I have just started my second year in a Health Education and Promotion PhD program. It is a three year program and I will be done with classes after this year. Next year is my dissertation year. Currently I do research and teach. I started doing research as a senior in my undergrad program and continued doing research while getting my MS in Health Education. I have a lot of publications and research experience but do not see myself doing research in the future. For the last year I began to realize that I hate research. I LOVE teaching online and some small classes but I realize that it is unlikely I will get a great career teaching online. I hate to drop out now since I do enjoy learning, taking the classes, and I only have a year and a half left until I graduate. My question is, what can I do with a Health Education PhD that is not research related besides being a professor? Could I use this degree in another field than health education or health promotion? My advisor keeps pushing research but I know I do not want to do that. Thank you!

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    Be a full-time lecturer? Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 21:54
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    It's pretty normal that your advisors will tell you all about research because that's the system they came through, and probably they fought hard to beats the odds to become a researcher: you have a major selection bias when you go to your advisor for careers advice. Some of them, I think, have difficulty grasping the concept that not everyone loves research as much as they do. Don't worry, it is not the only option on the table for a PhD.
    – Calchas
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 22:15
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    Online teaching seems to be a growth industry, and many online programs offered through universities will require or prefer PhDs for their instructors. It's entirely possible that there could be positions for exclusively online teaching. I would not write that option off so quickly. Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 23:00
  • Personally, I would say finish what you have put so much time, money and effort into. Would be a waste to leave something 2/3 completed. Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 4:50

4 Answers 4


Contrary to how the world looks from inside of a Ph.D. program, most teachers aren't professors and most professors aren't focused on research.

The professors who educate Ph.D. students are mostly at research-centric institutions, but there's a lot more undergraduates in the world than graduate students, and most higher education institutions are not research-centric. There are lots of good undergraduate-only institutions out there, which expect their faculty to do at least some research in order to get tenure, but it's far from their primary duty. Many other higher education institutions are community colleges or other institutions that don't primarily cater to full-time just-out-of-high-school students, and they are even less likely to want research (or give tenure).

Next, don't forget that people spend a lot of time getting educated before they go to college. There's probably a lot of places to put health education to work both for teenagers and for younger kids in school systems.

Finally, there is also a large and complex educational ecosystem that exists entirely outside of traditional education institutions: companies educate their staff, government agencies, community groups, non-profits, etc. all have populations that they want to serve in various ways.

In short: you've got lots of opportunities, even of none of them is likely to make you rich.


Just as you have been doing research for a few years and now think it might not be for you in the future, so in the future after teaching online (and offline) for a few years you might think that's not for you either. We don't know what we will be thinking a few years from now, and for what reasons.

Burning out from teaching is no less likely than burning out from research. The issue is not what you are thinking at the moment, but what you feel competent doing, for what work you are valued by others, and what gives you a sense of fulfillment and good quality of life.

Teaching might seem feasible in the long run while the stakes are low and your compensation and job prospects are not completely determined by your teaching evaluations. But when the stakes increase, you might find that teaching has its own underwater boulders that aren't apparently visible on the surface. One advantage of a research component in a job is that not all of your job performance is judged by the teaching evaluations or affected as much by other anecdotal/informal feedback from the students. A single bad experience with a student can produce a 'reputation' that will be difficult to repair, causing years of anguish. In this sense, research can be viewed as a somewhat more consistent and objective yardstick (i.e., averaging 2 pubs a year typically means you are doing OK).

Considering your publication track record, I would expect you to be a competent, experienced and promising junior researcher. This (besides tunnel vision) might be another reason your advisor is channeling you toward a research career. The actual proportion of research vs. teaching can be tweaked later, but shutting the door on it completely and trying hard to reposition yourself as a "not a researcher" might backfire in ways you simply cannot foresee at this point, but that might cause regret later.

With this and the above-mentioned reasons in mind, I would encourage you to reconsider where your career might go (in terms of doors that would open and doors that would shut) with and without a research component.

As @jakebeal noted, the post-PhD world is not defined by research-intensive institutions. There are institutions that emphasis research (i.e. expect research productivity from the faculty) to a lesser extent, such as smaller public universities, community colleges, and private liberal arts colleges. Plus all the types of organizations he mentions outside of the academe. But even research-intensive (R-1) universities can offer career pathways besides tenure-track faculty jobs. There are numerous research centers at large public universities that need PhD-level research or program management specialists, associates, assistant directors, directors, etc.

As one example, I used to work with a person who was an assistant director of a testing center on campus, but she also enjoyed teaching so in addition to her full-time job, she taught undergraduate social science classes in her PhD field of study. In her full-time job she split her time between what you might call 'research proper', but also had significant responsibilities around project and program management, evaluation, contract management, interfacing with departments across campus and outside foundations, etc. This allowed her to control the amount of time and effort she spent on teaching (i.e. if the regular job was too much in a given year, she could put her teaching gig on hold, then restart it the following year that was 'lighter' workload-wise).

There is a number of advantages to such setup. First, as I already mentioned, you can manage your teaching load. Second, teaching acts as a backup, creating an additional stream of income and serving as a potential second career pathway (as a full-time lecturer etc.) in case the full-time job doesn't work out in the long term. Also, the non-tenure track nature of the job means she was not expected to produce peer-reviewed publications and pursue grant funding, except for an occasional internal university grant or budget line (but that's not the same pressure and competition-wise as applying for an NSF or NIH grant). Finally, other job responsibilities meant that research was one, but not the only one or even a major component of what defined her performance. So she could split her time across a range of activities, and possibly afforded her the flexibility to channel most efforts toward areas that she most enjoyed doing and that gave her the most fulfillment.

Being a researcher means being able to think broadly, deeply, and analytically; to manage people and resources; to present and disseminate complex information in clear, persuasive form; to participate in professional communities in a range of disciplines or sub-fields, and to be able to network effectively within and across organizations. There are all skills that are valued and reasonably well compensated across a broad spectrum of organizations, whether academic institutions, government, or industry. You most likely already possess some or most of these skills. Rejecting this set of competencies in favor of focusing on teaching, which you have no experience doing full-time as a career, might mean giving up numerous known advantages in exchange for an occupation which at this time carries uncertain prospects and yields an ambiguous return.

So, I encourage you to rethink your career trajectory while giving research the benefit of the doubt and not dismissing it outright. Good luck!

  • "universities can offer career pathways besides tenure-track faculty jobs. There are numerous research centers at large public universities that need PhD-level research or program management specialists, associates, assistant directors, directors, etc." Not sure how this is helpful to the OP -- he's trying to avoid research in general, not tenure tracking in particular.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 14:48
  • Thanks for your feedback, duly noted. My comment was based on OP's point that "advisor keeps pushing research," and assumption/experience that advisors typically cater advice toward tenure track faculty careers as they are most familiar with research in that context. Not all graduate students have the ability to observe or solicit advice from colleagues who are familiar with research in other contexts, so their concept of "research" might be limited by this relatively narrow perspective. The comment was intended to broaden that by illustrating an alternative context for research activity.
    – A.S
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 15:29

Undergraduate degrees in quantitative analysis and computer science qualified me to work as a programmer in the chemical research and pharmaceutical world. In an excellent 20 years, there were many dozens of studies and significant successes. None of this work would have had meaning without our staff of Ph.D. Statisticians. Beyond what anyone seems to realize, the command of data they provide is unimaginable while being adaptable to any sector of science, industry, medical or social science area. I've since moved into the Behavioral Health space (call it Applied Behavioral Health) and can honestly say that the most complex issues with data I've seen are in Behavioral Health. They are trying but without the knowledge of a Ph.D. Statistician they continue to flounder without the understanding of what is missing. Each year that goes by where they are not collecting the data they need is another year lost. There is so much data in this field that has never been properly evaluated and it needs so much work. Please don't ignore them.


This is an idea. Not well tested. However, these days, people can find some success combining their skills with something digital - like decent analytics or programming skills. (Hence the rise of coding bootcamps worldwide).

There could be technology-focused companies related to your background that would gain a lot if they could hire someone with your knowledge of the area but also with some technical chops. Is there a Health Education tech company out there? Likely. Not sure how to find them all, but as an example, interesting things show up on Angel List.


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