Professional Development and Events

Do PhD candidates need to look outside of academia for work?

By by Alex Wolfe on January 10, 2018
The ASU Graduate College will receive $80,000 a year for 3 years from a $2 million multi-institutional research grant, which will be used to help discover and bring to light career paths that extend beyond academia for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors and humanities majors.


This study, “Understanding PhD Career Pathways,” aims to understand PhD students' career aspirations, the level of academic training and preparatiion received for multiple career pathways and improve career development for PhD students.

“There are multiple career opportunities for those with graduate degrees outside the realm of faculty, and this grant will be used to explore those options,” Alfredo Artiles, dean of the Graduate College, said.

Jennifer Cason, a co-principal investigator on the grant, said in a press release that graduate students are often not aware of the alternative career options available within various employment sectors.

“We know that diverse career preparation is a problem across disciplines and job markets, but there’s a gap in the literature about what careers students pursue after they earn a PhD,” Cason said in the release. “Some PhD-to-career paths are well-worn, for other fields the road is not as clear.”

The PhD Career Pathways grant is important at this time because the number of jobs for PhDs in academia is not growing at the same rate as PhD graduates.

“PhD graduates now land jobs in industry, non-profits, government, public service, and become entrepreneurs, yet the route to these varied types of employment has gone largely unstudied,” Cason said.

In fact, between 1982 in 2011, nearly 800,000 PhDs were earned, but only 100,000 university faculty jobs were created in that same time frame, according to a study published by Nature America.

Additionally, according to an article published by UC Berkeley, only two in 10 STEM PhDs will have a tenure-track job lined up within four to six years of graduating.

Based off of these data, there are not enough faculty positions to provide jobs for the majority of the PhD community, which is an issue that the PhD Career Pathways grant hopes to address.

“Engagement between industry, nonprofit organizations, government and PhD students is vital for three reasons,” Cason said. “It helps to diminish the perception that PhD holders are over educated research specialists who only teach or work in a lab, it allows for knowledge mobilization, making research accessible and engaging to multiple individuals, and it furthers the conversation about the value of an advance dgree and conceptualizes the knowledge sharing process.”

PhD Career Pathways study is headed by the Council of Graduate Schools and is receiving financial support from the National Science Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

ASU is administering two surveys designed by the Council of Graduate Schools. Targeted alumni received an invitation to take a survey at the start of the Fall 2017 semester. Targeted current students will receive an invitation to take the second survey at the start of the Spring 2018 semester. For additional information visit

This research will hopefully lead to further insight regarding the different ways PhDs can use their degree and also help The Graduate College determine better ways to make these options better known.

For more information, visit