Finding a job outside the research world as a PhD

During PhD studies, quite many of us spend time figuring, what will the working life be after graduation. What can you do to improve your chances outside the academia?

Krista has worked closely with the industry in TOHTOS project, which aimed to develop the working life relevance of doctoral training. After getting her own PhD, she went to project management and development work in university administration. She interviewed doctor alumni and several organizations that hire doctors to find out, how can you find a job outside academia.

What did the companies say, what are the most important skills for PhDs looking for a job outside academia?
  • Problem solving and analytical thinking
  • Presentation skills (written and oral)
  • Language skills (especially for the international students)
  • Marketing & financing
  • Ability to apply their research knowledge and skill to other areas
  • Wide expertise in your field
Is there something you can do during your PhD studies to increase your employability?
  • Do not be too narrowly focused with your interests. Try something new and experience!
  • Go abroad, if you have a chance.
  • Take another minor to learn new. It does not have to be connected to your main research interests.
  • Network! The more people you know, the easier it is for you to find a job. You will get to know different jobs and be aware, if there are new openings coming to the organizations of your interest.
  • Be great at what you are doing and develop those aspects, where you are weak at
How did Krista find her way to administration?
Kristiina Väänänen at her new job as a coordinator
  • I always liked to organize and coordinate things. Besides research, I found passion for digital communication and started learning that by doing. I joined a professional organization and worked as a board member, treasurer and secretary. I did a whole lot of career planning. After graduation, I got an opportunity to start developing doctoral education. Started it, loved it, and here I am. I had to learn a lot of new tools, to create several new courses to teach, and I got a possibility to work in a large project. Once the project was over, I was offered a new, interesting position, and I happily accepted it.
Is a PhD degree relevant to this type of work?
  • My everyday work is not at all connected to those areas, I was studying as a PhD student (ecotoxicology/biology). I am now focusing on international academic affairs and participating in several projects/processes to improve the international studies in our university. But I use quite a lot of my researcher’s skills in the job: I gather vast piles of information and compose understandable, clear and short reports out of them to support the decision-making. I use modeling software to test, what are the real-life consequences of different decisions. I present my work to different types of audiences, network a lot and learn new every day. I need to adapt fast, be fluent in English and understand different cultures. It also helps to understand digital communication and IT systems in my job. I am not doing research, but I am learning something new every day!

Text by Kristiina Väänänen

A giant leap from academia to government

How would a biologist who has worked at academia and research throughout her whole career adapt to working in environmental governance? This sounds like a rather giant leap, but is it really so? Our post doc Kaisa was offered an opportunity to work at the North Karelian ELY Centre (Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment) for six months, beginning from August, and she happily accepted the challenge.

But what exactly are the ELY Centres, and what do they do?? The official website says that the ELY Centres are responsible for the regional implementation and development tasks of the central government. Finland has a total of 15 ELY Centres, which are tasked with promoting regional competitiveness, well-being and sustainable development and curbing climate change. Their three areas of responsibility are 1) Business and industry, labour force, competence and cultural activities, 2) Transport and infrastructure and 3) Environment and natural resources. The Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centres) promote regional development by managing the central government’s implementation and development tasks in the areas coming under them. Together with the six Regional State Administrative Agencies (Aluehallintovirasto, AVI, in Finnish) they function as the country’s regional state administrative authorities.

Kaisa has been positioned to the Environment and natural resources area (3) of responsibility, at the unit of nature and land use. Her core responsibility there is to write a new the plan of use and maintenance of Lake Pyhäjärvi, in Karelia Finland. The work requires collecting large amounts of information from many sources, co-operation with other authorities and local interest groups, and of course, planning and writing.

Well, Kaisa, what was the first impression after having started at the new job??

  • This is so easy to answer. The first impression was clear: I do not know anything about anything, and I will never be able to learn these things. Everything is new and completely different from what I have done before, EVEN though my PhD thesis had a clear connection with the environmental governance, and purpose to help the authorities in environmental monitoring and decision-making.
  • University education does not really give abilities for working for the government. In other words, did I spend all these years at the university for nothing??? Is research important for governmental decision-making after all? Why wasn’t I told that GIS is such an important tool for environmental workers?? Or that I should also know something about environmental law, which never really was any of my priorities at the university. Why oh WHY?
  • I am a researcher, what the hell am I doing here in this governmental office??? I used to have academic freedom, and now I am engaged to employee time tracking, and supposed to follow the “virastotyöaika”.
  • And my favorite office mates Krista and Kukka are far away now that I would need them most! I miss our coffee breaks, too.

Now after one month of working there, she has maybe changed her mind a little bit. Let’s hear it:

  • After all, I might know something. At least I know a lot of people who know about something when I do not. I have managed to create a large network of professionals around me during these years, and I know where to find information, when needed. I also know very well about what is going on in research on my field at the moment. I can write reports, I can find and separate the vital information among all the information of the world, which is huge. I get along with different people, and I can prioritize.
  • Even GIS can be learnt quite easily, and everything else, too. It just takes time, and goes slowly, step by step. Co-workers have been great, understanding and helpful. Every day I learn new things and the work itself goes more smoothly.
  • I could easily realize since the beginning, that biologists do work on a wide range of jobs, and research is only one of them. This work is a lot about planning, writing, managing many things and projects simultaneously. Isn’t this exactly what I have learnt at the university all these years? Time tracking is not so bad after all. Somehow all this pushes me to use the working hours more effectively.
  • Office mates here are great, too. And I have to admit that I come to work happily every morning – no matter how busy and intensive life has become recently. During our daily talks about work and beyond I have learnt so much.
  • Lunches are better here than at the university campus, and coffee is not so bad either.

Text and photos: Kaisa Figueiredo

How to find a work after PhD?

You got your PhD diploma in your hand, but not a job. What then? As promised in our previous blog post, we’ll talk about how to find a job after getting your PhD.

If your dream career is within academia:

  1. Write a research plan and apply funding for your own postdoc project. There are several foundations and organizations giving out money for post docs. If you include an international research period to your application, your chances of getting the grant are better. Check the application deadlines!
  2. Apply for open postdoc positions (in Finland and abroad). Check, open positions in LinkedIn and Twitter, plus open positions in the universities’ web sites.
  3. Contact your networks to ask, if they have anything available: Ask your supervisors and cooperation partners, let the people in social media know that you are looking for a job.
  4. Are there any openings (or possibilities for open applications) in research organizations outside universities? In Finland, these could include Geological Survey of Finland, Finnish Environment Institute, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Technical Research Centre of Finland.
  5. Network! If none of the previous options worked for you, widen your horizon. Go to courses, conferences and seminars. Do voluntary work in your field-related organizations. Join a mentoring program. Learn new and get to know new people. Don’t be shy, go and talk to people. Tell them who you are and that you are looking for a place to do your postdoc.
  6. Make sure that your skills are up-to-date, for example by using the following Research Development Framework.
Research Development Framework by


If you would like to step outside the academia:

  1. Apply for open positions and send open applications to local government, central government and third sector.
  2. Look for the possibilities in the private sector. What kind of companies hire doctors from your field? Sell your expertise!
  3. Are there suitable vacancies abroad?
  4. Participate all kinds of job-seeking events and “improve your CV/job interview skills” – clinics. Join a mentoring program.
  5. Learn, how to sell your expertise to a company. They are not interested on your publication list or diploma – they are interested in what you have learned during your PhD studies and how can you apply the knowledge to practice.


What happened to me once I got my diploma?

I have always wanted to be somewhere in the middle – between the research, administration and private sector. Few months before I got my PhD diploma, I started job-hunting. I polished my CV and elevator pitch with my mentor, participated in an international job-hunting event (thanks SETAC Europe), sent five applications to government jobs, applied for one postdoc position and for two administration jobs in university, wrote a research plan (with international mobility) and applied money from five foundations. What was the result? Two job interviews, one job and one 6-month research grant.


Text by Kristiina Väänänen, pictures Pixabay (cc0)

What comes after PhD? Career prospects for doctors

You have your PhD diploma in your hand, what now? This has been a relevant question in our research group during the past few years. In spite of being extremely happy about completing the PhD, there is a nagging feeling in your head: Am I going to find a job and my place in the working life?

According to a study by University of Eastern Finland (UEF), our future is rather bright. The recently graduated Joe Average from UEF is unemployed only for a short period. Within 6 months, Joe finds a job in the field of research. Most likely, he gets a permanent full-time position. His salary is 3 000–4 000 euros per month and he works in a university. Not too bad, isn’t it!

The Joe Average – a new PhD graduate from University of Eastern Finland.


After completing the PhD, 20% of the doctors from UEF did not have a job. Fortunately, the unemployment periods were short: half of the people found a new job within the first 6 months, and 24% more within the first year. If there were 100 doctors, 80 of them would find job right away. From the 20 persons without a job, 10 would find one in 6 months and 5 more in 12 months. After one year from graduation, 5 would still be looking for a job.

Doctors get more money and interesting tasks

The working life of recent doctors sounds interesting: Most of the young doctors got better salary, more demanding tasks, and a better position, after having their doctorate. A quarter of them were hired for a new position.

Where are the new PhDs from Ecotox group working at the moment?

Are the people from our ecotox group the Joe Averages? Partly, yes. Almost half of our recent doctors (PhD less than 5 years ago) work in the university as a researcher – half of them in Finland and the other half abroad.  Most of us have had a short unemployment period before finding the job. In most of the cases, we were not lucky enough to get permanent positions. But, on the other hand, we have real salary instead of research grant.

How to become a better contestant in job-hunting market?

If you are still a PhD student, use your time wisely. Pay attention to networking, do your work as well as possible, participate in extra-curriculum activities, spend enough time to learn transferable skills (e.g., project management, communications, reporting, financing). Also, recognize and learn the skills in your own field, which you may be missing. If you already have your diploma in your hands, stay tuned of our upcoming post about job hunting.

One of us is working to find jobs for doctors

The current job of our most recent PhD, Krista, is to help PhD students in developing their working life skills/relevance. The most important goal for her is to help doctors getting jobs, also outside the academia. Latest updates of this Tohtos project are found on Twitter, @tohtos.

Text and figures by Kristiina Väänänen