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When you first embarked on your PhD, you may or may not have had a vision of where your career would take you. Most likely you were following a deep interest in your subject and investing time and effort into becoming a highly specialised researcher. This focus over many years can make exploring areas outside academia challenging. What's out there? Would I be any good at it? Will I like it?

Before exploring alternative career options beyond research, it's important to make an inventory of your own: your skills, values, strengths, objectives, and what you want out of a job. This self-assessment is an important starting point, to use as a filter as your consider alternatives. We have a range of tools on our Career Planning for Researchers page to get you started.

Use the material below as a starting point for your exploration. Postdocs who have left research have gone on to successful careers in many different areas. Cast your net widely at the beginning, and as you learn more you can focus on a few target areas to pursue.

Where do postdocs go?

As a postdoc, you have been developing a broad skill set alongside your research skills, including management, organisation, problem solving, analysis, and communication. These skills are used by postdocs to transition into new areas, such as:

Supporting research - Your experience as a postdoc can be highly valued in roles supporting research in industry, such as in regulatory affairs, clinical trials, sales and technology support, clinical trails, and scientific and medical information.

Big picture thinking and communicating - You can contribute to big picture thinking through science communication and publishing, think tanks, teaching, journalism, public relations, consultancy and more.

Higher education roles - Researchers are also highly valued in higher education (e.g. grant management, scientific administration, training and support roles) and the public sector (e.g. Parliament, Civil Service, EU and international organisations).

Technical careers - Want to apply your technical skills? Data science and software development, bioinformatics, and operational research require both technical knowledge as well as the project management, determination and critical thinking you have developed as a postdoctoral researcher.

Applied scientific knowledge - If you’re interested in directly applying your research knowledge, start-ups, tech transfer and patent law are options.

Have a look at the graphic in the next section "Employment areas for science postdocs" for further ideas, and explore the Careers Sectors A-Z for an overview.

Employment areas for science postdocs
Connecting with others

Transitioning from a postdoc to a position outside academia is not as direct as continuing with research.  That’s why it's important to contact as many people as you can in your interest areas both to find out more about what it's really like working in that area and to make connections that might lead to opportunities. ​

Building your online presence – for researchers – Watch this video to learn how to use LinkedIn, other social media and research platforms to build your online presence as a researcher ​

Getting started with Linked In – A short video to get your started if you’ve never used LinkedIn or have a very basic profile.

LinkedIn – Alumni function​ - Connect with former Cambridge students, postdocs and employees through the LinkedIn Alumni function.

Speculative approaches - Take the initiative to talk to people - it's a fruitful way to build your network and learn about new areas

Applications and interviews for roles beyond research

When you don't have direct experience, make sure your applications and interviews can:

  1. Show that you understand your potential employer and the role under discussion, and have a clear vision of how you would fit in and add value
  2. Communicate your relevant skills - not a laundry list of generic skills - but exactly those that are make-or-break to the target job

For applications

  • Stick to a 2-page CV
  • Tailor your application to the role
  • Description of your research should focus on outcomes and on skills you used to achieve them
  • Ensure that description of your research is accessible to a broad audience
  • Provide examples as tangible evidence of your skills
  • No need for a technical skills section
  • Don't include details of publications or conferences unless relevant - summarise if necessary
  • Cover letters should be 1-page only and focus on how you match their requirements

See Applications for non-academic roles for further resources and examples

Watch our YouTube playlist; Applications for non-research roles; PhD and Postdoc careers essentials

For interviews

Prepare for an interview in a systematic way:

  • Read the job description thoroughly, think about what they are looking for, and review your application material
  • Anticipate questions and prepare your answers
  • Practice with colleagues acting as the interviewers - always practice speaking out loud without notes, not just thinking about your answers
  • Book an interview practice session with the Postdoc Careers Service, and send us the job descripton in advance

We have collected actual questions from non-research job interviews undertaken by previous Cambridge postdocs.  See our Interview Skills for Non-Research Jobs guide for lists of sample questions.