Consulting for PhDs and Postdocs: The Basics

If you are a PhD student or postdoc considering your career options, perhaps you’ve heard someone suggest that “consulting” might be a good fit for you. But what is this “consulting” thing, anyway? And how can an advanced degree candidate or holder like you begin to explore this field?

Here are some resources that can help you understand what consulting is and whether it could be right for you.

Career Services’ Guide to Consulting for PhDs and PostDocs

This guide provides a general introduction to consulting as a career and offers links to a number of resources for doctoral students and postdocs who might want to launch their career in the field. Remember: “Consulting” can refer to a wide variety of services, in a variety of industries, for a variety of clients.  Use this resource to investigate the kind of consulting that might be your best fit.

QuakerNet and LinkedIn 

These networking resources allow you to locate Penn alumni who work in consulting, so that you can ask them questions about their experiences in field and learn more about what opportunities are available. You can also search for specific firms that interest you, and then connect with Penn alumni who work (or have worked) with those firms.

Penn Graduate Consulting Group

The purpose of this group is to serve the members of the Penn graduate and post-doctoral community who share a common interest in learning about careers in management consulting. The group hosts events such as workshops, interview prep, and an annual case competition.

PBG Healthcare Consulting (formerly Penn Biotech Group)

Of interest to those who want to gain “hands-on” experience in the healthcare consulting sector, the Penn Biotech Group is a cross-disciplinary, student-run organization focused on addressing the challenges and obstacles facing the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries today.

Information Sessions on Campus by Consulting Companies

During much of the early fall and early spring, employers present “information sessions” on campus.  If you are signed up for our email listservs or PennLink, you will receive information regarding weekly presentations through On Campus Recruiting (OCR). While OCR is only available to current students and very recent graduates, the information sessions are open to all students and postdocs served by Career Services (unless otherwise specified).


This online resource (accessed via Career Services’ subscription) lets you practice questions related to consulting using your webcam.

More Questions?

Career Services Advisors are happy to discuss your career options and plans at any stage of the process. Schedule an appointment by calling 215-898-7530, or attend our weekly walk-in hours.

“Career Planning Isn’t Like Drawing a Map”: Insights from Penn PhDs 8-13 Years After Graduation

Career Services’ interest in our students doesn’t stop at graduation. In fact, we’ve surveyed recipients of Penn PhDs awarded between 1998 and 2003 to find out where they’ve gone in their careers (both academic and non-academic) and what advice they have for current graduate students and postdocs. We recently analyzed a lot of our data and posted the results to our 8-13 Year Out PhD Survey website. All of it is worth a read, but here are a few tantalizing tidbits:

The best laid plans

  • When they entered their PhD programs, 47% of respondents expected to go directly into a faculty job upon graduation, while another 18% expected to conduct postdoctoral research in academia upon graduating.
  • Approximately 24% of respondents indicated they did not originally intend to pursue higher education positions, and their career plans included industry, public sector and nonprofit work.
  • Interestingly, while the majority had some idea of what they would pursue after their education, 5% had no plan in mind.
  • At 8-13 years after degree, 69% of respondents say that they are doing what they originally expected; 31% saw their original plans change.
    • TAKEAWAY: Attitudes about the various career fields open to people with PhDs can change over time—this is perfectly normal. You should take advantage of your time and the resources at Penn to explore different career fields of interest. Once you have done the background research on career options, it can be just as helpful to eliminate a career field from your list of possibilities as it is to add one. Career Services can help you to explore different careers, help provide you with approaches that can connect you with alumni in different industries, or support you as you aim for the career that you have always wanted.

Where in the world are Penn PhD’s?

  • About 56% of respondents report working in higher education (either as faculty or administrators). The next-largest industry represented is healthcare (11.5%), but there is great breadth to the career fields represented by the remaining 32.5% of PhDs.
  • PhD alumni who work as faculty report working in 40 of the 50 United States and 18 other countries.
  • 51% of the faculty positions held by respondents are located in six US states: Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, California, Virginia, and Florida.
  • Of respondents who are faculty in the US, 54% work in public institutions and 46% work in private, not-for-profit institutions.

If They Were in Your Shoes…

Respondents shared extensive advice for current grad students. Advice for those who aspire to faculty positions is currently posted; check back soon for advice on other industries. The major themes: (1) Publish; (2) Choose advisors and mentors carefully and use them as a resource for research and professional ambitions; (3) Cultivate and maintain relationships with faculty, Penn alums, and scholars and students from other institutions; (4) Get teaching experience; (5) Start thinking about your career plans now. You can begin by reviewing the resources available at Career Services and making an appointment to speak with an advisor!