What is it Like Getting into Consulting with a Ph.D?

Education is an investment, and no degree requires a greater investment than a Ph.D. If you’re going to commit the time, energy, and finances required to earn your Ph.D, you want that investment to pay off, don’t you?

One of the most popular and versatile career prospects for those coming out of a Ph.D program these days is consulting. What is it and why is it such an attractive option? More importantly, how can it help ensure that your Ph.D was worth the effort? Read on and find out.

What is it Like Getting into Consulting with a Ph.D 33Why consulting?

Depending on your field of study, careers for Ph.D students generally fall into one of three main categories: academics, research/practice, and consultation. Having a Ph.D means you’re not just a student of a discipline nor even a professional. What you are is an expert.

Unless you want to work below your level of qualification, expertise can usually be best utilized by teaching others, actively seeking to deepen or improve the field through research or direct practice, or by using your knowledge to help businesses that need it. That’s what consulting is.

That one word is key: “need.” When you’re a certified expert in a subject, you are needed. Need creates value. That’s why Ph.D-holding consultants commonly command six-figure salaries right out of school, sometimes more than double what MBA-holding consultants make. A very good payoff on your education investment, for sure.

Types of consulting

Among the consulting industry’s most compelling features are its diversity and utility. Every business in every industry in the world deals with finance, meaning they all need economic consultants. Every business in every industry in the world has employees, meaning they all need human resource consultants. Every business in every industry in the world has a structured hierarchy, meaning they all needed management consultants.

More specific businesses employ more specific consultants to help with more specific needs. A business that requires heavy computing might need an IT consultant. One that has a prominent public image might need a social media and/or public relations consultant. A business in the energy industry might need an environmental consultant. One that manufactures surgical equipment might need a medical consultant as well as an engineering consultant.

Simply put, any field you can earn a Ph.D in, you can be a consultant in.

How consulting works

Regardless of industry, being a consultant typically requires you to do research, analyze data, and make business suggestions based on your expertise. Consultants usually work either independently or exclusively, or as a mixture of the two.

For example, an independent legal consultant will work on their own, offering legal advice to different businesses on a limited-time contracted basis. Working freelance means they have greater control over their work schedule and the jobs they take, but it also makes it necessary to constantly find new work. Meanwhile, an exclusive marketing consultant is hired by and works as a permanent employee for one company alone, overseeing and recommending that business’ advertising efforts. This oftens greater job security, but often results in less work variety and personal freedom.

Arguably, one can experience the best of both worlds by finding employment with a specializing consulting group, such as an economic research firm. Doing this allows a consultant to work with multiple companies, thus building a wider contact network, without having to worry about always hunting down that next paycheck.


In short, consulting positions are as unique and varied as the people employed within them. For a Ph.D program graduate, few other career paths offer the same degree of flexibility and profitability. If you’re looking to make your education investment pay off, consulting can do that in a very big way.


Interesting related article: “What does a Business Consultant do?”