Is there life as HR Manager/BP after PhD?

Dear All,

I was wondering if any of you may have experience of having finished a PhD (or a DBA) on the back of having significant experience as HR Manager/BP (generalist).  If so, what did you do afterwards? Did you follow an academic path, or did you reintegrate into the HR milieu?  If so, did you find that your experience and studies were valued by prospective employers?

I did my PhD largely on a part-time basis whilst working in as an HR manager in the financial services industry.  However, I had to take a planned sabbatical to be able to finalise the write up, submission, preparation for the viva voce (oral examination), etc.  I am currently in-between roles.

I would love to hear the experiences of those that traversed a similar path.  Many thanks in advance.


  • Johanna

    | 0 Posts

    CIPD Staff

    3 Mar, 2023 14:19

    Hi Paula thanks for posting and sharing your situation. Not sure how many Community members will have been in a similar one actually, regarding the PhD, but it must have been a very fulfilling period for you and many employers will be interested in any insight and growth it will have brought you. What was it in?
  • In reply to Johanna:

    Hi Joanna,

    Many thanks for taking the time to read my post, and ask helpful questions. HR is (and can be) a fruitful field for organisational studies research, not just (largely) transactional or tactical work. Very few organisations, as seen in some of the postings here, seem to provide strategic development and opportunities despite some practitioners being professionally and/or academically qualified.

    In my case, having worked in both very large and SME organisations in HR in London, I wanted to find out how the physical body (something that we are all born with, have, and take to work daily) influence occupational identity (i.e.: the degree of identification with one’s job). For decades, the body in Organisation Studies was something perceived as abstract, or something that can be seen and touched, but not experienced by the individual. My contribution to research in that field forms part of a burgeoning stream where the body/identity nexus is studied using a lens beyond its abstract or discursive conceptualisations. I studied a cohort of professional ballet dancers, an occupation known by its beauty, high standards, strict discipline, short careers, and vertical management style. Professional ballet is a full-time remunerated occupation that can be mirrored to other high-performing occupations. My research findings, as with other qualitative studies are not replicable. However, they can help to inform areas such as: talent acquisition, performance management, leadership and management styles, and the handling of age(ing) at work to name a few.

    As an individual, the knowledge and growth this type of work has provided me with has been phenomenal. However, so far in my job search I have only found one organisation that understood the value of undertaking such study. Unfortunately for me the contents of the role they had on offer, at least at this junction, was not commensurate with what I was looking for. I am keen to understand what other HR Managers with high level academic qualifications have done to advance their careers.

    Thank you in advance.

  • In reply to Paula Fitzgerald:


    Congratulation son teh PhD what an incredible achievement and as an outsider I cant imagine the hours and dedication that went into it.

    Sadly, however, in the UK I doubt that your achievement will open doors professionally in many corporates. We don't tend to value such qualifications. Many organisations may also struggle with the read across from your research cohort to their business - I know its there but it may well be a struggle.

    The Germans look at higher level qualifications far more and it may well be worth targeting big German employers in the UK for roles in their OD and similar functions

    In the UK I think your next steps are likely to be pure academia or possibly a niche consultancy.

    Sorry not much help but best of luck
  • Johanna

    | 0 Posts

    CIPD Staff

    6 Mar, 2023 10:01

    In reply to Paula Fitzgerald:

    Thanks for sharing your area of research with us Paula, it sounds fascinating. (My daughter studied ballet for years and now teaches it along with training to be a Primary Ed teacher at uni, the ballet gave her so many useful skills!) You would probably be really interested in the next CIPD Academic Research Conference, you just missed the last one. I'll see if there is any info I can share with you on networking with this group of attendees.
  • In reply to Keith:

    Dear Keith,

    Many thanks for taking the time to respond to me. I fully appreciate it. Undertaking my PhD was, indeed, the most challenging thing I have ever done.

    It is true that my choice of participants is not widely generalisable and it could be a struggle for some organisations to read across. However, high-performing organisations are now more closely looking at occupations where disciplined training and the body are at the centre of the task (e.g.: elite athletes, the military) to deepen their knowledge and understanding of individuals working in their organisations. Professional ballet, just to clarify, is a full-time, remunerated, occupation. Their employment contracts, and terms and conditions of employment, are regulated by agreement with Equity (the trade union). The structure of ballet companies is very hierarchical in nature, with ballet dancers being their most important asset but simultaneously ranking at the bottom of the structure. Therefore, whilst the occupation itself may be less frequented by organisational studies practitioners and researchers, the contours mirrors other high-performing organisations.

    I value your views and suggestions, and will certainly look into those. Thank you very much once again for your response.

    Kind regards,

  • In reply to Johanna:

    Dear Johanna,

    Many thanks for your response. Oh wow! How interesting. Many congratulations to your daughter. Yes, absolutely, a number of transferrable skills can be learned and embodied from ballet that can be applied to other fields.

    Yes, I would be interested in learning more about the CIPD Academic Research Conference but is this group open for the purposes of networking to Chartered Members? I would appreciate any information that you can share with me on this note.

    Thank you very much once again.

    Kind regards,

  • In reply to Paula Fitzgerald:

    Hi Paula, you can find out information about our Applied Research Conference at www.cipd.co.uk/arc. We are looking to develop this and our wider work on research knowledge exchange (eg the PrOPEL Hub https://www.propelhub.org/ ) in the coming year, so watch this space!.
  • Hi

    Many congratulations on achieving your PhD. I am a Director of People and Culture in an SME and I completed my doctorate in 2021. It took me 5 years and I worked and studied full time - madness I know, but I did it! I know how hard you have worked and the relief of submitting the thesis plus the thrill of passing your viva.

    I have continued in my existing role primarily for practical reasons relating to salary. I cannot afford to switch to academia and start over as an ECR. I am already at the top of my game so did not expect the PhD to help me get further. At the same time I know the my organisation doesn't really value education in the same way they do operational experience. So while they've been [politely] impressed by my achievement, it's not made much difference at all. If you do not make the switch to academia, you may wish to try getting your work published. If not the whole thesis as a book length piece but selected chapters in academic journals. There are of course conferences you can attend as an independent researcher. Will your university let you teach on ad hoc basis as a visiting lecturer? I took days off as annual leave to do this.

    Well done again Dr Fitzgerald Clap
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    8 Mar, 2023 09:42

    In reply to Loraine:

    Thanks for your post, Lorraine... and welcome to our Community!
  • Hi Paula and congratulations. I am not a PhD, that's a long and dedicated period of study and it's a huge mark of achievement. I can see you are at one of those career junctions. Personaly, I have found the services of a coach a great help to me when I've been at a cross road. Even as a coach myself, you can't beat a good coach, someone you trust implicity to support and champion you and ask the tricky questions you need to answer.

    I'd be wondering...where do you see yourself being? What lights your work fire and passion? What do you need?

    I wonder if there are more PhDs working in academia or writing books, speaking about their research and carving a career out of that but I also know a few in work. That work might be permanent, interim, consultancy or any other word for following a non-permanent work life.

    Hopefully you will get the things you need in order to make the right decisions for you. Good luck.