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PhD students and their careers

  • 16 July 2020
  • By Bethan Cornell
  • HEPI number Policy note 25

Key findings

  • Most PhD students (88%) believe their doctorate will positively impact their career prospects.
  • PhD students are almost equally more (33%) and less (32%) likely to pursue a research career after they started their PhD than before, with the majority stating academic (67%) research or research within industry (64%) as a probable career path.
  • The most commonly given reason for PhD students wanting to stay in academia is greater interest in their subject of study (40%).
  • Reasons for wanting to leave academia vary – the most commonly cited reason is a lack of work-life balance (20%).
  • PhD students are more confident their degree is preparing them for an academic research career (81%) than one straddling both academia and industry (47%), or a non-research career (33%).
  • They feel well trained in analytical (83%), data (82%) and technical (71%) skills, along with presenting to specialist audiences (81%) and writing for peer-reviewed journals (64%).
  • They are less confident of their training in managing people (26%), finding career satisfaction (26%), applying for funding (22%) and managing budgets (11%).
  • When considering future careers, PhD students are more likely to do their own research (64%) or attend careers workshops (76%) and networking events (60%) than to discuss options with an institutional careers consultant (13%).

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