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When applying for jobs after my PhD, should my CV include an incomplete degree I read towards years ago? It's a field completely unrelated to what I'm doing now. However, before my final year when I started getting sups and failures by the dozen (my reason for quitting) things actually went swimmingly. I worked with a renowned professor as an undergrad research assistant for a spell and even published a paper (on my own) during that phase of my academic journey. I didn't get a certificate out of it, but I nevertheless feel I honed some valuabe skills then (and of course I have a transcript listing the passes and failures).

I have since moved onto a completely unrelated humanities field. Should I mention the incomplete degree on my CV? If I ignore it, prospective employers might wonder what I did for three years of my life, surely? Should I list my science publication on my CV when it is irrelevant to what I'm doing now? Does quitting and switching tracks make me look flighty?

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Don't omit it. Changing your mind at some point during your education or your career is nothing to be ashamed of. Just make sure to put it in a way that does not imply that you actually got the degree.

Not listing it would be an error in three ways at least:

  • experience even in unrelated fields is always valuable;
  • if you omit that stint, there will be a hole on your CV, and you will have to explain it (so you'd better mention it upfront);
  • you got a publication from it, so it was actually a successful experience, even if you didn't complete your degree

In fact, my advice would be to always list what you've done on your CV, even if it is not an academic activity. Even if you spent two years traveling and selling onion rings on Australian beach grill house, put it in your CV. The pros outweigh the cons (and if that experience leads a potential recruiter to turn you away, ask yourself: would you have wanted to work with someöne who has such as narrow view of life?)

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  • 5
    +1 Explaining career gaps is often more difficult than explaining career shifts. – StasK Oct 1 '13 at 14:33
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Changing fields in and of itself does not make you look flighty—many faculty members have changed research fields and even academic departments during the course of their careers, and it doesn't make them look flighty!

What would be a problem is not having a valid reason for making the career switch. Struggling with a major in a science field is not a big deal; however, the fact that you managed to publish a scientific paper in that area actually represents a significant degree of accomplishment (particularly if you were an undergraduate at the time).

Moreover, ignoring the degree on your CV could come back to haunt you if it is discovered later on, as "fudging" the CV is often grounds for termination for a position, even years afterwards. So I would not try to "hide" this. Instead, I would make sure that I have a logical and convincing explanation for that period of your life: why did you choose to start in that field at that time, what led you to leave it, and what lessons did you take from the experience.

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