Applied Behavior Science for Health and Happiness
Career Options Outside Academia for Psychology PhDs
Career Options Outside Academia for Psychology PhDs

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.

I 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?