What Does It Take to Become a Researcher?

For most people the beginning of the answer to this question will be “get a PhD”. However, in my experience a PhD is not necessary to become a researcher. Nor is it necessary to become a published researcher1. Of course, if you want a senior academic role, you’ll need a PhD. But if all you want to do is research, you won’t need a PhD. In fact, data suggest a large proportion (40%) of people in research and development roles do not hold a higher degree2 (e.g. masters or PhD). In my opinion, that is because most research roles are not in academia – the place where PhDs are highly valued. Rather, the majority of research roles are actually outside academia. Think market researchers, data analysts, research and development managers, process or product developers, quality assurance and quality improvement personnel, journalist, lawyers, blogger, reviewer, client or customer satisfaction managers etc.

Thus, if you want a research job and think that a PhD is your only path to getting one, think again. A quick look on Seek.com for terms such as “market research” or “research and development” or “data analyst” will result in hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of jobs that involve application of research process and the scientific method, yet do not require applicants to hold a PhD. In fact, in many cases a PhD is not even listed as desirable or advantageous for the successful applicant.

A career in

research does not

require a PhD

So, if you’re currently thinking about doing a PhD “because you want to get into research” perhaps have a deeper think about what kind of research and where you want to do it. Furthermore, make an effort to get advice from people outside academic research.


Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers and established academics build their careers. He has provided strategic advice on partnering with industry, growing a career building new centres and institutes as well as establishing new programs. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.

To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email (Richard.huysmans@ravencg.com.au) or subscribe to the newsletter. He’s on LinkedIn (Dr Richard Huysmans), Twitter (@richardhuysmans), Instagram (@drrichardhuysmans), and Facebook (Beyond Your PhD with Dr Richard Huysmans).


1Australian backyard astronomer praised for epic photos of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, ABC News, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-31/astronomer-photographs-jupiter-great-red-spot/11162824, accessed 17 June 2019

2Job outlook, Research and Development Manager, https://joboutlook.gov.au/Occupation.aspx?search=Career&code=1325, accessed 17 June 2019