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Vacancies for PhD graduates

Once you have defended your PhD thesis, you are qualified to carry out research. Traditionally, a PhD meant pursuing a career within the universities. This still applies to many of those who gain a PhD degree. However, to a greater extent than before, there are good opportunities for relevant work outside academia with the skills acquired through completing a PhD.

DM is a union representing a large group of PhD graduates and we see that, after defending their thesis, they are employed in many different types of positions.

In line with number of PhD graduates more than doubling since 2006, more and more PhD graduates have entered the Danish labour market. At the same time, the labour market has changed to the point where investment in research and development in the private sector now exceeds investment in the public sector. According to the Danish Research and Innovation Policy Council, the area of research and development in private companies is now about twice the size as that of the public sector. This has meant that employers in many different areas of the labour market have opened their eyes to what PhD graduates can actually contribute.

As an employee with a PhD degree outside the universities, you are able to handle a wide range of different jobs. Of course, which positions you are best equipped for depends on your field and your experience as a researcher.

For those of you who are looking for inspiration for what to do with your PhD, we outline some of the different roles that one can take on as a PhD graduate.

These roles are based on material collected by DM in 2018 through 35 interviews with PhD graduates.

  • The teacher and communicator

    Many PhD graduates choose to become teachers. According to the Ministry of Education and Research, approximately 60 percent of PhD graduates are employed in the public sector as teachers at places of higher education.

    As a PhD student, you often teach at your own department. This may be as a course manager where you help develop course content for students. It may also be that you help students figure out tasks and therefore develop a knack at helping students handle difficult problems when they feel they have stalled. At the same time, you must regularly present your work at conferences and seminars - often in front of an audience of highly skilled, committed professionals and often in a language other than Danish.

    Therefore, PhD graduates often bring solid teaching experience and a broadly rooted knowledge of their field of study from their time at university. There is a demand for this in many contexts, which is why PhD graduates find employment in both the youth education programmes but especially in the system of higher education - Business Academies, University Colleges and Universities. After the turn of the millennium, both the University Colleges and the Business Colleges have had an increased focus on research and development.

  • The researcher

    Once you have defended your PhD thesis, you are formally qualified to hold a position as a researcher and teacher at a university. Many PhD graduates aim for an academic career from the outset and throughout their course of study. The proportion of PhD graduates who have a career at the university as their primary goal is greatest within the humanities and the least within the health sciences.

    If you wish to continue at the university after having completed your PhD, you often come by this through a postdoc. For many young researchers, a postdoc provides the opportunity to gain sufficient experience and issue enough publications to where they may be hired as assistant professors. A position as assistant professor usually involves a three- or four-year employment. The candidate continues his or her scientific work and achieves a high professional and teaching level. At the end of a term as assistant professor, the candidate's level is assessed by his or her peers who determine whether the candidate is sufficiently proficient to be employed as an associate professor and subsequently as a professor at the university.

    A career as a researcher often requires you to find a position at another university after completing your PhD and, often, also that you will have to apply for funding for your postdoc.

    However, the PhD degree also allows you to carry out research elsewhere than at the universities. By way of example, research is being conducted at the three sectoral research institutes The National Research Center for the Working Environment (NFA) under the Ministry of Employment, the Danish Center for Social Science Research (VIVE) and the Statens Serum Institute (SSI). Research at the highest level is also conducted at independent public institutions such as the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) and the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI). Or within the private labour market within e.g. the pharmaceutical industry at Lundbeck, Novo Nordisk or NovoZymes.

  • The project manager

    After completing a three-year PhD programme, many have themselves experienced having to develop a project that both holds water professionally and can be carried out on time and with limited resources. Often, one has to balance data collection, analysis and text production with conference participation and teaching. At the same time, you have to arrange your stay abroad, collaborate with other researchers and, often, apply for funding.

    Thus, a general overview and the ability to think strategically are required to complete a PhD programme. Therefore, many PhD graduates subsequently find employment in positions where part of the work consists of planning and managing the implementation of different types of projects. This may be both as an employee of a private company or in public institutions or administrations.

    Several universities now offer courses to PhD students to acquaint them with tools for project management. If you want to pursue a career as a project manager, you obviously would benefit from seeking out these courses. If you are not sure whether you want to pursue this path, the project management tools may help you review and structure your own activities and improve your PhD programme.

  • The self-employed

    According to Statistics Denmark, in 2014, 4 percent of PhD graduates were self-employed. In some ways, many the everyday of many PhD students are similar to those of the self-employed, with great flexibility in the organisation of the workday and great influence on tasks undertaken.

    At the same time, after three years at university, many PhD graduates will have built up a detailed knowledge of a subject area that may help companies or others develop their products or provide a direction for their organisations.

    Therefore, some PhD graduates choose to start their own business, either as direct extension of their time at the university or after some years of being employed by a company.

    You can also read our guide on how to become self-employed.

  • The subject specialist

    As a researcher, you often immerse yourself in a single subject for a long period of time, thus acquiring a detailed knowledge of the topic, of the central, methodological approaches of the scientific field and of the latest research. In addition, original results have been independently contributed to this research and the communication of this knowledge has been practised.

    Often, after writing a thesis on a specific topic, you will be one of a few who know absolutely the most about this particular topic - both at the individual place of work and perhaps throughout the country.

    A focused specialised knowledge may be valuable in many different contexts. By way of example, you can find PhD graduates in biology employed by the Danish Nature Agency, PhD graduates in urban planning who are employed in municipal administrations and PhD graduates in cultural studies, who work equipping business leaders for collaborating with global partners. At the same time, you may find archaeologists and historians at museums and archives.

  • The data geek

    As you work in research, you are trained in various systematic methods for collecting and analysing data in ways that produce solid knowledge. In addition to collecting material and drawing your own conclusions, you also learn to assess the prerequisites for research and to judge the basis on which it is built. Many solid skills in the processing and analysing of data are developed across scientific fields, from statistically driven surveys of questionnaires or from thousands of observations of climate phenomena to detailed and in-depth observations of human behaviour.

    As a PhD graduate, you are well-equipped to assess what is good and bad data within your field and, thus, also what is quality knowledge and what is not.

    PhD graduates within DM are employed as data geeks in many different contexts, for example at SKAT/the Danish Customs and Tax Administration, Statistics Denmark and Novo Nordisk. Using ethnographic methods, for example, PhD graduates do qualitative studies on experience with hearing loss in collaboration with Oticon or studies on how mergers in public institutions are managed.

Career consultation

Are you interested in a consultation on how to bring your PhD into play in the best possible way, you should log on to dm.dk and book a career consultation under the heading ”PhD”.

Book here

Career paths after completing a PhD

If you look for inspiration for what to do with your PhD.

Learn more