Many young people are stuck after finishing their education. They come to a turning point where on the one side they contemplate all their efforts, sleepless nights and endless assignments from school, college, university, and now a doctor of philosophy – and uncertainty about their professional future lurking ahead. Studying was the main occupation for such people and now they are stuck in deciding whether they should take a well-deserved break or continue plugging away after working so hard towards respectable job opportunities. 

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Key takeaways:

  • Transitioning from a PhD program to professional life can be challenging, especially when deciding between continuing directly into a career or taking a well-deserved break. 
  • Statistics indicate that a significant majority of PhD graduates venture into fields outside of academia, with only 20.8% ending up in education roles.
  • While securing a job soon after graduation might seem ideal, some advice suggests starting the job hunting process early but also taking some time off to rest and recharge. 

One of the students who had a similar problem grew frustrated with their next steps. They decided to turn to Reddit, a popular platform where people often ask for advice and quickly get valuable community input on various topics. The author of the original post initially intended to take a break of about 6 months after their dissertation to visit family and look for jobs. 

“I am a 5th year Ph.D. student in biomedical sciences. I want to transition into industry after graduation, but I am still trying to figure out exactly what roles I am interested in. After a discussion with my PI, we concluded that I could graduate in 1-1.5 years. I prefer to skip the postdoc and start applying for industry roles right after my Ph.D., although I am aware that I’m going to have to work really hard this next year to build connections and make a plan to earn more industry experience.”

Their academic supervisor, however, emphasized the necessity of securing a job offer before they graduate. Despite the user’s confidence in getting a secure position, they still value spending quality time with their family, given the limited opportunities they’ve had since moving to the U.S. four years ago. Considering their parents’ senior age, they see value in taking a few months to be with them before returning to work in the U.S. 

OP has contemplated alternatives such as pursuing remote postdoc positions, seeking employment in their hometown (despite scarce opportunities for PhDs), or incorporating a lengthy break during their PhD before or after dissertation submission. However, they also want to hear what other people who have been in the same position have to say.

Survey Shows What PhD Students Typically Do After Graduation

The journey that comes after completing a PhD program often carries a lot of emotional weight. After many years of intense focus and effort, graduates frequently find themselves standing at a crossroads, feeling lost and anxious about the future. This unfamiliar position of post-PhD life, a contrast to the structured world they’re gotten used to, can often stir feelings of frustration. Although people are excited about new and upcoming opportunities, It’s a unique intersection of relief, excitement, and yet, a sense of disorientation, as they try to find their place in a world outside the university.

However, it isn’t an unusual experience. The Higher Education Statistics Agency shared its findings regarding the future occupations of PhD students. In the pool of PhD graduates who found employment 15 months post-graduation in 2019/20, only a tad over one-fifth (20.8%) ventured into the field of education, serving as professionals in higher and secondary education teaching roles. So, you can see that it’s clear that a significant majority decided to explore career paths outside of academia.

DestinationPercentage
Working83.3
Studying1.4
Working and studying6.9
Unemployed2.5
Other6
PhD graduate destinations

It is obvious that most of the graduates decide to pursue a career, which is understandable as they’ve already come a long way to get promising job opportunities as professionals in the field. Apart from that, very few people finish their PhD without ever taking on some sort of internship or assistant job in their chosen field. Let’s look at some data about the types of fields PhD students tend to enter recently.

Type of workPercentage
Education20.8
Other professionals17.6
Health14.8
Science14.4
Business, HR and finance8.6
Types of work entered in the UK

However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should also take that path. There is a variety of factors that are worth taking into consideration such as your skills, level of education appropriate for the position, your family situation, financial status, and, last but not least, what you’re drawn to in terms of academic performance. So, what do other people think about it? Let’s dive into some Reddit posts.

Reddit Users Share Personal Experiences and Tips Regarding a Gap-Year

Under the post, which quickly got people interested and gathered a lot of comments, some of the opinions were divided. The main question OP had in mind was about their ability to find jobs after a half-year gap. Would it be impacted?

Should I Take a Break After My PhD? Student Seeks Advice From the Reddit Community
Source: Unsplash.

The most upvoted comments shared the idea that the author definitely should invest some time in themselves and their family. After all, they deliberately worked towards pursuing their education and now have to have a breath of fresh air.

“I also started my job the day after I defended. Would not recommend at all.”

“I’m transitioning into the industry currently and my break is the best decision I ever did.”

“Health, family and happiness comes first and you deserve a nice break.”

Some of the redditors further elaborated and stated that although the break is a nice thing to take, OP and anybody in the similar situation should still plan for their job application beforehand. The hiring process tends to get stretched out, especially when it comes to big corporations that do thorough background checks, offer test tasks, go through with the interviews and other similar stuff. So, in order not to sit for several months waiting for something that might not even happen, PhDs can start applying for jobs a little earlier and just go with the flow from there.

“Here’s my suggestion, take your 6 months off, but once you’re 2-3 months into your break, dust off your CV and start applying to a couple of jobs a day. Before you know it your 6 month break will be finished and you could potentially have interviews or job offers by then. You can do this whilst still spending time with your family.”

Other valuable tip that was shared and liked by users is that OP should listen to themselves, first and foremost. Having insights from your PI can be extremely helpful, but they aren’t a cure-all, since your situations are probably very different. One of the users even went as far as criticizing the delusions of some PIs they’ve encountered.

“PIs are terrible sources of industry advice. I’ve been “in industry” for five years already but only a year into my PhD and some of the things I hear professors say about industry is just laughable. I really don’t understand why someone who went from high school, to undergrad, to graduate school, a postdoc, and then a professorship would think their opinion on industry is worth anything.”

Besides, if you are finishing your degree, you should be aware of some technicalities such as looking through the rules and documentation for international students.

“If you’re on a visa in the US, taking a 6 month break after the PhD might not be feasible. I would suggest looking into OPT rules and the application process ahead of time. It’s tough for international students to take a break after degree because the opt clock starts ticking.”

Another Reddit user suggested taking a break before job hunting, even though it might cause anxiety and hinder relaxation. They also note certain periods of the year aren’t ideal for job hunting due to their current experience looking for work when many teams are on vacation. 

“I finished my PhD in June and I am currently looking for a job and a lot of teams are on vacation, so there’s little hiring going on.”

The user stresses the importance of financial planning, as delays in securing a job might lead to financial difficulties. They share their own feelings of burnout after defending their dissertation, thinking whether they should request a month off before starting a new job. Despite their scholarship ending soon, the user expresses concern over a month without income, which is quite understandable. They highlight the fact it’s a very common situation of recent Ph.D. graduates, as they spend months on job applications, and wonder about their financial survival during that period. So, you should be prepared and take that into consideration.

Lastly, the majority of users, apart from sharing their support, has a similar opinion about starting the actual work process as late as possible. The reason is that many companies don’t even review applicants who don’t have a document stating they finished their PhD and have a month or two left.

“I agree with your PI that you’re better off securing a job before you graduate. But as someone who started their job the week right after graduation, I really wish I’d taken some time to survey the field and make better choices. In hindsight I was just tired from it all.”

However, a lot of smaller companies are very flexible with the start date so it depends. All in all, every situation is different, but most of the people support taking at least a couple months off before diving into the work completely. This way you will be able to gather more knowledge about the sphere, sit with your thoughts and balance out your decisions after reviewing your priorities. It can be tricky and it takes up time, so don’t feel pressured to make any final commitments before making sure you have your own interests in mind. 

What Should The Next Step of Your Journey Be?

Finding a job after getting a PhD can be a bit of a challenge. When you finish your PhD, you might think of working in a university or college, but not all PhD graduates end up in these places. Obviously, the majority of graduates get jobs in education, while others find work in different areas. The job search might take a while, so it’s smart to start looking for jobs as soon as you finish your Ph.D. Some times of the year might not be the best for job hunting, like when lots of people are on vacation. You also need to think about money, especially if it takes a few months to find a job. An EU-funded survey found that PhD graduates are often employed at universities and research organizations, and more than two thirds of respondents are engaged in research in one way or another at their positions. Here are some additional tips on what you can put your mind to in this unstable time:

  1. Explore Various Career Paths: Don’t limit yourself to academia. Many Ph.D. graduates find fulfilling careers in industry, nonprofits, government, and more.
  2. Begin Job Hunting Early: The hiring process can be lengthy, so it’s wise to start applying for jobs even before you finish your Ph.D.
  3. Network: Use connections from your Ph.D. program and make new ones in the fields you’re interested in. Attend conferences and career fairs, and use professional social networks like LinkedIn.
  4. Prepare a Robust CV and Cover Letter: Tailor your CV and cover letter to each job you apply for, highlighting the skills and experiences most relevant to the position.
  5. Take Time Off if Possible: After years of intense work, you might need some time to rest and recharge before diving into a new job. But remember to consider your financial situation.
  6. Brush Up On Interview Skills: Practice common interview questions and scenarios. Remember to showcase not just your knowledge, but your problem-solving abilities, teamwork, and other “soft skills.”
  7. Stay Open to Postdoc Opportunities: Depending on your field, a postdoc position might be a good step towards a career in academia or industry.
  8. Consider Timing: Some times of the year might not be ideal for job hunting, so plan accordingly.
  9. Financial Planning: Keep in mind that there might be a period after you finish your Ph.D. and before you start a job where you’ll have to support yourself without a regular income.
  10. Continued Learning: Keep up with latest advancements in your field. Consider additional courses or certificates if they could make you more employable.

However, if you don’t feel like jumping right into the education sector, you can research other employment opportunities on popular platforms such as LinkedIn. The most important things to keep in mind is you. You are the person that will be working on the chosen position and only you truly know your wants and needs, as well as your current life priorities. Trust your heart and everything will fall into place.

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