I am applying for a Statistical Programmer position at a commercial research organization (CRO), and I am wondering if it is unethical to omit my PhD in Statistics from my resume?

All of my degrees (Bachelor's, Master's, PhD) are in Statistics, and I am just wondering if it would be ethical to just list my Bachelor's and Master's degree on my resume, and indicate my experience as a RA while I was a PhD student as my "work experience"? (Since this Statistical Programmer position only requires Master's degree plus some years of experience)

I am asking this question because I do not want to do anything unethical/cause me troubles later on.

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    Do you want to do that because you are afraid of looking over-qualified for the job position?
    – The Doctor
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 0:01
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    The contents of the offer, if you get one, will be highly dependent on whether or not you have a PhD. You might be hurting yourself financially by doing so in case that didn't occur to you.
    – Calculon
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 9:11
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    Sometimes when applying to programming jobs, I'll omit the entire education section (BS & MS) to give me a few more lines to talk about my projects. Am I being unethical by failing to include two degrees (and years of study) on my resume? I don't think so—I'll happily tell anyone about my educational certificates. The resume is just not that weighty of a document, and it's role is to get you into the door. Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 11:02
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    "Since this Statistical Programmer position only requires Master's degree plus some years of experience": Would have thought the PhD would count as "years of experience"?
    – jim
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 11:02
  • @Bad_Bishop The meaning is basically the same, but I think the more typical phrase is "Contract Research Organization"
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 21:20

12 Answers 12


Do you think that such a deception will help you significantly in landing the job? Several years of “work experience” at a university is going to look very suspicious and will probably raise some flags.

In general, you’re always better off stating the truth. There’s a smaller chance of things going sideways down the road if you do.

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    Why would it look suspicious working several years at a university in connection to / right after studies? Lots of students do, some as amanuensis while doing their masters. Some start working part time with teaching. Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 17:32
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    @mathreadler: What I'm saying is that if a tech-aware hiring manager saw someone an extended "work experience" doing "research" at a university, that person would probably have a clue that the applicant is trying to hide a PhD degree. Moreover, some people do it for a few years, but once it starts to approach the length of a PhD, there is the obvious question: "Why didn't you do a PhD?"
    – aeismail
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 17:40
  • is it such an obvious question? Many people may enjoy teaching undergraduates but maybe don't enjoy writing papers, doing research, taking more classes on their own et.c. Some people enjoy doing the technical work which for example research engineers do, but don't enjoy other parts required to do a PhD. Yet some people maybe just like being in the atmosphere and want to work with other, more social aspects of universities and student life. Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 17:47
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    @mathreadler: while your points are perfectly fine at least over here they amount to asking for a big change in the academic system: whatever jobs are there at the universities below postdoc level, are needed to feed PhD students. So it is also no secret that unless the student at least pretends to work towards a PhD they typically won't get work experience at a university. And we're back at the point @ aeismail raised...
    – cbeleites
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 18:55
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    @mathreadler That isn't the scenario in the question. OP specifically asked about listing PhD years post-masters as "work experience."
    – Tashus
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 21:45

I have a rather unique position in this regard as I work as an Adjunct at my local university in addition to working for a private employer exclusively for Government clients. As such, I have a foot in all three camps, so to speak. My experience with people employing across these fields is a little different to the conventional academic, and as such will differ from the other answers here.

Your PhD qualification (in the private sector) may actually be a hindrance to you getting employment there. A controversial guide to professional hiring in the private sector is called Smart and Get Things Done by Joel Spolsky. In his essay, he suggests that PhD graduates are certainly smart, but not always able to 'get things done'. As I said, this is a controversial book but this one view from it seems to be an element of the book that is seldom a dissenting point.

I've worked with a lot of people with PhDs and I have to say that I'm one of the few who is a dissenter. Those that enter the private sector know what's involved and operate accordingly. Those same people however also don't make a song and dance about their qualification. Generally speaking, the practice is that you only use 'Dr' in your name when you're presenting at an industry conference or standing in front of a client that is looking to you for advisory services; anywhere that requires an 'eminence agenda' to be satisfied.

The other thing to remember here is that the private sector is NOT staffed according to qualification. You will find many out there in positions of responsibility that have worked their way up from nothing within the company and find people with qualifications a threat.

I would actually recommend some research; go on linkedin, find out what you can about the person or people responsible for the decision on whether or not to hire you. What do they list as their qualifications? If there's no PhDs in that group, then you need to make a decision about whether to list yours.

Ultimately, the question mentioned in Thomas' answer holds true, even if my perspective on it is different to his. What will your employer do if they find out later? Well if you've proven yourself at the job and demonstrated that you're an asset to them, nothing. They might be a little pleasantly surprised, not because you have a PhD but because you have a PhD AND get things done.

Now for the question of ethics; I've 'dumbed down' a CV before and I don't find the practice unethical at all. Your CV isn't a report card; it's more like a business card. It's meant to represent you in the best possible light to your potential employer. Many (including myself) have a practice of producing a customised CV for every job application, tailored to what I know about the company, the job description, and the people who will ultimately be interviewing me.

I'm not advocating lying on your CV by the way; that would be highly unethical. In the modern world though, CV's are not meant to be a complete history of your work experience. They're meant to showcase that part of your work experience and qualifications that are relevant to the role. Your Masters degree is sufficient to show you're smart, but what in your work experience shows that you can get things done? It doesn't need to be a complete list but it does need to showcase what (recent) experience you have that's relevant to the role, and it should present that in a manner that the interviewers can relate to.

There's no hard and fast rule here, and you'll note that I'm going to great lengths to ensure that you don't infer a YES or NO answer from what I've written. Ultimately, every employer, every PERSON will be different in how they relate to a PhD qualification. Some employers advertising for Masters or higher will value the PhD if you include it. BUT, I've also seen people removed from candidacy because of a PhD and a perception that you won't relate to their workplace.

So to summarise, my view is that not including your PhD is NOT unethical, but the final decision has to rest with you after you've done your research on the role, the employer and the decision makers within that business.

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    I disagree with the question "What will your employer do if they find out later?" being a valid concern. By that logic, should you not include your sexual preferences, voting history, etc on your resume.
    – emory
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 2:18
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    @emory I don't disagree with that from the perspective you describe, but I think the concern that's being addressed is whether or not the employer will think that a deception has taken place. In my humble view, NOT including a qualification is not deception; including one that you DON'T have most definitely is. Sexual preference and voting history should never be relevant to a job description.
    – Tim B II
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 2:30
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    @emory: No, that does not follow at all. All the things you list are in some way protected in many jurisdictions, and an employer that "reacted" to these would open themselves to a lawsuit. In fact, it is policy at many companies to go out of their way not to learn these things just as a preemptive defense ("we couldn't have discriminated on the basis of something we didn't even know!"). PhD holders are very much not a protected class, and a PhD is among the things that, in general, belong on a CV.
    – nengel
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 3:18
  • he suggests that PhD graduates are certainly smart, but not always able to 'get things done' - I suspect that the proportion of non-PhD graduates who are not able to 'get things done' is much higher.
    – Kimball
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 13:24
  • @Kimball not in the professional fields of industry; not even close. PhDs in industry are fine because they have that work experience and know what's expected. Career academics (in my experience) often lack the organisational skills to 'get things done' in the manner we're talking about. Sure, when they get something done it's done well, but when someone at my day job says they'll do a thing, I'm 95% sure it'll get done. When organising my teaching at the Uni, I have around a 20% chance that what's been promised by academics will get delivered. Topic of its own as to why but respectfully, no.
    – Tim B II
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 0:29

I don't know what exactly defines "ethical," but I think a good rule of thumb is to ask the following question. If I get the job and later my employer finds this information out, how will they react? I think your potential employer would be very surprised to discover that you didn't list your PhD. I don't know if you would be in serious trouble, but it doesn't sound normal.

More importantly, why do you want to omit this information? The fact that you have a PhD should be a good thing. Exceeding the minimum requirements for a job is a positive.

It sounds like you want to trade off the PhD under "education" for RA work under "work experience" in your CV. It's quite common to list both and I think that's the appropriate course of action. You can use your cover letter to argue that you satisfy the requirements.

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    "Exceeding the minimum requirements for a job is a positive." - Is it? In some European countries it was (and in places still is) common to be rejected because you are "overqualified".... (In some cases this may have been more of an excuse, in other cases that is the actual reason, because the employer suspects you will leave once you find a better job and do not want to stay.)
    – DetlevCM
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 9:29
  • @DetlevCM Whereas, in other places, rejecting candidates as "overqualified" can be construed as illegal age-based discrimination. Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 12:51
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    No it is not always positive. As Detlev says, many employers may may be afraid that you will jump ships as fast as you can find one with a job description that is more related to the studies you did at university not to mention higher pay which could also be the case, of course, if it is more advanced stuff which not so many can do. Then they would maybe rather hire someone they can rely on not to abandon the job for a better one. Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 18:57
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    Overqualified: The employer may even be bound by a wage agreement to pay higher wages. If that is the case, I'd consider it actually unethical to hide the PhD, and the employer would (rightly) be quite annoyed.
    – cbeleites
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 19:02
  • @cbeleites even if they agree to not be hired based on the highest degree but the second highest one? Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 19:04

List it as both a work experience and a PhD.

You've been working as a research assistant and you've also been doing your PhD. It's really not much different from having a job at a firm and attending a master's degree program.

I suggest you don't try to pass it off as something other than it is. Also, it's widely known that research assistants will often try and get a PhD, sooner or later. So, excluding the PhD might prompt your recruiter to think that you've given up on it and are now aiming for easier goals instead.

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    This is the correct answer. Being a PhD student is work. In many legislations even registered as regular employment with possibility for union membership, vacation, parental leave et.c. Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 17:34

Your resume is a marketing tool not a biography. There is no required format. Omitting your PhD is not hiding it. It does not imply you are ashamed of it.

When I read resumes (and I think many people are the same), I tend to read only the first paragraph. It is extremely unlikely that I will read to the end of one page of resume. So if you want someone like me to read your resume, keep it short. Eliminate anything that is peripheral to your goal of getting me to green light you for an interview. If your PhD does not support your application, then don't mention it.


Many people think of an application as being a simplex operation. That is, the employer takes all the information and makes the only decision.

As an retired Director of IT and former Director of Undergraduate Studies at a UK University, let me assure you that it is a duplex operation. You must interview the company as much as they interview you. You must disclose everything because you should only want to work for a company that wants people like you.

It is probably unethical to hide your qualifications but, more importantly, it's being dishonest to yourself.

One life. Live it honestly and to its full.


You're expressing the fact that you think PhD might be a Con for this position.

Whether it's ethical or not to hide it is not really relevant. Instead, you should ask yourself why it would be a Con. If the jobs requires a master degree, it does not says it requires absolutely no PhD. Instead of lying or hiding informations on your resume, I think you should 1. show it and show reasonable pride for it 2. find why it would be a con, and counter arguments before they even come into the discussion.

Is it because your potential employer may think you're a thinker instead of a doer? Tell him about the things you did and how much you wanna do this. Is it because he may think you want a salary above the position's budget? Tell him about your expectations. Is it because he may think you lack experience? As someone said already, use it both as qualification and experience in your CV. Etc.

It really should be at your advantage, so be proud!

If it's a blocker, for real, you don't want this job anyway, because it will take at most one week to find out that you lied for this, and if there is one thing that you should morally worry about, it is to start a relationship (the one with your employer) on a lie.

On the opposite side, if you're the employer, you're really looking for persons who humanly fit your organisation. It'd be a really dumb move to halt discussions with potentially good candidates because they have a diploma you did not mention in your job desc. They wrote the job desc, but then, they talk to humans. None will fit exactly. Prove that you're the person they're looking for (and that should include you being honest, hiding such informations would be a no-brainer sign to "no-hire" for me).


The issue of ethics always leads to a gray area so don't expect definitive guidance on that aspect. I think the more important question you should ask yourself is do you think this position is really a good fit for you ? You've invested a lot of time pursuing a doctorate and you are considering omitting that factor in applying for employment. Why did you want to earn the Ph.D. in the first place if not partly or solely to utilize it professionally in a capacity that would benefit an employer ?

Unfortunately, I've seen this practice become institutionalized where I live and work in California. I know of people that have retained a particularly employment headhunter locally that specializes in finding clients jobs with the state. He goes through a process of "dumbing down" their CVs by removing references to advanced degrees in order for them to qualify for a broad range of postings. The sad part is many of the people that use his service are more than happy to take a job that they are vastly over qualified for in order to get the security, benefits, pension system, etc. offered by employment with the state government.

This mindset will almost invariably lead to job dissatisfaction and regret. It's better to find the job fit for your level of qualification without compromise.


You probably don't need to hide the PhD. What's really important instead is that you write a strong cover letter that explains exactly how your experience applies to this job, which is probably a little harder if you try to omit how you got it. A good cover letter can also give a satisfactory reason for why you are going for a job that doesn't seem like a match on paper. (Although I don't know that you have to go into that in your case, your qualifications seem close enough.)

Another thing you can do is list your experience first, and your degrees at the end. If the PhD is on the last quarter of the page, they may overlook it.


There is such a thing as being overqualified. The solution is to remove items from the resume that don't pertain to the job. Since you're not lying about your other degrees it seems like a fair thing to do.

Older people often leave out jobs that they had 20 years ago so they appear younger. This is how people deal with unfair age prejudice.

A friend of mine from Africa I met in college changed his name from Saeque to David to avoid black prejudice.

If they mention that you might be over-qualified, say "Well, I'm older and not as smart as I used to be. So instead of being a genius, I'm now merely very smart and above average."

To sum it up: Do what you need to do to get a job. Let me say it in a more ethical way: Try various resume strategies and perform statistical analysis on the call-back percentage to pick the best resume.


Maybe you are very skilled in work related to your second-to-highest degree. Skills that you have honed while pursuing the PhD. If you disclose your PhD degree many employers will probably assume you will want to work with things related to your PhD and that you will not settle for other duties. Then by not disclosing it, you might avoid being marked as overqualified for duties you actually are a better fit for.

As long as you indeed intend working with those duties you can probably produce more value for a company if they hire you based on your next-highest degree rather than hire you for your PhD into a research managerial or administrative position where you may suck.

If judging ethics by what creates most monetary value for the company, then yes surely it can be an ethical thing to do so.


It may result in a situations that appears unethical later on down the line.

If you apply with your highest listed degree as master's, that's what people on the hiring committee will remember. If you later decide you want to take a PhD level position and update your resume to reflect that you have received a PhD, this could look extremely confusing to someone who was familiar with the earlier version of your resume, or talked with someone who was familiar with your earlier position in the company.

To them, Occam's Razor would suggest that you are now lying about having a PhD.

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