I completed my PhD in economic theory in a low ranked institution a few weeks ago. Currently, I’m in the first year of my 3-year postdoc at a very low ranked institution. My dissatisfaction stems from the following facts:

  • Job insecurity (i.e., temporary contracts),
  • Very low salary (slightly above minimum salary in my home country),
  • Constant rejection of my papers,
  • Living abroad, away from family and friends,
  • Difficulty performing my job (doing math is anything but easy).

Given the circumstances, I have decided that I need a real job. The problem is that I have spent a decade in university, and I feel that I have acquired no useful ability for the real job market (my undergrad was in a social science field other than economics). At my age, training on something else is not an option, for I have bills to pay and I’m trying to save to become a home owner (in a decade or so).

I really need to find a new job, but I do not know where to start. So, do you have any advise?

  • 12
    This site is really not the best resource for jobs outside Academia, as we are focused on academia specifically. There are many resources online for how PhDs should contextualize their experience on the job market. In particular, quantitative skills are typically in high demand. What sorts of jobs and careers are suitable to you are dependent on your personal goals and values and isn't something that other people can decide for you.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 7 at 14:48
  • 14
    Given the low percentages for getting an academic job, what have other recent PhDs you know done?
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 7 at 15:12
  • 7
    How much time off did you have between PhD and postdoc? None? I'd expect you'd need weeks to months off, minimum, for rest and recuperation, to get your energy back. Apr 7 at 19:33
  • 1
    Finding a job is a sales problem. The basic loop is to form a message, and then talk to people about it and see what they think. If you're not getting much response, talk to more people, and iterate. Thankfully you have tons of interesting knowledge you can draw upon to make a message compelling for the modern market place. Apr 8 at 3:46
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    "at my age, training on something else is not an option", unless you started on your PhD journey very late it is absolutely is. People badly over-estimate the difficulty of moving fields later in life. Apr 8 at 6:43

4 Answers 4


Not a full solution, but some possible pointers:

  1. Plenty of people will talk down the relevance of your skills and education to the job market outside academia. Don't be one of them. Rather than saying "I have acquired no useful ability for the real job market", make the case that you do have such abilities. Two specific tips I got from a workshop on applying for jobs outside academia, organised by a university where I was a postdoc: successfully completing a PhD, especially if you do it within the originally-envisaged timescale, demonstrates strong project management skills; and it's possible that, either as a PhD student or a postdoc, you've demonstrated your ability to manage a budget without going overspent. (But don't panic even if, like me, you didn't complete your PhD on time or did go overspent.)
  2. I mentioned that workshop: see what resources the universities you've been associated with (as undergrad, as PhD student, and as postdoc) make available to you to help with job-hunting outside academia.
  3. Your discipline-specific expertise may also help. A PhD in economic theory points towards roles with central banks or government finance ministries. An undergrad degree in social science maybe to company HR departments, government labour or social security ministries, the marketing sector, or think-tanks.
  • 3
    Keep in mind though that jobs in the public sector are extremely competitive in most countries, and generally involve a selective exam, for which advanced knowledge in economics wouldn't help.
    – xuq01
    Apr 7 at 16:50
  • 5
    @EoDmnFOr3q I'm not going to pretend everything's roses, but really, there are good bits in graduate life; don't give up on them. Apr 7 at 17:45
  • 5
    @EoDmnFOr3q Your comment, “Oh well: the more I learn about the job market, the better suicide looks like.” is very concerning. Perhaps getting professional psychological help in your home town would be appropriate. Apr 8 at 2:47
  • 4
    @EoDmnFOr3q I hear you, getting timely help is a big and very frustrating problem in many countries. However, in these countries more is possible when it comes to crisis interventions, and thinking of suicide definitely qualifies as a crisis. Hang in there. Apr 8 at 12:24
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    "one is generally ineligible to serve in the civil service in a country where they hold no citizenship" I don't think this is true for Australia, either. You just need the right to work - citizenship, permanent residency, or an appropriate visa. In fact, discriminating based on this would probably be illegal - "national origin" is a protected characteristic here.
    – nick012000
    Apr 8 at 21:03

Visit your university's career center. Many/most universities will have such a career center (because unemployed graduates are bad PR), and they'd be more familiar with your local job market than most people.


By the way the first thing you want to shake is:

I have acquired no useful ability

You surely have acquired some useful ability (it's implausible that someone with the ability to write research papers learned nothing at university). The challenge is to figure out what.

  • 2
    It's certainly worth trying because they might have helpful contacts. But I would take any general advice from them with a grain of salt. The people working in them often don't have much experience finding jobs. Apr 8 at 3:44

There is not an unique answer to your question and your question is very case specific. When you do a PhD in economic theory, it may take some time to adapt your abilities to get another job. However, many people who have a PhD in economic theory start working on their empirical abilities. I know many people who did this. Working on applied econometrics would make you a good candidate for many jobs outside academia.

I think the entry cost to do some good applied econometrics is not that high for a theorist :) So, a good dose of panel and time series econometrics would do the job.

Of course, you should convince your future potential employees about your abilities to do the required job.

  • 2
    I don't understand: you want to "try to find something completely new", but at the same time you are "not willing to learn another ability after a decade in university". That is not going to wok. To find a completely different job outside academia you will need to acquire new abilities. Not necessarily through coursework at a university, but still. Apr 8 at 7:16
  • 1
    I agree with @MaartenBuis. Quitting a "comfort zone" = learning something new. Adapting to a new environment has a fixed cost to be paid. Even though you do the most trivial thing, as long as it is new for you, it requires some time/cognitive process. Apr 8 at 12:03

Why didn't you do a more thorough research before you decide to do economic theories? Even the ones who gone to the Ivy Leagues are having hard time getting good positions in theory fields. You're getting constant rejection because your field is very competitive (only a few good journals). My suggestion is to move on to other fields in applied economics.

I have a Ph.D. in applied economics from a mid-major department and I am making more money teaching finance than most graduates from the Ivies. And way more publications. Don't let your pride (or insecurities) ruins your future.

  • 3
    "Why didn't you [ ... ] " I sense survivorship bias "I do [...] " Here it comes... try to reformulate your answer without judgement and without your anedoctal experience: what is left?
    – EarlGrey
    Apr 9 at 11:49

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