted by deanc at 8:06 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might consider institutional research-type jobs (again, depending on your specific social science field). They are in higher education but are not tenure track faculty positions, and there is generally a range of levels (Directors of IR often have PhD's, though a "research associate" may not). And depending on your Master's area, you may be able to leverage not just your research skills but also your content knowledge into something relevant for the position. A good place to search for jobs in this field is here

Depending on your stats background, consumer or market research may be an option (I don't know much about this field).
posted by kochenta at 8:10 PM on April 17, 2013

pays $25K a year or more

If this is true and you have a strong back, a lot of people in blue collar fields can use you. These jobs will not require additional training, special skills, or teaching by you.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:26 PM on April 17, 2013

"I am open to pretty much any job where I can use some of those skills"
Since you don't know what kind of role you want, it might be a good idea to look for industries that align with your interests and background rather than trying to pick a particular role. Being open to lots of different jobs is great, but you'll need to start somewhere and then filter down three or four options that sound most appealing.

This is anecdotal, but my friend went for a PhD in history, got through the masters, and decided to leave school for the time being. Up to this point, this friend's only work experience was a few low-skill summer and part-time jobs – i.e., service-sector work. Now he has some kind of administrative role at an education services company. His schooling didn't directly translate into his job, but it gave him some background in the industry to help get his foot in the door. (And truth be told, most entry-level jobs are procured in a similar fashion.)
posted by deathpanels at 9:37 PM on April 17, 2013

First, if you're at a top-tier school they should have a top-tier career services office. Go talk to them.

Second, you sound like me ten years ago. I'm doing the ESL abroad thing and loving it, but it's not for everybody. An M.A. in any field will allow you to teach English as the equivalent of an adjunct professor in South Korea, China, and possibly Japan.

The bad news is that you'll more than likely have to get your foot in the door by doing a year of kindergarten or public elementary/middle/high school teaching.
posted by bardic at 3:33 AM on April 18, 2013

You might want to check out The Versatile PhD and How to Leave Academia; I heard good things about "So what are you going to do with that". As somebody with a PhD in sociology who has "left academia" (well, the career path leading to lectureships etc.) and is now working in academic administration I would suggest looking at project management and university staff positions in general, you will be surprised how transferable your skills will be to that environment. Good luck!
posted by coffee_monster at 3:56 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

An M.A. in any field will allow you to teach English as the equivalent of an adjunct professor in South Korea, China, and possibly Japan.

I do not know about South Korea or China, but this is absolutely not true in Japan. The colleges and universities want at least a master's in ESL or applied linguistics. But, OP would be qualified a non-university position. However, at least in Japan, that market is saturated. The mainland may be a safer bet.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:08 AM on April 18, 2013

If you can put more about your stats background in here that would clarify what kind of analyst positions you can apply for. I have very little quantitative background and have a reasonably interesting and lucrative job as a business analyst.

Seriously, the amount of people in the business world who are petrified of math and programming is staggering, which means that if you can do some of either of those you are made in the shade.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:59 AM on April 18, 2013

I did very nearly the same thing you did 8 or 10 months ago. I left a PhD program in the humanities at a well-respected institution with a masters and no desire to stick with academia.

I'm now working as a technical writer at a software company, which at first glance I would have thought would be the most painfully boring thing ever, but is so awesome. They trained me on the job and I could see working here for life.

You've got the research and writing skills needed for tech writing - it's tough to get into it freelance without a portfolio of work behind you, but there are definitely companies that take good writers and turn them into their own brand of tech writers on the job. Feel free to memail me if you'd like to talk in more depth about my own process and where I ended up.
posted by Rallon at 10:57 AM on April 18, 2013

research and statistical analysis

I work in market research. There are definitely positions open for those with statistical background, working to analyze huge amounts of data, process it, investigate anomalies, etc. They may say "Research Analyst" or "Research Statistician" or something like that, but it's definitely not academic-type research.

Also I wanted to second what deanc said up above about consulting jobs. While you're unlikely to get hired at the "Big Three" of McKinsey, Bain or BCG (which is sort of like saying "one is unlikely to get into Harvard, Yale or Princeton" -- i.e., while true, is of limited usefulness since there are obviously tons of colleges besides HYP), look at other consulting places or boutique consulting firms. If you can describe your analytical and statistical capabilities in a way that is directly applicable to answering business questions, that'd go a long way to getting a job.
posted by andrewesque at 11:17 AM on April 18, 2013

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