WASS PhD Career Pathways

Conducting PhD research and obtaining a PhD degree prepares you for a future in a wide variety of professions. The knowledge, skills, and experience you bring, will help you to make a difference in your next position.

Your research topic gives you in-depth knowledge in a specific scientific field. But finding a good match after your PhD is also influenced by your activities, courses and training, experience and network. You will most likely have multiple jobs in the future, which gives you the happy prospect of practising your professional skills and developing yourself in different situations.

WASS PhD graduates pursue very different career paths. In choosing what suits you best, both your scientific field and your interests are important for the areas you would like to work in. This page presents six different pathways, to help you reflect on how these relate to your ideas about your future career.

This is not a comprehensive overview of all potential job types, roles and different sectors you could work in. By giving examples, we hope to provide some inspiration for you to consider different opportunities and explore your possibilities further.

Different career paths

Research in academia

Type of jobs: Postdoctoral researcher, senior researcher, assistant professor, associate professor, professor, scientist

Typical tasks and responsibilities include:

  • Identifying knowledge gaps and setting up new research addressing new trends and developments in a specific field;
  • Preparing research project proposals to acquire funds;
  • Mentoring and supervision of PhD candidates, junior researchers, MSc and BSc thesis students;
  • Conducting literature studies on problems, theories and methodologies;
  • Collecting data using different scientific methods;
  • Writing and publishing articles;
  • Attending relevant symposia and conferences in the field;
  • Networking with researchers and stakeholders in the field;
  • Develop educational material and participate in academic teaching as well as dissemination to non-scientific audiences;

Perhaps the most visible career path for a PhD candidate, continuing as a researcher in academia requires competences such as conceptual thinking, communication skills and project management. You can find more detailed descriptions of the content of different job profiles through the job level classification WU page and WUR Intranet.


Type of jobs: University lecturer, University of applied sciences lecturer, teacher outside university

Typical tasks and responsibilities include:

  • Developing a course and its curricula in your area of expertise;
  • Lecturing, considering different methods of learning;
  • Developing assessments and preparing and assessing exams;
  • Applying quality assurance standards;
  • Mentoring and supervision of students;
  • Networking in the subject area as well as other developmental activities to continuously improve the quality of the courses;

While working in (higher) education, you can have a profound impact in the life of future professionals, introducing them to recent scientific insights in your field and training their analytical capacity and critical thinking. Communication skills and didactic competence are required. The Teaching and Learning Centre of Wageningen University & Research provides orientation activities to teaching and supervision, as well as courses to obtain a University Teaching Qualification (UTQ). You can find more information on the Teaching and Learning Centre Course Registration website.


Type of jobs: Policy advisor, Policy analyst, Policy manager, Scientific consultant, Director, Programme manager, Programme analyst

Typical tasks and responsibilities include:

  • Monitoring and reporting relevant trends and events to the organisation;
  • Analysing current and expected impact of existing policies, as well as policy changes;
  • Organise data to aid in policy making and advice on possible follow-up actions;
  • Engage with a variety of actors to gain relevant information and seek public acceptance;
  • Assessing proposals;
  • Managing and evaluating projects and project efficacy;
  • Reporting;

Policy career paths are typically found in the public and the public-private sector, with governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and research institutes or consultancy. In these positions, you influence policy and decision making processes by translating scientific insights into actionable guidelines. Research competences such as analysis and literature use and management are relevant, as well as writing and presentation skills.


Type of jobs: Researcher, Chief scientific officer, R&D scientist, Scientific business development manager, Director

Typical tasks and responsibilities include:

  • Developing or implementing research agendas in line with the company strategy;
  • Account management and research for partner companies or customers
  • Managing the collection, review, and interpretation of relevant data;
  • Engaging stakeholders in the R&D process;
  • Translating scientific opportunities into actionable plans for the company;

While working in industry, competences such as critical thinking and problem solving, project and time management, and communication skills are important. In a corporate job, you contribute to completing projects that lead to the success of the company, and can translate scientific insights into state-of-the-art products, processes, or services.


Type of jobs: Manager or owner at a start-up or spin-off company, Freelance work

Typical tasks and responsibilities include:

  • Formulating a company policy, strategy, mission and vision aimed at the development of the company and its position in the market;
  • Ensuring financial, administrative and personnel management;
  • Actively establishing and maintaining a broad network of relationships for productive collaboration and for distribution of information and for obtaining information/insights;
  • Acquisition of work assignments;
  • Accomplish work assignments;
  • Collaboration with experts from different backgrounds;

As an entrepreneur, you use competences related to vision and creativity, taking initiative, and mobilising resources. Although the stability at work is typically lower than with other career paths, you can enjoy a higher degree of personal freedom. Wageningen University & Research provides training for PhD candidates on entrepreneurship in and outside academia. You can also take a look at the interactive EntreComp model to read about entrepreneurial competences and get an idea of what it means to be entrepreneurial.

You might not yet have clear ideas about the pathway you’d like to pursue. Your ideas will also change over time and while experiencing different professional situations. It might be comforting to realise that career paths often aren’t linear, it is much more common to switch between types of jobs than you might realise. The competences you acquire often transcend the specific work you’re doing and can make you a suitable candidate for different types of positions.