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What Can I Do with a Ph.D.? | What is the Career Exploration Process? | FAQs

What Can I Do with a Ph.D.?

Penn PhdA lot, depending on what you want! Although many Ph.D.s enter academic careers, many more have pursued a range of fulfilling and meaningful careers beyond academia. Whether you're preparing for a faculty position or looking to find what other career options are out there, it's important to spend time to understand yourself, your values, and what skills and intersts you have before diving into a job search. After all, you want ot make sure that whatever job or career you pursue will be one that you find satisfying, rewarding, and challenging!

Below is a quick snapshot of the top industries that 2017 Ph.D. graduates represent from the following Penn schools: Annenberg, Arts & Sciences, Engineering & Applied Science, Perelman, and Wharton. Out of 231 graduates reporting, 61% went into higher education (63% of whom entered postdoctoral positions), and almost 40% pursued jobs and careers beyond academia. More information about the careers that Penn Ph.D.s from the last ten years have pursued can be found here.

Career Plans Survey

What is the Career Exploration Process?

career exploration

We're here to help you understand the career exploration process as a lifelong process, and to equip you with the skills to navigate the twists and turns of your career path. We advise students to follow the 4-step career exploration and planning process to help them find a meaningful career. Click on the steps below to get started.


Reflect on what you're skilled at, what interests you, and what values matter to you while exploring your career options.


Talk to people to gather information about careers, industries, roles, and employers that interest you.


Seek out opportunities, such as externships, student groups on campus, or volunteer roles, to gain the experience and skills necessary to succeed in the roles that interest you.

Take action

Apply to positions and make decisions about job offers and your career.

Even when you've graduated from Penn and are happily employed, it's helpful to reflect on and assess your career goals regularly to ensure that you're in the right place, which is why our career exploration process is cyclical. Click on each of the four steps to learn more. Regardless of where you are in the career exploration process, we encourage you to make an appointment with a Career Advisor via Handshake!


Q: I'm at the beginning or in the middle of my PhD program. Where I should I begin in this career exploration process?
A: We recommend that you begin with our "Reflect and Explore Options" page to find resources to help you better reflect and understand yourself when it comes to exploring career options. Once you have a good idea of what kinds of careers interest you, you can then navigate to the "Network & Gather Information" and "Professionalize & Gain Experience" pages to find out how you can make the most of your time at Penn before you need to apply for jobs.
Q: How much time should I spend in each of the steps of the career exploration process? How do
I know when I should move on to the next step?
A: It depends! Some graduate students and postdocs come to Penn having previous careers or jobs and have a pretty strong idea of what career paths they'd like to pursue after graduate school. Others may have spent most of their lives conducting research and may not have thought about the wide range of career options that are open to them. If you find yourself in the latter group and are in the beginning or middle of your PhD program, spend some time--it could be a few weeks, or a few months, or a few semesters--to figure out your skills, values, and interests. If you're near the end of your program, even a few hours of reflection can help you better identify jobs that would be a good fit for you. Once you feel that you have a good grasp of what careers you'd like, then move on to networking and conducting informational interviews to learn more about the industries, roles, and employers that might interest you and to begin developing your professional network. If you've learned that you need to gain certain skills or experiences to become a strong candidate for the roles to which you hope to apply in the future, then you'll want to spend some time to identify and take advantage of opportunities that help you acquire those skills and experiences.
Q: Do the steps overlap? Can you continue to network, for example, when you're gaining
experience or even applying to jobs?
A: Yes, the steps can often overlap! While they are generally sequential steps to take before launching a job search, you should always be reflecting on your skills, interests, and values, networking to learn more about your career options, and developing yourself as a professional throughout your life. We encourage you to continue networking and conducting informational interviews while you're gaining skills and experience. Networking while job hunting is also important, but networking when you don't need a job is even better!
Q: I'm a late-stage PhD student about to graduate in a year or less, and I need to start my job
search soon. Is it still important to reflect, network, and gain experience?
A: Yes! We still encourage you to browse our pages on the first three steps of the career exploration process, even though you will likely spend much more of your time on the fourth step. Depending on how much time you have left in your program, we suggest spending some time, even as little as an hour, to reflect.