Published on December 5th, 2016


Finding the PhD in Me: Jobs Where You Can ‘Get Your Research On’ as a Clinician

Part 4 of the blog series Finding the PhD in Me. Read part 3 here.

By Bonita Squires, M.Sc., S-LP(C)

I have been thinking a lot about where I could work once I graduate. How can I leverage the skills I develop through my PhD into a career? Where can I combine both my skills as a researcher and my skills as a clinician? I have done some searching and I’d like to share seven types of positions I have come across where you, too, could one day ‘get your research on’ as a clinician.

PhD Skills

Before we go through the positions, let’s look at the skills you can acquire by doing a PhD. First and foremost, I think of my PhD as an opportunity to develop further training in research. This may seem straightforward, but what skills do you gain when you become better at research?

Research-Specific Skills

  • Selecting the appropriate study design
  • Controlling variables, so you are studying what you think you are studying
  • Data collection for research instead of clinical goals
  • Data organization for analysis
  • Statistical analysis with quantitative data
  • Analysis of qualitative data (e.g., interviews, survey results)
  • Sharing research results with academia (e.g., posters, abstracts, talks)
  • Writing articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals and books
  • Writing grant proposals

Transferable skills

  • Project management (this is a big one!)
  • Leadership and training
  • Giving presentations to a wide variety of audiences
  • Problem identification and analysis
  • Collaboration with other researchers and professionals
  • Self-management and positive work habits
  • Fine-tuning logical arguments

Great, but what employers out there are looking for individuals with these skills? Quite a few, in fact! If you’re someone with clinical experience who went to all the trouble of obtaining a PhD, you could be eligible for any of the positions below.

1. Professor/Researcher in Academia

The majority of PhD students enter their programs with the goal of becoming an academic. In this setting, you have the flexibility to define your own research questions, potentially redefining our current understanding of theoretical and/or applied knowledge! This is a good position for a person who is interested in breaking new ground and who enjoys collaborating with others on a variety of projects. There are fewer opportunities to flex your clinical chops, however, professors can use clinical experience to make their research and teachings more relevant.

2. Clinical Researcher in Private Clinic/Institute

Of course, you can always create the job and setting that suits you best by starting your own company! As an example, Dr. Joanne Marttila Pierson and Dr. Lauren Katz started their own institute, the Literacy, Language and Learning Institute, where they provide speech-language pathology services and conduct research studies.

3. Clinical Investigator/Head Scientist in Medical Setting

A clinician with a PhD is a good fit for hospitals and clinics where research is valued. For example, Dr. Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, Aud(C) conducts research as head scientist with the CHEO Research Institute in Ontario alongside her position as an associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

4. Clinical Research Associate

If you prefer hands on work over research design, you may be the perfect fit for a research institute looking for clinical associates. Your deep understanding of research design would make you an ideal assessment/intervention administrator who will adhere closely to the research goals of a study while your clinical background will help you to understand how best to share research results with working clinicians.

For example, a job posting for a clinical research associate position with the National Center for Evidence-Based Practice in Maryland stated, “The purpose of this position is to participate in the Association’s efforts to promote evidence-based practice among its members. This will involve development of educational initiatives as well as projects to make scientific research more accessible to clinical audiences.”

5. Clinical Research Coordinator/Research Project Manager

If you enjoy the administrative side of clinical work more than being on the front line, you may be more suited to coordinating and managing research studies. In this position, you could be coordinating research studies that fall within any area of health or education and working for a research lab within the government, industry, non-profit or health sectors.

For example, this past summer the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute was looking for a research project manager in the area of immune regulation. The qualifications regarding educational background specified only “Undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline. PhD in a life science discipline is an asset. Minimum of three years experience or the equivalent combination of education and experience.”

6. Manager of Clinical Services

You may not work in a position directly connected to a research lab but use all of your fine-tuned transferable skills (listed above) as a programs manager. For example, the Children’s Treatment Network recently advertised an opening for a programs and services manager on the SAC website. With clinical experience, highly developed project management experience AND a clear understanding of the meaning of ‘evidence’ in ‘evidence-based practice’, you could be a shoo-in for the job. In fact, the above position required knowledge of statistical data analysis, which most clinicians don’t acquire without advanced research training.

7. Industry Work with a PhD

Finally, we cannot forget that many, many people have obtained PhDs and not used those research-specific skills in any apparent way. They have become consultants, directors, CEOs, entrepreneurs, educators, inventors, authors… and the list goes on. There is an increasing amount of information available to doctoral students regarding positions with industry, for example, popular conferences such as Beyond Academia, Twitter accounts such as @withaphd or @cheekyscience, and websites/blogs such as Next Scientist. Using all these tools, you can find plenty of advice on how to adjust your resume and sell your skills in a job interview for a non-research-related position.

I hope that I have given you some points to ponder regarding careers for communication sciences clinicians with PhDs. Perhaps one of the most important skills that you must develop as a research trainee is the ability to adapt to the constantly evolving nature of research projects, which will be the topic of my next post. As I progress through my PhD and develop my research study, this need for flexibility is something I am presented with daily…

Feature image caption: Bonita sits with other students, many of whom are also health professionals enrolled in the PhD in Health at Dalhousie University. Back row, left to right: Jeffery Zahavich (exercise physiologist and physical education teacher), Sara Limpert (health policy analyst), Peter Stilwell (chiropractor), America Cristina Fracini (physiotherapist), Logan Lawrence (studies health policy and knowledge translation). Front row, left to right: Crystal Watson (recreational therapist), Bonita Squires (speech-language pathologist), Neda Alizadeh (occupational therapist). Photo Credit: Daniel Abriel.

About the author:


Bonita Squires, M.Sc., S-LP(C) is a speech-language pathologist who specializes in accent modification. She began her PhD in health at Dalhousie University in 2015. Her research area is language and literacy assessment and intervention with children who are d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing. In her past (professional) life, Bonita was an American Sign Language/English interpreter. She has been enriched by the language and life experiences that individuals in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities have shared with her. Bonita’s ongoing blog series, Finding the PhD in Me, shares some of her thoughts and the challenges she encounters as she navigates the doctoral journey.

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