moving from doctorate into business, mid-career


Hi. So my career history is complex. Originally an arts graduate, I started out working life proper in a corporate marketing-related role for a couple of years. Keep in mind this is some time ago now. I got bored being in an office so retrained as a teacher. To be honest I regretted it almost immediately as I didn't really like the school environment. But did well enough that I was running my own department by my second year of teaching. Moved to work in a college, which suited me much better. and fairly quickly ended up a senior leader while doing a masters related to educational technology. So a bit of a switch there. I fancied doing an ed tech role at one bit, maybe in a uni, but the right thing (salary-wise) never came along. So I became a teacher educator. I did that for a few years while also working at board level in schools, and as a consultant to a college. And doing a part-time doctorate, which is policy-related (so a total switch again to social sciences) and now nearing completion. That's gone well, I've got several publications, blogs and conference presentations under my belt and am in the process of finalising my data gathering and then will be writing up over the summer. Because of my research progress and career history, I've been able to side-step a bit and now spend most of my time teaching undergraduates, including some management modules that are more business related. I also did some consultancy last year which was basically doing market research and user research for an education-related start-up company (all qualitative). And the thing is...I'm starting to find that I really enjoy engaging with and thinking about business. Particularly business strategy. I've even started connecting with people from my old marketing job - some of them have gone on to great things and I'm bringing them in as guest speakers. And I'm feeling a little bit jealous! Part of me loves being in academia. But part of me is also tempted by saying 'I've done it, now lets go and try something new once I've finished my research'. The problem is, I'm not in my 20s or even my 30s anymore. Is it possible do you think for someone in their 40s with a career history mostly in education and a mixed bag of arts, technical and social sciences qualifications to just say 'ok I'm done' and go into the business world? I think I'd love to be a consultant and work on different business problems. I've also considered user research, more tech related. Or should I just carry on doing what I'm doing and try and find satisfaction in that? I don't think I'll ever make professor, but probably senior lecturer in a few years. Is it normal to be doing academic research and feel a bit ambivalent about it? Has anyone else done a doctorate in one thing, then moved into an unrelated area?


There is nothing wrong with changing career at whatever age, as long as you are prepared to start all over from the very bottom.

Why don't approach the startup company and get a full time job there? That will be a good start.


Yeah its the 'very bottom' bit that's scary. Would be ok for a bit, but its a gamble!


Whenever you change to a new career, you don't know much about it and so climbing up from the very bottom is necessary. It also means significant pay cut.

It is a big gamble as the change may not work out and you will have lost precious time while your peers continue to gain seniority and promotions because they continued to stay in the same career. This was what you saw with your marketing friends.

I would suggest you consider this your last career change. You have definitely jumped around a lot and it is absolutely essential for you to choose and stay in the same career now so you can build relevant experience and climb up the ladder. Otherwise, you will probably end up as a jack of all trade (with bits of experience here and there) but master of none.

Another thing to consider is age. In your 40s, less employers are willing to give you a chance at entry level position for a new career compared to when you are in your 20s. And your CV with many career switches will be less appealing to many employers too. Nothing wrong with changing career at your age, but know that you face significant head winds.


Thank you for your responses. I see what you mean. Could a saving grace be that although I've jumped about a lot, everything I've worked in / studied has been education related. So maybe the answer is that I do something still in education, so I wouldn't be casting all my experience aside? Also, I don't feel in my 40s, I still feel young and know I've probably got 30 years more work ahead of me. In fact I've probably got more working years ahead of me than I've got behind me. Do employers still think of 40s as old?


As long as you can answer the questions on why you jump around so much, that is fine.

Do employers think 40s as old? I can't speak for others, but if you are asking me to choose between two equally motivated but inexperienced people for one entry level position, one in the 20s and the other in the 40s, I will choose the younger one who will likely be easier to train and manage.


Jumping around, or just really, really flexible? I don't think I'd look at entry level to be honest. When I first graduated, I never wasted time chasing grad schemes. My first proper job, I was flying back home from my year abroad, read about a new organisation opening, got the name of the comms director and wrote to him saying what I thought the marketing strategy should be. We spoke on the phone on the Thursday, by the Monday I'd moved half the length of the country and six weeks later I had a better wage than a lot of grad schemes were paying. I'd back myself to do the same again. But anyway your advice is good. I've decided to set up my own consultancy alongside my lecturing job, get best of both worlds!


I think the kicker is, business people tend to see through the academic waffle, so you need clear substance. Which is usually demonstrated by a track record of success. It's harder to have credential being a speaker on how to run a business having written an article on it, rather than having run a business.

I think the jump you might need to do, is to start a business and apply what you know. If that is infinitely too terrifying, the safe confines of academia seems the place to be. It's a tough call, but I think the dream you seem to have of just going in advising businesses of what to do with zero financial risk to yourself or practical experience is a bit of a stretch. Unless, of course, it's in a clear niche in which there's demand - which would be a thing you'd need to establish.