Where are all the Humanities PhD jobs?

gradfair2If you’re a humanities* PhD who came to our graduate fairs, you may have ended up feeling like a poor relation to all those science PhDs – or even undergraduates.

Don’t despair!

Humanities PhDs do develop challenging, satisfying careers but your job search strategies probably need to differ from many other graduates or PhDs.

The “average” humanities PhD (including arts, humanities and social sciences subjects) is very different to the “average” science or engineering PhD.

There are fewer of you and you’re more likely to be older, with previous employment and life experience to draw on. There are also fewer non-educational settings where you can directly apply your subject knowledge. This all has an impact on job hunting for humanities PhDs.

*Humanities PhD – I’ve used this term to include all doctoral researchers in arts & humanities (A&H) disciplines and social sciences (SS).

Note: If you would prefer to download or print this information, it is available as a 2 page pdf here.

What do humanities PhDs do after graduating?

The following information is taken from data on the employment circumstances in 2010 of 2,505 UK and EU PhDs who graduated in 2006/7, ie ~3 years on from graduation (Vitae, 2013)

The majority of humanities PhDs were working in Higher Education (A&H: 57.5%, SS: 67.6%) or education outside universities (A&H: 11.2%, SS: 3.5%). This is much higher than science or engineering. Unlike science & engineering, only a small proportion of humanities PhDs were working in research roles outside HE (A&H: 3.2%, SS: 3.4%).

Outside research and teaching roles, humanities PhDs were in a wide range of “other” roles (A&H: 36.5%, SS: 29.9%). The only other sector which stood out was “Finance, business & IT” (A&H: 4.8%, SS: 8.5%).

A significant proportion of humanities PhDs were working in more than one job concurrently ie “portfolio working” (A&H: 27.3%, SS: 19.9%). Whilst for some, this may be an unwelcome reality of establishing an academic career, the majority (~60% of A&H PhDs) said it was a positive choice.

Over 90% of humanities PhDs said they were very or fairly satisfied with their careers, 3 years after graduating.

If you want some more inspiration, Beyond the PhD has examples of the interesting, often serendipitous, career paths of arts and humanities PhDs.

A few starting points to consider

Academia and education – research and teaching roles will be familiar (An Academic Career has example career paths and sources of jobs). Universities also employ PhDs in many “administration” roles – roles which, outside academia, would be called “professional and managerial” but inside academia are given the same label as data-entry jobs (don’t make the mistake of assuming they’re the same). Also consider other education roles, including on-the-job school teacher training such as Teach First or School Direct.

Consultancies – the major management consultancies target PhDs from all disciplines. You do need to demonstrate commercial awareness and interest, but don’t need a management degree. Depending on your field and previous experience, there may be other specialist consultancies worth considering, such as educational, environmental or health consultancies. For more information, see our career sector pages for management consultancy.

Policy and campaign jobs – consider civil service, local government, government agencies, NGOs, research institutes, think tanks, policy organisations and campaign groups. For more details, see our career sector pages for government).

Social research organisations – the Social Research Association has some useful careers information.


What does this mean for job hunting for humanities PhDs?

If you don’t want to work in a university or other education role, or the roles described overleaf, there are very few generic sources of “humanities PhD jobs”. The jobs which humanities PhDs do are as individual and wide-ranging as humanities PhD graduates themselves. “Humanities PhD employers” come in all shapes and sizes and may only recruit one or two PhDs a year (which explains why they don’t want to come to recruitment fairs). This means you need to seek out individual roles, employers and jobs. You could consider:

  • Jobs which draw on your skills

Assess the skills you have developed during your PhD and previously. By the nature of a PhD, this will include highly polished analytical, communication, information management and organisation skills. You will certainly have shown determination, self-motivation and the ability to use your initiative as an integral part of your PhD. You may also be a great influencer, negotiator, leader, team worker or innovator. Many of these skills are transferable to a wide range of careers, either related or unrelated to your research topic.

  • Jobs which draw on your knowledge

This may be discipline knowledge, but unless you are targeting academia, you may need to think laterally. Who is interested in your topic, outside academia? Who would pay you to apply your knowledge, either as an employer or client? What sort of output would they expect to see from you applying your knowledge?

Is there other knowledge which you have which might be the basis for a career? This might be an understanding of groups you’ve dealt with during field work or services you’ve used during your research. You may be able to apply your newly-honed skills to knowledge gained from previous work, to explore more senior posts.

  • Jobs which draw on your passions

An alternative approach to finding a career is to focus on something you care about and explore what sorts of jobs people do related to that field or topic. Enthusiasm and passion, some knowledge of a topic or field, coupled with an ability to learn fast and all those other PhD related skills might be an attractive package for a prospective employer – particularly if they meet you instead of just receiving a CV in the post.

How to investigate career options and find jobs for postgraduates

Job websites can be useful but before you jump straight in and start browsing, consider that

the most common way humanities PhDs first found out about their jobs (3 years after graduating) was through “professional, work or educational contacts or networks”.

This was particularly strong for those in higher education roles. The most effective way of uncovering those individual niche jobs suitable for humanities PhDs is probably through using your contacts.

To help with your job search, have a look at some of our career guides (there are 18 in total) on our Postgraduate Careers website with tips, techniques and links to support all postgraduates, whatever your discipline. These include:

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