Decisions Decisions

Career choice can sometimes be a real dilemma for PhD students and early career researchers. When you have spent most of your life in education and research in an educational or research institution, your horizons can sometimes be restricted to just a few limited career ideas. You may be wondering whether to pursue a career in academia or to consider other options.

Even though you are likely in a work environment full of professors and research group leaders (PIs), competition for academic posts is very harsh nowadays, with vastly more temporary postdoctoral research posts compared with permanent university and research positions. Knowledge of the job market is usually limited within the confines of the academic research world, but so too is researchers’ awareness of their work preferences and which jobs might suit them.


The PhD Career Choice Indicator is designed to help you to navigate the job market and to start to formulate some preliminary career decisions. It won’t give you ‘the answer’ but it may provide clues about the types of jobs which might suit your interests and skills.

Background and theory

Based on John Holland’s Theory of Career Choice, first proposed almost 50 years ago, the PhD Career Choice Indicator makes use of his fundamental assumption: If people work in environments which allow them to express themselves in terms of their skills and interests, they will have greater job satisfaction and be more successful. Holland categorised these personality types and environments into six groups, which I have adapted for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers:

FUNCTIONAL – Practical, technical, systematic, applied, mechanistic

INVESTIGATIVE – Research, discovery, curiosity, interpretive, conceptual

ENTERPRISING – Inventive, resourceful, leadership, entrepreneurial, promotion

ARTISTIC – Creative, imagination, design, original, performance

SOCIAL – Supportive, instructive, advisory, cooperation, counselling

MANAGEMENT – Administrative, management, organisation, executive

An ‘investigative type’ will be most suited to jobs in an investigative work environment, an ‘enterprising type’ to working in an enterprising environment, and so on.


The PhD Career Choice Indicator lists and categorises typical tasks which are likely to be carried out by bioscience researchers and students during the course of their research, from data collection and experimental design to outreach and writing papers; you may have other tasks to add to the list.

Using Holland’s theory, choose your THREE top Type categories and then map these onto the jobs in the corresponding work environments lists. The suggested jobs have been selected because they are closely or distantly associated with the biosciences, however for those PhD students and researchers considering non-bioscience careers, there are more generic career assessment instruments available that may help to expand horizons further, e.g. the Strong Interests Inventory.

Be aware that the roles straddle more than one category. For example, if you chose SOCIAL as your top interest category, a job such as Medical Science Liaison might suit you better if your second and third choices are Investigative and Management; on the other hand, a role such as teacher might suit those who have chosen Functional and Artistic alongside SOCIAL. In other words, every job encompasses more than one interest category and your suitability will be influenced by other activities associated with the role. Furthermore, bear in mind that there are a multitude of other factors that influence career choice, such as values, personal situation, personality and environment.

Note that the PhD Career Choice Indicator is not exacting and requires some thought and reflection on the part of the user, who can also seek support from a professionally qualified careers adviser like myself.

Results and Conclusions

The PhD Career Choice Indicator has received very positive feedback during my workshops. Whether it will work individually on-line remains to be seen – I hope you will find it useful as a starting point in your career choice process. Why not give it a go and see for yourself. I would be interested to hear your views: 

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