Research informed career programming

Research Informed Career Programming

about our research

We use mixed research methods (interviews, surveys, and observations) to collect, analyze, and document career transitions for PhDs.


Our research focuses on two related problems:


Identify and map the process of a successful PhD career transition.
Uncover the knowledge gaps and emotional/psychological barriers graduate students and PhDs face when leaving academia.


Beyond the Professoriate research provides a unique perspective and authority in the creation of career education programming. We have interviewed PhDs from STEM, Education, Business, Social Sciences, Psychology, and Arts and Humanities who earned their degrees from universities throughout North America, and now work in the United States or Canada.


While universities and professional organizations host career panels and collect data on specific institutional cohorts, we are the only organization that has conducted a comprehensive longitudinal study at this scale.


This research informs the evidence-based programming students access through Aurora.


Structured Interviews

Since 2019, the Beyond the Professoriate team has conducted 1:1 interviews with 173 PhDs from Social Sciences, Humanities, and STEM disciplines.


PhDs are carefully selected for a representative sample, with attention paid to diversity (gender, race, ethnicity), academic discipline, and years working in non-academic careers.


Each interviewee is asked the same questions to help us identify:

  • What energizes them about their new work,
  • How their non-academic career connects to their graduate education and training,
  • How they obtained their first (and subsequent) positions,
  • What kinds of skills they needed to develop to be successful in their new careers,
  • What career and job searching advice they would like to give graduate students interested in their career field.


Unstructured Group Interviews
Career Panels 2014 – Present

Since 2014, Beyond the Professoriate has conducted 39 panel-discussions with 156 PhDs who work in non-profits, government, for-profit/industry, higher education, and as faculty members, to understand how PhDs use their education and training in specific career fields, and to map career transition from graduate school/postdoc into various career pathways.


As part of their participation in these career panels, PhDs were asked to:

  • Map their career transition journeys,
  • Highlight the skills they use in their current position,
  • Describe what they found rewarding and energizing about their work.


Graduate Student Mental Health And Perception of Career Opportunities

In February 2020, Beyond the Professoriate conducted a mental health survey of graduate students and recent PhDs. The survey used the Center for Epidemiologic Studies – Depression Scale (Radloff, L.S., 1977), which determines if a respondent was depressed or not depressed.


3500+ Graduate Students and PhDs completed the survey.


To assess causes of depression, Beyond the Professoriate included additional survey questions to understand relationships with advisors, access to career services, and attitudes towards non-academic careers.

  • 82% lacked confidence in their financial futures.
  • 57% felt like they lacked career prospects.
  • 56% agreed with the statement “I worry that if I leave academia, I will not be intellectually engaged.” Only 10% strongly disagreed.
  • Over 50% worried that their work and life would have less meaning if they worked outside of academia.
  • Only 43% were excited about non-academic career options.
  • 50% worried that if they left academia, their friends and peers would no longer respect them.
  • Over 70% planned to pursue a job in academia after graduation.

needs assessment

Open-Ended Survey Questions


Beyond Prof hosts monthly webinars attended by grad students, postdocs, and recent PhDs. Topics cover career exploration, job searching, and academic career success.


In 2020 we had 15790 registered attendees from approximately 330 different institutions from across the globe. Attendees hold advanced degrees from all academic disciplines.


Our team evaluated 1272 questions to assess knowledge gaps for future programming.


Transcriptions of the webinar chats were also evaluated to observe interactions, conversations, and behavior of attendees.


PhD Career Transition Readiness Assessment

A new tool launched by Beyond Prof in January 2021.


Nearly 5300 graduate students and PhDs have completed the assessment.


The tool assesses a student’s knowledge of

  • Career transition and exploration,
  • Job searching,
  • Perceptions and attitudes towards non-academic career options.


Based on this research, the student is assigned a stage of PhD career transition. (More about the 4 Stages of PhD Career Transition below.)


This assessment tool will help Beyond the Professoriate analyze attitudes and knowledge of non-academic career options and non-academic careers to inform the development of future resources, mapping, and tools.

our research findings

The results of our needs assessments demonstrated that graduate students and PhDs approach the job search without a plan and without structure.


However, our research-based on interviewing 345 PhDs shows that there is a clear process that students can follow to maximize their career-transition success.


We used our research results to map out the career transition process into four clearly identifiable stages, each with its own specific goals.


The process helps students break down the career transition process into manageable steps to increase success.

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Author picture

L. Maren Wood earned her PhD in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the Founder of the Center for Graduate Career Success (Beyond the Professoriate and Beyond Graduate School).

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