I earned my PhD in continental Europe. Except going to a few conferences outside Europe, my network, collaborations and events were all in Europe so I was pretty much living in a European bubble. I am still here, but now that I am in a faculty position I started collaborating with people from everywhere and travel quite a lot outside Europe. As much as I try to avoid generalizing and I am aware that much is field dependent, there are some things I noticed about the general perception of European PhD degrees (and this can probably be extended to universities in general) outside Europe:
- Students from Asia (especially from China and Korea) I met said that they prefer going to the US for a PhD, and Europe is only a second option because of less prestige.
- When I was considering applying to positions in the US, a few people told me informally that I don't have good chances as those who apply with PhD degrees from US universities, without even considering my CV.
But my experience is conflicting and makes me confused:
- I visited a few universities in the US, and noticed that people doing a PhD are treated as students rather than as employees, financially they struggle and most of them have to work on stuff other than research (taking courses, teaching). Frankly the whole system looks miserable to me. In many European countries they would be employed with a decent salary and benefits, focus only on research, have a better travel support, among other benefits. If one was given the choice between the two, I don't understand why anyone would go to the US to do a PhD instead of Europe (no hard feelings) and consider it a better option.
- Judging from job applications I get from fresh PhD graduates around the world, on average those with a PhD from the US are not better than others (I am aware that this might be biased because good PhD graduates in the US often prefer staying there).
- American PhD theses I have seen are not as good as those from Europe. For example, in the Netherlands most PhD students must publish a few journal papers before they graduate (some have 4-5, and this doesn't include conference papers). The theses are usually of high quality, and are even published as books. Looking at recent PhD theses at elite US universities like Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley and MIT, I cannot help but consider them less good and with less contribution.
This will likely strongly depend on the field, but in general I find that the average PhD experience, student wellbeing and quality of work in Europe is no worse than in the US, if not better. Yet, people worldwide seem to favor US degrees.
Is a PhD degree from a European university considered equally valuable as one from the US? If not, why is there this gap and lower perception of PhD degrees from Europe?