Copyright: Lucky Business

You are great, in theory

So you’ve got a theoretical PhD… but what next?

You remember being a youngster already interested in the area you are working in right now? Great, we have got something in common. Your are interested in science, maybe chemi­stry, biology, physics, maths or computer science? You developed your scientific passion through high school and university? You studied physics. You enrolled in a maths PhD program and finally realised that you had focused on the rather abstract issues of your profession. Here we are, you and me – our friends and relatives kept asking us for years what we are going to do for a living with our expertise and we kept telling them that time will tell. But now what are the options at hand?

Well, the most obvious and straightforward answer is to keep doing what you are good at – stay at the university. Not literally though, since changing universities, going abroad, meeting new scientific peers and showing your general flexibility is what a young researcher’s life should be all about. You write your own research proposals, apply for your own funds, join program and steering committees on your own and do other great stuff that you are already familiar with, at least from a distance. But what is the price? The time in university is limited unless you obtain tenure.

The other choice appears to be industry. After all, getting a degree – no matter which – is supposed to qualify you for real work. However, in practice you are a theoretician. This implies that on the one hand you are an expert, but on the other hand the skills that are valuable for a potential employer are quite limited. One might argue that logical thinking, analytical skills, the ability to acquire new capabili­ties and all the other hard gained properties which are an inevitable means to obtain a PhD are more than enough to make up for the weak points. Indeed, this is the point you can focus on and there are actually quite a lot of companies out there that expect exactly those skills. It is up to you to decide whether consulting is what you want to do for a living.

There are also some possibilities which combine the advantages of university and industry. The major institutes which work on applied research usually claim to favour staff with a strong theoretical background. This leaves the option for an academic career, but opens up a soft way into industry. Last but not least, most blue chip companies have their own research divisions.

Graduating is one of the points in life at which you can choose to do something totally new. If you have got an idea, start your own company. There is no reason not to try it. Right now.

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