PhD Career Path

  • Do you have a passion for research?
  • Do you enjoy working independently?
  • Do you possess strong skills in academic writing?
  • Do you want to master a specific subject?

If so, then you should consider applying for a PostDoctoral Program (PhD).

Career Tracks

A PhD Degree allows for many career options that require specialization in a field and strong research skills. Careers are offered in both (1) Academia and (2) Non-academia/policy-oriented fields:

The traditional path for PhD holders has been to seek a position as a professor at a college or university. Upon getting tenure at the institution, this career path provides a secure position for teaching and research. However, getting a professor position and a tenure has become increasingly more competitive and difficult to attain. At the institutions with the largest research grants, referred to as “R-1” schools, starting-level professors teach to “pay the bills,” but it is ultimately the research that gets the tenure. Given this competitiveness, professor positions in universities offer flexibility in research interests and topics.


  • Think-Tanks/Government: Require the use of the entire research process gained from the PhD education. Positions in think-tanks are more readily available than those in universities, usually entail a regular working schedule, and assign research projects determined by the market. Think-tanks and government positions (such as in the Congressional Budget Office) require policy-oriented research.
  • Private Sector Research: Consulting companies offer positions in fields such as strategic, financial, and intelligence research, usually involving the use of a position of the research process. These firms are actively seeking employees, as demanded by the market.
Application Process

Some departments require that applicants first complete a master’s program before beginning a PhD program. It is important to check the application requirements of the particular departments in each institution that can be found on the institution’s web page.

The Admission Committee’s job is to figure out which applicants know they want to do a PhD program and will complete it. Many applicants are qualified, but it is the passion and determination that sets those applicants apart.

Fast Facts
  • Most PhD programs filter candidates in the initial admission process.
  • The level of fudning for a PhD program, particularly the balance between fellowship funding to do research and teaching funding, is determined by the department’s interest in the applicant. The ideal package includes full fellowship funding.
  • Some careers may not require a PhD degree in the job market, instead seeking terminal masters degrees such as international relations, public policy, and business.
  • When applying for PhD programs, it is very beneficial to include publications or previous research on curriculum vitaes (CVs).
Is a PhD right for you?
  1. Do you like to do research? Do you want to do independent, unstructured research for long periods of time?
  2. If you are teaching for five years for a teaching fellowship, how much time will you get for actual original research?
  3. Are you prepared to dedicated 5-8+ years of your life in a particular area (where the institution is located)?
  4. Are you interested in specializing in a field?

Many of the people who leave PhD programs end up doing this not because of the level of intellectual intensity, but rather because of the writing process. It is difficult to invent new lines of research and live in the unstructured lifestyle. PhD programs require extraordinary self-motivation and adaptability.

PhD Way of Life

Subject Mastery: In the first two years of the program, students take classes in the particular subject, similar to the structural life of undergraduate schooling.

Examination: After two years, students are required to pass preliminary exams. In some programs, this period is the filtering point of PhD candidates

Writing Process: The additional 3-6 years involve independent research and writing done on a particular thesis, culminating in a dissertation.


Demand for quantitative research (such as economics) is higher than demand for theoretical research (such as philosophy or English).

While most people with PhDs are not in academia, most of them initially thought they would be.