What Are You Going to Do with Your Humanities PhD? Career Opportunities outside Academia

Written by
Emily Tobey

Oct 23, 2023

Oct 23, 2023 • by Emily Tobey

If you are completing your PhD in a humanities field and are considering job possibilities outside academia, you might be wondering which potential employers would open their doors to you. Contrary to what you might think, your PhD in the humanities opens up a lot of opportunities. You have a wealth of transferrable skills that make you a highly qualified candidate for all sorts of jobs. The challenge isn’t so much finding a specific job. It’s figuring out what you want to do and how to get there. To help you think about the options, here are just a few of the job sectors that are often a good fit for humanities PhDs.

Higher Education Administration

If you thrive in a community of people who share a love of learning, you want to advance the mission of a school you believe in, and you want to support students and help them succeed, consider a career in higher education administration. Higher education institutions offer many rewarding employment opportunities besides faculty positions that use the multitude of skills you have developed in your humanities PhD program. According to the Office of Career Strategy at Yale University, “These skills include critical and innovative thinking, written and oral communications, project management, and qualitative and/or quantitative analysis.” Some of the many administrative roles at colleges and universities are in academic affairs, student affairs, admissions, alumni relations, institutional advancement, business, financial aid, human resources, communications, and more. PhDs aren’t always required for these jobs, but your insider experience and skill set will be welcomed by employers and will help you advance in this job sector. Read about one PhD’s path to a fulfilling administrative job at her institution.

Translation and Interpretation

As globalization and international communication become increasingly important in most job sectors, the field of translation and interpretation continues to evolve and grow. If you are a native speaker of a language other than English or have an advanced degree in a modern language or linguistics, translation and interpretation might be a good fit for you. Translators and interpreters work in a diverse array of work environments. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest employers of interpreters and translators in 2022 were

  • professional, scientific, and technical services
  • educational services
  • hospitals
  • government and diplomacy

However, NGOs and humanitarian organizations, professional conferences, legal settings, publishers, and the travel industry are all employers of people highly skilled in linguistics and communication. Note that some employers may require or prefer some type of certification from the American Translators Association or other certifying organizations.

Publishing and Editing

According to Beyond the Professoriate, “Grading student essays, writing and defending your dissertation and publishing in academic journals make you a good candidate for publishing and editing roles.” If you have an eye for detail, a love for style guides, and strong project management skills, scholarly and private publishers, government agencies, and even tech companies will be seeking candidates like you. Some of the job titles in this field that you might see in job ads are

  • technical writer
  • copy editor or fact checker
  • digital content editor
  • associate editor
  • publicity assistant
  • documentation specialist
  • literary agent

If you are considering a career in editorial or publishing sectors, these three English PhDs working at the Modern Language Association (MLA) shared their stories about their paths from graduate school to nonacademic jobs, the wisdom they’ve gained in the process, and advice on what to do to increase your chances of success.

Nonprofits and NGOs

Many PhDs seek out nonprofit jobs after graduate school where the culture of the organizations can be particularly PhD-friendly and because they want to make a positive contribution in an area about which they are passionate. The good news is these organizations need people with the skills you acquired during your graduate studies. Nonprofit organizations cover a wide range of sectors, including health, educational, religious, arts, and charitable organizations, as well as advocacy groups, professional societies, and research institutes. Some of the positions within the nonprofit sector that would benefit from your experience and knowledge are

  • grant writing
  • research
  • fundraising
  • program evaluation
  • program development
  • advising

In this Connected Academics post on MLA Commons, you can read about one PhD in French literature who left academia to work in nonprofit development and says, “The field of development is a good choice for literature majors. To fund-raise you need to be able to tell and sell a story.

With advanced training in the humanities, you are also an excellent candidate for a wealth of rewarding job options in many other fields, including conducting user experience research; teaching at independent schools or public K–12 schools; writing for cultural or arts venues; copywriting for marketing, communications, or advertising companies; doing policy analysis for government agencies; and many more. Keep an open mind, conduct informational interviews, become adept at talking about your transferable skills, and listen to the stories of other PhDs who have found success outside academia. The path may not be as clearly delineated as the process of applying for academic positions, but if you think outside the box, you will widen your professional opportunities and facilitate your personal growth!