I'm at a top university in Europe in chemistry. My PhD advisor and I have not gotten along due to problems with funding and management issues, and as a result, I am finishing extremely early. I was going to leave with or without a PhD, but I have passed my defense although the degree is not officially conferred.

The problem is that I can't get any positions or jobs. I've been told that the circumstances of my degree (i.e. duration) are specifically a concern. My resume is good for my age, but not necessarily for recent graduates. I don't have a problem with my references.

I'm at the point where I'm considering asking for a masters degree instead and applying to another top PhD program where I can do it properly. The reason is that I've heard that some schools prohibit doing a second PhD and it would look odd on a resume anyway. Is this a bad idea? The alternative is cutting my losses and finding a job outside of science.

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    What does it mean, that "the degree is not officially conferred"? Do you have a paper that you have a PhD or not? If not, what is the highest degree from which you have a paper, what you can show, now, in your hands/drawer (the scale is: Bsc < Msc < Phd)? – peterh - Reinstate Monica Jun 7 '18 at 17:20
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    What sorts of positions were you looking at that you can't get? Were they "postdocs" (short term "training" positions), or something more long term? – R.M. Jun 7 '18 at 17:21
  • @peterh I don't have a paper degree yet for the PhD. Positions are postdocs, full time positions in industry – bose Jun 7 '18 at 17:36
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    @bose Ok, then what is the highest one what you have in your hands? – peterh - Reinstate Monica Jun 7 '18 at 17:37
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    @peterh I assume he means that he has satisfied all formal requirements for the degree (including dissertation and defense), but that the wheels of academic bureaucracy haven't finished their slow laborious grind. Many institutions (at least in the US) officially grant degrees only twice a year; my PhD wasn't officially conferred until six months after my defense, after my first semester as a postdoc (elsewhere). – JeffE Jun 7 '18 at 20:10

Your question showcases the fact that the goal of enrolling in a PhD program is not really to obtain a PhD. Rather the goals are (i) to receive cutting edge, advanced training that will prepare for you a future academic / professional career and (ii) to use your training, accomplishments and connections to secure the kind of academic / professional job that will kindle that career.

A good operational definition of a reputable PhD program is: when it confers a PhD on a student, it does right by them with regard to (i) and (ii). (Well, that's the ideal anyway; reality can fall far short, and even the best programs can't guarantee students will get a desirable academic job.) Taking things to the extreme, there are "diploma mills" that confer PhDs for a moderate financial outlay; sadly, the people who receive them often are sincerely ignorant of the fact that the advanced degree alone is absolutely worthless.

You went to a top European university, but it sounds like it has treated you more like a diploma mill.

My PhD advisor and I have not gotten along due to problems with funding and management issues, and as a result, I am finishing extremely early.

The way I read this is that rather than working with you as they would with another PhD student, at a certain point your advisor threw up their hands and said "Okay, we'll just give you a PhD now." So you got shortchanged on (i) the opportunity to learn and apply advanced training, with the unsurprising outcome that (ii) you were not able to secure a desirable postdoc. You don't say how early you finished, but if the employers are pointing this out to you, it sounds like you finished several years before you should. In plainer terms, it sounds like you actually did 1/2 or 2/3 of a PhD, but for whatever reasons your committee has decided to call it a full PhD. That's not good.

I'm at the point where I'm considering asking for a masters degree instead and applying to another top PhD program where I can do it properly. The reason is that I've heard that some schools prohibit doing a second PhD and it would look odd on a resume anyway. Is this a bad idea?

You ask if you should consider applying to another PhD program. In general I am against multiple PhDs, but in this case it sounds like you don't actually have a full PhD yet, despite the fact that you are a strong and eager student. So my advice is yes, try to apply for other top PhD programs.

Should you try to accept a lower degree (master's) than the one you were offered (PhD)? That's a hard one. But if you want to enroll in another PhD program: yes, that sounds reasonable to me. I am in charge of graduate admissions for my program, and for a student with your profile, I think I would be happier if you had a master's degree than a PhD. If you do take the PhD then you should write an extremely careful personal statement describing the situation, but honestly -- better not to be in that awkward situation, I think.


I don't have a problem with my references.

It seems to me that you do. For every graduating student, the most important letter is the one from their thesis advisor. But your thesis advisor washed their hands of you N years early. That's awkward. How do they justify that in their letter? (How can that be justified?!?) Unfortunately I don't see an obvious remedy for this, but you should be aware that this is a probable weak point in your applications for both postdocs and further graduate study.

Afterthought: In the US, it might not be such a big deal to switch to a different advisor in the same department. Is that a possibility for you?

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Congratulations on defending your dissertation. I am guessing that because you progressed so quickly through your PhD you don't have as many papers as you otherwise might. You will need to find an employer for whom the papers you actually have completed are a good fit or who will take a chance on your less-than-lengthy publication record.

I would encourage you to continue applying for post-doc and entry-level positions for those with a PhD. You should not underestimate the importance of your job documents (especially if you have a short publication record) in this process. Have them looked over by others at your university, including any career services offices if you are applying for non-academic positions.

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  • After reading Pete's answer, perhaps you could consider putting feelers out for both of these options simultaneously. You could contact potential PhD supervisors and also ask if your current supervisors would provide a good reference/contacts for potential post-docs. If you do have a good relationship, then they can possibly help you find an appropriate position. – Dawn Jun 8 '18 at 2:38

You are fighting on two fronts: first, in the academia, and second, on the job market.

About the job market:

In the eyes of the job market, you are now a beginner on the job market with a chemistry BSc.

First, employers are interested mainly only in the papers what you can show, and about a "real", ready degree.

"I've nearly made a Phd" may be more than nothing, but not too much.

The reason, why have you a hard time now, is that the degree are often an "nothing or everything" game: until you don't have your real Phd in your hands, you have nothing. It is in inherent unfairness or the world, however this world is also on the continuous, massive "assault" of the fake papers, and low-value papers which were produced by zero-to-little work behind, and so on.

But, the most important to know: the main reason of your hard time on the job market is not this. The real reason is that you are a beginner. To get employed to your first job is always hard, often very, very hard. I would suggest, to get your first job, you are simply not in the position where you could select between the offers.

There is also the option to switch to IT world. The sad truth is that in most countries, there is far lesser jobs as scientist, as many people get their science degree, particularly if it is not a high-value one. To get a work as a chemist is not easy even with a Phd from chemistry.

In the IT, the situation is significantly different: many people is working in the IT world with no or low-value degrees. Furthermore, the IT is working so that hardcore math and your University doesn't help very much to solve practical problems.

About the academia:

As you said, you have no very long-term goals in this world, your original plan was to get the Phd and then work in the industry. You can see your options in the job market now, this is what could determine, what you do in the academia.

Young people typically tend to over-estimate the worth of some "lost" years, in practice, 20 years later (from which you wasted 5...15 on crap jobs), you will see that with different eyes. It depends on your current age and financial options.

If you have the potential to get to a Phd, do it on all the costs. Years, risks, hard fights, hard work, these all don't matter, you want the Phd and you will get it. This is the only possible attitude on the way to your so wanted degree.

If you don't, then this is not an option. Most likely you won't be able to work as scientist with a BSc (here are large differences between the countries, so you may have luck).

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    I think you have misunderstood the current situation. If the dissertation is successfully defended, then the OP effectively has a PhD. For my university, you can complete your PhD at any time, but technically the degrees are only “conferred” in certain months to make things easier on the office staff. The transcript would show all PhD requirements completed. – Dawn Jun 7 '18 at 18:02
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    @Dawn At many US universities you defend, then make revisions and submit to the library, and then apply to graduate. The only thing on my transcript that indicates that I completed all the requirements for a PhD is the line that says PhD awarded. – StrongBad Jun 7 '18 at 18:05
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    @StrongBad Okay, thanks for pointing out how much this varies. Regardless, I think this information is misguided. Employers will not see this person as someone with just a BSc. – Dawn Jun 7 '18 at 18:27
  • @Dawn I agree with that. – StrongBad Jun 7 '18 at 18:48
  • @Dawn Uhm, then he should only wait until he gets the paper in his hands. I tried to say, the only what counts on the job market, is what you can show in your hands. – peterh - Reinstate Monica Jun 9 '18 at 14:16

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