Thoughts on Post-PhD Jobs


I’m a PhD student at an American Grad school, studying authoritarian politics. The academic job market has more PhD students than openings in the US. My school does not have a strong placement record. While I’m a stronger-than-average candidate, the probabilty I won’t find an appealing professorship is enough to plan for that possibility. Also, having outside options would improve my bargaining position.

This post is about raising my reservation wage as a politics grad student. Half brain storm, half plan.

First, I’ll list my most valuable qualifications. Second, I’ll list 6 candidate paths as backup jobs. Finally, I’ll describe the three questions I need to answer for each one, before I pick my thesis plan.


The good news is that I am exceptionally talented in some fairly uncrowded fields. And will be more legibly talented in them post-post-grad.

  1. Understanding authoritarian politics: I study how dictatorships make policy decisions. I know all the main formal models of autocratic politics; Selectorate theory, Svolik’s consolidation model, Guriev and Treisman’s information control, et cetera. The literature is actually very helpful because most Americans intuitively understand democracy, but have no idea how dictatorships work. My next paper is about predicting when a leader’s sudden death will cause expropriation using institutional characteristics.

  2. A lot of stats. I’m a grad student after all. I code R, Stata and do GIS.

  3. I speak Arabic.

  4. I have past experience in aid project evaluation, and currently consult on aid project development.

  5. Finally, I can tailor my thesis to any career path. This is a real trump card because it offers area expertise that even practitioners don’t have time to acquire (like spending a year studying the Saudi stock markets response to marriage announcements). Also, if done correctly a thesis can demonstrate commitment to a career path. A friend entered the American civil service by doing cost-benefit analysis in his thesis.

  6. I can network with decisionmakers in autocracies. It’s easier than you would think.

Some career paths

  • International Development: USAID, the World Bank and the IMF often negotiate with autocrats, exchanging financial support for policy changes. I have a paper on their negotiations with Jordanian politicians. The recent scandal notwithstanding, I consider them very effective and in need of my expertise. Also, my colleagues would understand game theory. However, I do not yet understand USAID or the WB’s recruiting or the day-to-day aspect of work there.

  • The intelligence services: The fit here by skill is great. They deal with autocracies, they love GIS, they love Arabic. Speaks for itself really.

  • The foreign service: Strong skills fit with the politics, networking and language skills.

  • Political consulting: I did some political consulting work this summer, very enjoyable. Clients seem to value country knowledge highly and care less about stats/​causal inference.

  • Political risk consulting: Similar to PC, but focused on how policy choices affect private actors like investors. Also seems super fun, and surprisingly neglected by political scientists. And very data rich area to do a thesis in.

What is to be done?

For each career, I need to answer four questions; Would I like the work, how’s the compensation (broadly defined), would they value my background, and what type of research would most appeal to them. Planning informational interviews on all those this year.

Anway, that’s the plan for now.