Career Options Outside Academia for Psychology PhDs

Just because you’ve earned a Ph.D. in psychology doesn’t mean you’re going to go into an academic job. I didn’t.

2I mentioned that when I made the choice not to pursue an academic career, my mentors were at a bit of a loss on how to help me in my job search. This was not because they didn’t want to help me, but rather because there aren’t a lot of prominent examples available to them of careers a person with a Ph.D might pursue outside of academia.

Since I graduated, I’ve considered it my karmic duty to talk with anyone who is in grad school and thinking about a non-academic career. If I can help reassure somebody that there are satisfying, challenging careers that utilize the unique skills learned in a Ph.D. program, then I feel like I’m leaving the world a slightly better place than I found it.

So with that as background, here are some thoughts on the types of jobs you might pursue with a Ph.D. in psychology that are outside of the academic tenure track:

If you like doing research, consider . . .

If you like data analysis, consider . . .

  • Health economics
  • Outcomes reporting or data analytics (e.g. at a pharmaceutical company)
  • Human resources data analytics (e.g. organizational effectiveness)

If you like writing and presenting, consider . . .

  • See the research list above–many of those roles include communicating research results
  • See the data analysis list above–many of these roles include disseminating analyses
  • Content development for an education or health education company
  • Working for a publication, either academic or general audience

If you like teaching, consider . . .

  • Working in product design, where you will help cross-functional teams implement behavior science concepts
  • Presenting at conferences or local events such as Meetups or panels
  • Working as a life coach or other 1:1 personal consultant
  • Teaching outside of the tenure track, including some high schools, community colleges, or teaching colleges

Don’t forget the side hustle!

The term “side hustle” often refers to a paid second job, often one of an entrepreneurial nature. I don’t necessarily think your side hustle needs to bring in money, but I do think a side hustle is a great way to connect with others in your industry and maintain fresh, relevant skills beyond your workplace. This article has a great overview of the benefits of having a side hustle.

My side hustles are this blog and teaching one-off courses in the Boston area (e.g. at Intelligent.ly). Both of these activities keep me actively scanning the environment for recent research and making connections between research and examples. I also do volunteer work and community networking through the Junior League of Boston.

Side hustles are a great way to round out the experience you get at work. I love, for example, being able to talk about motivational design beyond its application to health in my Intelligent.ly courses, something I don’t typically get to do in my job. Ditto the blog; I’m never able to be this casual in official work writing.

What types of jobs have you seen Ph.D.s in psychology find success with?