Finished PhD but still unemployed


I submitted my thesis in December and started jobhunting immediately. I had a three month gap between submission and viva, and was unable to find a job. I have now passed the viva with minor corrections, and after four months of jobhunting I'm still unemployed. I'm finding it difficult to complete my corrections, because while I'm doing them at least I have a purpose in life, and I don't want to let go of that. When the corrections are finished I'll have to join the unemployed masses and consider any work that will pay the rent, even stuff like working as a supermarket cashier or in a call centre. It's humiliating to be told that I need to hide my PhD in order to get a job, and it's embarrassing to be applying for unskilled jobs when all my friends who left university with a BSc have been in professional jobs for the last five years.

The jobs I'm applying for now are low paid entry level positions which I could have got with a bachelors degree, and they're still turning me down for being over-qualified and older than other applicants, so I'm actually worse off than I would have been if I'd left after my bachelors. The job centre are now trying to push me into cleaning jobs and shop assistant jobs. I feel like the years and the hard work and the huge amounts of money I invested into my PhD were a complete waste, and I'm extremely depressed. I seriously feel suicidal, I'm a bright, intelligent doctor who's worked extremely hard, and I'm now reduced to the status of being a cleaner or a phone monkey :-(


Although there can be no substitute for professional help and support, which I would strongly encourage you to seek, these websites might be helpful.

Try not to see your situation as a reflection on yourself but rather recognise that there are very few jobs around at this time for which you are qualified.


Yes, I know there are few jobs for which I'm qualified. That just makes me feel like an idiot for not having chosen something marketable like law, accountancy, or medicine... when I chose my subject of study I was a stupid teenager who had no idea about the job market. I've spent as many years studying and training as professionals in any of those fields, I'm equally intelligent, have worked the same 70 hour weeks... except now they have professional jobs and I'm being told that I'm worthless and should get a job as a cleaner.


If you seriously are suicidal please get professional help. Your GP is there for you, as are the counsellors at your university. And the Samaritans can be contacted at any time.

Have you taken full advantage of the careers service at your university? They may be able to suggest areas of work that you had not thought of.

Also what about the possibility of creating your own job and being self-employed Would consultancy in any form be an option? I don't know what your PhD is in, but it's often an option.

Good luck!


I experienced similar feelings when I had difficulty finding work, but after a few years, I started to see how it wasn't that the world was unfair, but my own thinking had been skewed.

Firstly, I think you ought to stop disrespecting cleaners, shop assistants and the sort of people that do a lot to contribute to the way the world works. Your life, mine and everyone else here would be a lot worse without their efforts. Even with my PhD, I personally, would rather have the quiet dignity of cleaning and paying my own way rather than having a massive sense of entitlement that puts me above such peons and living off welfare.

Secondly, it has never been the case that doing a PhD will automatically result in a good job, in the same way that doing an undergraduate degree won't necessarily result in you having a graduate job. Mainly, its an end in itself, with the added benefit of it being a ticket -to compete for academic posts and develop certain skills.

Thirdly, you are bright, intelligent and hard working, no doubt. However, that doesnt change the fact that we are in a recession, and your skills may not be in demand. However, this is more in your control, and about half the PhDs make the jump from academia once they can adequately cross package their skills and experiences.

I appreciate you may be venting and upset, but perspective is vital to us if you want to move forward productively.


An excellent post by Badhaircut there :-) I know exactly how you feel. I've been there before (after my first degree) and I'm sort of where you are now. Like you, I'm doing corrections and searching for work. I've had one interview (which I'm waiting to hear from) and have another two potentially lined up. We have joined the ranks of post-graduates in the UK who struggle to find work on completion. There are specialist recruitment agencies for PhD grads if you search around on the net, and Vitae have an excellent careers section for PhD graduates that you might want to check out. I'm glad you that you recognise exactly why you would be valuable employee, with skills far in advance of graduates, and you need to market this in your CV if you're looking for a non-academic career. Employers are starting to recognise the value of PhD graduates. Things are a bit crazy with universities at the moment (particularly with the cuts), if you want an academic career, but I think (ever the optimist) that things will settle down over time. Never see your PhD as a waste; it's a qualification that only a fraction of the population have and it can help differentiate you from all those thousands of graduates out there with their firsts, 2.1s and Masters. I would recommend that you see you ex-uni's careers service to see how they can help. And don't forget, that for job interviews that are far away and expensive to get to, your jobcentre can meet your travel costs (even pay for you a suit (though it's usually by the famous designer George of Asda) and provide you with money to cover your costs until you get your first wage).
Try not to feel too down about your situation, and if you're feeling suicidal then please seek help. You might think there's no light at the end of the tunnel, but this time next month you really could be in a job that you enjoy and suits your skills. Even if you have to take a call centre job to make ends meet, you can still search for your ideal job in the interim and then take a sick day off to go to the interview. Like with originally gaining your PhD, if there's something you really, really want, then you can make it happen.


I'm in a similar position - I submitted in August, and have been looking for jobs since then. I had my viva in November, and finished my corrections soon after that. I've had a few job interviews for research posts, but I got turned down because of lack of experience. Like you, I feel that my skills are not in demand. I've tried applying for jobs in shops etc. before christmas, but no luck. Now it seems like hardly anyone is hiring in that area.

Luckily, my fiance has a job, and my parents are still supporting me (which is really embarassing at 25, but I'm very very grateful), so the money situation is ok for now. It doesn't mean that I don't feel awful about it though.

What I'm doing right now is unpaid lab work in the research group where I did my PhD. It gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and it gives me more experience. Hopefully it looks good on my CV too.


I don't disrespect cleaners - my mother was a cleaner. She made sacrifices her whole life so I could do better than she did. I'm such a failure :'(

I remember the misery of long term unemployment and under-employment after my BSc and MSc, crying because I was depressed about being undervalued, and going slowly stir-crazy as my intellectual skills atrophied. That's what drove me back to university each time, except this time there's nowhere left to run to.

There are no opportunities for me in academia - I'm not geographically mobile because I have elderly parents to care for, and the local universities aren't hiring academics because of cuts. There aren't even many jobs advertised in industry though, and those there are won't consider me because I lack commercial experience, which ironically I can't get unless someone will give me a job!

I know the PhD differentiates me from other graduates - I'm older, have more debt and less commercial experience than others my age, and I'm overqualified for entry level positions. I'm basically in the same position I was when I finished my MSc, but older and poorer - I just realised I utterly wasted six years of my life, no wonder I'm depressed. I could have done legal or accountancy training after my MSc and I'd have been in a decent job by now. The real kick in the teeth is that my less intellectual friends did just that, and now they have decent jobs, while I can't even get a job at McDonalds :(


Hey Mlis. I'm not yet in the same position as you, although I could well be by the end of the year. So on that one I can't really offer much advice just yet. But I wanted to post because you sound so down and I know how awful depression can be, so I just wanted to be supportive. You know, the main thing is to get some help for how you're feeling right now...everything else should come second to that. So tomorrow get out of bed and make that doc appointment, counsellor appointment, or whatever kind of help you need. A few years ago I contacted the Samaritans by email for a few months when things were really bad, and it helped. It won't solve your problems, but at least you have a little piece of something that says someone gets you and understands how you feel. Find something to busy yourself with- even if it's just some voluntary work for the moment, it will give you a reason to keep going. In the end you will find something- you've just gotta stick it out until the right thing comes along. I've had some horrendous ups and downs over the years, and every time my mum tells me it'll work out it means nothing at the time. Just a bit further on, you'll be able to look back, seeing things from a different perspective, and see that most things really do happen for a reason. But for now, look after yourself. Get help, you can't possibly even be in the right frame of mind for jobhunting when you're feeling so awful anyway. And keep us posted on how you're doing- things will work out, because they always do in the end. Best wishes, KB


I sympathise with the plight of having a PhD or nearly finished and the job prospects looking bleak. My fortunes turned around when I was truly not expecting it and now am delightfully happy in a lovely job. However, that feeling of wondering if you have wasted years of your life, money, effort, etc in the search for a PhD related job--it can be very upsetting.

One thing might be to come up with a strategy to maximise your employability in your chosen field--ie, do publications and conference papers count? Can you crank out some papers, put in some proposals to do conference presentations ( a lot of conferences have subsidies or bursaries if you are in need--an email explaining financial hardship circumstances to a conference organiser might also help even if there are no official funds available--rules can be adjusted in hardship circumstances!)

The other thing-a finished PhD is worth a lot more on the market than a nearly finished PhD. I found a huge difference in responses from potential employers as soon as I had the final degree in hand. So you may find that once you have the corrections in and the degree awarded, you will get more consideration from employers than you did before you had the degree. I know people will tell you a nearly done PhD is as good as the finished one...but in a bad economy, if you were sifting through CVs, one way to sort them is those who have the degree done and those who do not.

Hang in there--and keep trying. Do whatever you can to get the corrections in and done, ask for feedback on the job apps you have put in but not been successful with, look for chances to publish, do conference papers, etc....all you need is one employer to offer you a job, and life will look much different!


I have been a passive forum member for some time (and recently started posting) - but this is one of the hardest threads to read I have seen on here.

The post by BadHairCut was spot on in my opinion. A PhD is a marketable qualification but it has to be packaged correctly for jobs outside of academia. If you have read the "What do Postgraduates Do" series from Vitae you may know that only about 30-40% of PhDs are working in academia 3 years after finishing their thesis. The number who go on to find tenured positions will obviously be lower.

The truth is that most PhDs do leave academia, even though most of them say they want to be an academic when asked in my experience.

Outside of academia there are many types of employers and jobs that you can apply for, but there are 2 basic types. Jobs that need your specific skills (RnD Jobs) and those that don't (business, marketing, fmanagement....) where you have to focus on transferable skills. I'm sure you know all of this already.

The best thing to do is get down to your university careers service and talk about your options with them.


Can empathize too. I submitted in January and started looking for work straight away. I have had two interviews and flunked both. I passed my Viva with minors yesterday but there are few jobs to even apply for. I have been applying for school admin and all sorts, leaving off the PhD but that messes with work continuity and references. I also have one years experience of project management on a HEFCE funded higher level unemployment programme (Ironic eh?). I just can't see me getting work.
Even though my husband is working since my HEFCE contract ended we have lost an income of nearly £30,000. We are sinking fast financially and will have to sell the house...which won't sell as the market is stagnant.
I have no words of wisdom but I know how you feel.
I will say though when I returned from my Viva yesterday my two youngest children rushed out calling me Dr Senior and told their friends about it on the playground this morning. I may be broke, we may go under BUT their pride and that little spark which makes me smile when I think of me as Dr. says it WAS worth it, even if the outcome of it is not what I expected.
I battled through it and I won!!!
Please see your GP you need some support xxx


I got to the end of this thread and thought we'd all benefit from an update!


Quote From badhaircut:

Firstly, I think you ought to stop disrespecting cleaners, shop assistants and the sort of people that do a lot to contribute to the way the world works. Your life, mine and everyone else here would be a lot worse without their efforts. Even with my PhD, I personally, would rather have the quiet dignity of cleaning and paying my own way rather than having a massive sense of entitlement that puts me above such peons and living off welfare.


I am a phd and a shop assistant. It's not shameful to be doing something legal that brings you money.


It's not shameful, but personally I don't feel my time is worth less than 10 pounds an hour... so let's hope I can find a job that pays at that level if I end up taking any random job to pay the bills.

I also need something where I won't die of boredom. I've done cleaning jobs before and I hated them for that reason. Shops are ok when they are busy.