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What are the potential motives for an industry recruiter to want to know your PhD GPA?

Does this imply the position is more of an office drone position than a pure research position?

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closed as off-topic by David Richerby, D.W., Austin Henley, Alexandros, virmaior Apr 6 '18 at 8:03

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    I'm voting to close as off-topic. The question is about the reasoning of somebody outside academia and, frankly, we can't read their mind. If you want to know why somebody did something, ask them. – David Richerby Apr 5 '18 at 15:12
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Wrzlprmft Apr 5 '18 at 16:25
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    Wouldn't The Workplace be a more natural home for this question? – E.P. Apr 5 '18 at 16:45
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The most likely motive is your recruiter believe's PhD GPAs are as relevant as undergrad GPAs. My guess is this recruiter has a plethora of office jobs and doesn't usually work with academics.

It is perfectly acceptable to tell the recruiter you're not interested in working with them

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    Agreed. Asking a Ba GPA makes some sense (maybe asking even if the candidate was a working-student and the like...) but asking for a PhD GPA is IMHO downright hilarious and does not speak good about the company culture. I wonder if the recruiter wanted to see also all the publications of the candidate and took time to read them.... – Caterpillaraoz Apr 5 '18 at 6:18
  • *believes not believe's – Murey Tasroc Apr 6 '18 at 23:14
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In general it is difficult to tell whether a PhD student is a good researcher or not right after finishing his/her degree. Good results could come from a helping advisor, a lucky topic, or good office mates. Bad results could come from bad luck, lousy preparations of the topic before the student toke over, and so on. GPA is at least somewhat objective.

By the way, industry research most often turns out to be much different from academic research. This might be good or not, but be warned.

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    GPA is objective but basically unrelated to how good a researcher the student is. – user9646 Apr 5 '18 at 10:08
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    @NajibIdrissi And how good a researcher the student is might be completely different when they are doing the type of research a company wants (primarily intrinsically motivated as a grad student versus primarily extrinsically motivated as an employee, for example). I agree with pretty much everyone else here that PhD GPA is a bit silly as a measure, but it's really hard to objectively evaluate people for industry work without industry references. – Bryan Krause Apr 5 '18 at 15:35
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While this may sound ridiculous, some employers do care about the GPA obtained during the PhD. I know that one of the contractors I worked for had an explicit requirement for undergrad and grad degrees, and hiring managers who wanted to make an offer to individuals with lower GPAs had to go through extra hoops to get it approved.

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    I'm curious: how do you get a GPA for a PhD? Is this for coursework components done during the PhD? – Lawrence Apr 5 '18 at 14:22
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    Yes—for the PhD coursework (and the thesis grade, if it’s not pass/fail). – aeismail Apr 5 '18 at 14:24
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    Further curiosity: how would such an organization deal with a PhD (say, from a UK university) that does not come with any form of GPA at all? – E.P. Apr 5 '18 at 16:44
  • @E.P., probably in the same way that they'd deal with a BA or BSc from a UK university, which also came without GPA until recently. (I think the Bologna process has resulted in some kind of GPA-like number now existing). – Peter Taylor Apr 5 '18 at 21:18
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To add some more detail to @sevenseven's answer, remember that for most companies the recruiter is not an employee of that company. To answer your first question, the only motive they have is filling the position. GPA is a common thing to blindly ask on a laundry-list of questions they will ask anyone.

So, the employer likely does not care about your GPA; while it may be communicated in some way to the hiring manager, it's not going to be anywhere close to being a deciding factor. In my experience, hiring managers know that recruiters ask for this kind of extraneous info and are typically professional enough to know how to wade through all of it to get to the core question - "can this candidate do this job?"

If the job is interesting to you, continue through the process and provide them the GPA. In general, if you have (or are working towards) a PhD and interested in research type positions where there's a slightly higher chance they would care about your GPA, I'm assuming you have a pretty good one anyways.

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I would not stop the conversation with the recruiter solely based on this aspect. Maybe they really rank the candidates on PhD GPA (which is as irrelevant as ranking on height, mass or their ratio) or maybe the recruiter has to fill up a form which is not involved in the selection/ranking.

Try to learn what is the job about, what would be expected from you in the first six months and one year. Meet your future boss and be all ears on what he/she has to say. Make sure you actually want to work for them.

There is no such thing as pure research position. Both industry and academia offer research positions, where you have at least to manage other people, write administrative documentation, attend non-research meetings, teach your topic to individuals not interested about learning, teach uninteresting topics to equally disinterested people, etc.

In a research job, the actual creative work is 5%, and the rest of 95% is making the first 5% work, go through reviewers, obtain financing, manage contributors and disseminate it.

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Potential motives: giving them an easy way to weight one applicant over another.

Implications to the type of job: none.

Understand that many, many (, many, many) recruiters have no idea how to evaluate someone for a job, even though it is arguable that it is THEIR job to know how. So they try to find ways to do it that are objective and that can at least be argued to be relevant. Your GPA is arguably (though I wouldn't argue it) an indication of how well you performed in graduate school, therefore it is an easy way to distinguish candidate A from candidate B.

The hiring manager may or may not care, and may or may not even know the question is being asked. Unfortunately, arguing (as a candidate or potential candidate) that it is not relevant is not likely to be taken well, however right you may be.

  • As with all things, I've met great PhDs and lousy PhDs. Not all degrees are equal, even when awarded from the same institution. An engineering company I once worked for often used me to evaluate PhDs, because they needed people who actually understood the field and not simply someone who knew how to write papers. Those who knew more than I about my subject were usually amazing people who were great to work with. Those who didn't were usually arrogant bozos who thought their degree awarded them some kind of magical privilege. I can easily understand why an employer would ask for a GPA: trust. – JBH Apr 6 '18 at 4:55
  • The fallacy here is that the belief that the GPA indicates the quality of the person, or even the degree. I maintain it is used because it is easy to compare GPAs and difficult to compare people, and they use the one because they don't know how to do the other. I have no idea how the answer to the question helps 'trust' either way, unless you mean catching someone lying about the number. – rcook Apr 6 '18 at 12:44
  • I apologize, comments are limited in length. You and I are in agreement. If they simply used GPAs my previous employer wouldn't have used me. But, when no better solution is available - they use anything they can. – JBH Apr 6 '18 at 14:21
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    There's a joke about a drunk looking for a quarter that he dropped halfway up the block. He's searching under the streetlight, however, because there's more light. That's what the recruiter is doing -- it's much easier to compare people on bogus things that sound ok than actually do his job. He would do it on height and weight (and skin color and sex) if he could get away with it -- those things are easier too, they just don't sound as good. I say that, if they know no better solution, they should either find one or get out of the business. – rcook Apr 6 '18 at 20:03

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