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Where Are Canada’s PhDs employed?

Transitioning PhD Graduates to Careers Outside the Academic World 

Ottawa, November 24, 2015—The number of PhDs awarded by Canadian universities increased by 68 per cent between 2002 and 2011, according to The Conference Board of Canada’s latest report, Inside and Outside the Academy: Valuing and Preparing PhDs for Careers. Only 40 per cent of PhD graduates work in the post-secondary education (PSE) sector, while the majority of PhDs end up working outside academia.

“Although most go on to rewarding and well-paying careers, many PhD graduates experience difficulties when initially pursuing careers beyond the academy. This raises important questions about how Canada can achieve the maximum benefits from the knowledge and skills of PhD graduates,” says Dr. Jessica Edge, Senior Research Associate, The Conference Board of Canada.


  • The number of PhDs granted by Canadian universities has increased by 68 per cent between 2002 and 2011.
  • Approximately one in five PhD graduates (18.6 per cent) ultimately become full-time university professors.
  • Many PhD graduates face challenging initial transitions to careers outside academia.

The 40 per cent of PhD graduates who work in the post-secondary education (PSE) sector are employed in positions such as full-time or part-time professors, researching and teaching assistants, full or part-time college instructors, postdoctoral scholars or administrators. More than three-fifths (60 per cent) of PhDs in Canada are employed in diverse, non-academic careers. For example, 17 per cent of graduates hold positions in the natural applied sciences; 11 per cent in health-related occupations; and another 11 per cent in law, social, community, and government services and education other than post-secondary education. Many graduates are also employed as managers across varied industries (9.5 per cent).

chart of where Canada's PhDs are employed

While the majority of PhDs are employed in non-academic positions, many face challenges transitioning to careers outside academia due to underdeveloped professional skills and networks, and limited employer awareness or misperceptions about the potential value of PhD hires. In response to these challenges, Canadian universities have introduced a range of innovative initiatives to help PhD students in a wide range of career transitions.

To help PhD graduates transition into the widest range of rewarding careers possible, the report provides the following recommendations for university administrators:

  • Consider career outcomes before increasing enrolment or introducing new programs;
  • Create comprehensive professional development initiatives for students;
  • Develop PhD alumni networks;
  • Increase opportunities for experiential learning; and
  • Promote the value of PhDs to employers.

The Inside and Outside the Academy: Valuing and Preparing PhDs for Careers report was prepared by The Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education (SPSE). SPSE is a major five-year initiative that examines the advanced skills and education challenges facing Canada today. For the latest research findings from the Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education connect with us via Twitter @CBoC_SPSE or visit our webpage.

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