13

I have BSc and MSc in Chemistry, and I have enrolled in a PhD project in Europe since mid of last year. The project is funded by the food department that means I would officially be a "PhD in Food Science" after completion.

I think I have made the wrong decision to be here because I want to find a position in chemistry department or industry. I have checked job advertisements from chemistry institutions and found that none of them hiring PhD in Food even for the subfield (not Food chemistry, unfortunately) I'm working on.

Chemistry is a highly competitive field and I think I would lose my competence. I also doubt if I'm qualified to be a food scientist without previous education in food.

In the end, my choice would be to quit or stick it out. But I'm debating if an MSc in A plus PhD in B better than MSc in A for a job in A field. Anyone have experienced this situation before?

10
  • 11
    A PhD is always a very specialized education. Saying that you have a PhD in Chemistry or 'Food' doesn't say much. Doing a PhD is about the specific topic you will be working on, and mainly about the general researching and managing experience that you will get by doing a PhD. The latter is usually transversal to any PhD. That being said, I think you are downplaying having a PhD in 'Food' (I would not call it that by the ways - maybe 'Food Chemistry'), because there is a huge market and reasearch potential in that field. So, while you might dislike it, it doesn't seem a bad professional option – cinico Mar 8 at 9:23
  • 2
    @Aaawhy Then, could you explain in a general way (without disclosing sensitive information) what the project is about? I'm not sure that it will help answering your question, but maybe it will... – cinico Mar 8 at 12:10
  • 4
    Why are you doing a project you are so uninterested in that you consider ditching it because of four letters in the diploma? – Karl Mar 8 at 18:01
  • 1
    This may not answer much because I'm in the US and these are different fields but I got my Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, mostly now I'm exclusively a software engineer. So such changes do take place. You might look at linked-in profiles of people with jobs you want and see what education they have in your country/region. If you are close to obtaining your PhD (say less than a year) I'd stick it out and get it, but that's me – JosephDoggie Mar 8 at 20:41
  • 3
    I have a friend who did his PhD in nuclear physics and is now employed as a data scientist.... Not surprising since both have lots of statistics and simulations... What skills and what connections you acquire in the process may be more important than your title... Ask to see what other people with the same advisor did after graduating... – ntg Mar 9 at 12:58
32

I’m not European, but I assume PhDs in Food are not the most common thing and are not offered by most universities. This answer is proceeding under that assumption.

Assuming that you are doing research in chemistry and developing the necessary skills and competencies to work as an industrial chemist, I do not think having a PhD that’s officially in “Food” will be a significant hurdle. There are a lot of things that you can get a PhD in, and it’s impossible for job postings to list all possibly relevant departments. This is why you will often see language like “PhD in X, Y, Z, or a related field.” Institutions are aware that there are all sorts of unusual official degree titles, and tend to not be very strict about only allowing people with PhDs in a short list of approved fields get jobs.

What is important is that your CV clearly indicates that you are a chemist. This means that you are a member of chemistry academic associations, publish in chemistry journals, and speak at chemistry conferences. It’s fine if you also do those things at food science venues, but it’s important that someone with no knowledge of food looks at your CV and says “ah yes, this person is a chemist.”

If you have members of the chemistry department on your dissertation committee, ask them for advice about positioning yourself as a chemist. The same goes for professors in the chemistry department who you collaborate with or who have expressed interest in your research. If you do not have any such people, that may be a sign that your current trajectory isn’t “chemistry enough” to be recognized as chemistry by the academic community.

Another good strategy is to look at recent placements for people with degrees in Food at your university. Do they get jobs at the kinds of places you want to be? If there are a variety of types of people in the Food program (food anthropologists, food chemists, food historians, etc) you should focus on the Food chemists specifically.

7
  • Thanks and Do they get jobs at the kinds of places you want to be? The answer is No after I searching on Linkedin, Food industries are not investing in my topic in their companies; chemistry industries do, but they require PhD in chemistry-related background and do not have PhD in food science on their list. – Aaawhy Mar 9 at 17:04
  • 3
    @Aaawhy do you do research that could be published in a chemistry journal? – Stella Biderman Mar 9 at 22:08
  • 5
    @Aaawhy - the question is not "can you find jobs on linkedin which mention your course?", but "what jobs do other recent graduates from your course have?" - if some of the recent graduates have gone into chemistry jobs, then you can too. – Stobor Mar 10 at 11:27
  • @StellaBiderman Yes, we can. – Aaawhy Mar 10 at 13:26
  • 1
    @Aaawhy "food science" not being on the list shouldn't discourage you, because there are far too many potentially relevant fields for them to list all of them. That's why they ask for a "chemistry-related background" - it covers anything relevant, without having to worry about exactly what's written on the certificate. And if the food industry isn't investing in your topic but chemistry is, it's extremely difficult to imagine doing a PhD on that topic wouldn't be considered a "chemistry-related background". – Chris H Mar 11 at 7:53
35

I don't know what is right for you, but I'll tell you that there is little in life that is worse than a career in something that you don't care about while having unfulfilled dreams.

I suspect that you are early enough in your studies that a change won't cost you much, and spending a year now to avoid 30 years of boredom might (might) be a good investment.

There are a lot of people in the world who don't get a chance to choose. If you do, then, perhaps you should look for an optimal path and see if you have a way to follow it.

Changing fields after a doctorate is not impossible, but hard since you need to perform in the old field while preparing for the new. That takes time also.

I can't answer the specific question about balancing MS degrees and such since I don't know your goals for a "job".


Your life isn't a "dress rehearsal" for something else.

3
  • 25
    Your life must be truly blessed if you really believe there is little in life that is worse than that. – user159517 Mar 9 at 12:23
  • 5
    Changing fields after a doctorate is not impossible It is quite common, actually, for people going to industry after a PhD. We have plenty of doctors in physics or math doing engineering jobs (me being one of them, from physics to IT) – WoJ Mar 9 at 15:01
  • @user159517, see bobdylan.com/songs/subterranean-homesick-blues – Buffy Mar 9 at 15:25
8

If you want to be a successful chemist you generally will need a PhD, at least if you plan to work in Europe.

You should worry less about the specific designation of your PhD than about if you will acquire useful skills that transfer well to the type of industry you are interested in working in. Other options are working in the public service (e.g., in a consumer protection agency?) or staying in academia. Even with the latter two, the content of your research will matter more than the designation of your PhD.

So, you need to answer two questions:

  1. Are you interested in your PhD project and will that interest last until the finish line?

  2. Can this PhD project lead to a career path that you will be happy with?

If you answer any of these with "No.", you should switch to a different project. However, you should have considered all of this before accepting the position.

5

Having no career at all is worse than a career in something that you don't care about while having unfulfilled dreams. Overqualifying yourself out of the jobs you want to do is bad news. It's good that you've spotted this as a potential problem before you invested the years necessary to get the PhD.

On the bright side, statistics indicate it's rare for PhDs to be unemployed - so you should be able to get a job somewhere, even if it's not something you really want to do.

I suggest visiting your university's career center. They will be familiar with your local job market. They can confirm if your conclusions are correct, and advise you on your options if you decide to quit now. For example, it could be possible that employers aren't advertising for for PhDs, but they will accept PhDs anyway. It's an important decision, so make sure you have all the information you can get before you make it.

3

PhDs are all unique - I've heard it said that a PhD is the process of becoming so specialised in a field that you are the world expert by default.

As a consequence, when hiring someone with a PhD a (good!) recruiter won't worry about exactly what the PhD was in (because it'll never match what they want) so much as what skills you learnt along the way - scientific method, many forms of communication skills, evidence evaluation, structuring large documents and long projects, and, most importantly, how quickly you can learn new stuff.

Job adverts are a poor guide to what recruiters want. Many are badly written and/or managed, and those ones go unfilled and thus stay open for longer. Good job adverts by good recruiters disappear fast because they get an appropriate candidate quickly. So at at any particular time, bad job adverts are over-represented compared to the good adverts.

I suggest you talk to your university / department / course careers advice and/or pastoral care contact. They will be able to give you a far more accurate view of possible career paths, and opportunities that might be available for you e.g. industrial placement, which are great if you see yourself outside of academia in the long term. A PhD is a long and difficult process, and many that start see them selves as an academic at the end - but that is impractical for the vast majority simply because 1 academic will have 20+ PhD students over their career when only 1 is needed to replace them. You may find that career paths are available to you that you had not considered, or you may find that you don't want what you thought you did.

I strongly recommend no rash actions - take at least 3 months to think it over, and get a wide range of viewpoints on your situation. I think you would find it hard to get a second PhD opportunity without a life and death reason for stopping the first.

1

in which country specifically are you doing your PhD? I live in Europe and I've been a scientist for some years already, but I've never heard of a title "PhD in Food". Usually the titles sound more serious than that.

Quick internet search showed me, there's "Professional Doctorate in Agriculture and Food (DAgriFood)" in the UK, but as I understand it's not a PhD (Brits, correct me if I'm wrong). There's also "PhD in Food Science" in Finland, which I'd assume would be accepted as similar field in job offers for PhD in Chemistry (especially in the food industry). You should definitely have it checked, what exactly the title is, perhaps you are worrying for nothing.

There are two things you should keep in mind. The PhD studies are quite formative, but with a high probability you won't use the very specific knowledge you'll obtain working on your PhD project, if you leave academia. In that sense, the project itself doesn't play much of a role, the point is you get the title. The other thing to consider is, however, whether the project is interesting to you. PhD studies can be a great adventure, but only when you are happy about what you are doing. If you are disinterested, you are doing a disservice both yourself and your supervisor.

Hope that helps a little.

0

Context:

In Germany, the Doctor title is usually completed with the field in a crude historic way. What kind of Doctor is available depends on the faculty - in my case my faculty (which also deals with food and more) awarded some funny Dr. types (engineering, food, etc.), but not a Dr. rer. nat (natural science, fitting for chemistry, physics, biology, environmental science and more). I, along with half of the PhD students of the faculty just did the dissertation with some formal cooperation with the "real science" faculty and we got our Dr. rer. nat. After at least 20 years of this practice my faculty decided at last to award the Dr. rer. nat. directly, thus solving this "problem".

Answer to the question:

You might be able to get the "right" PhD by cooperating with another faculty, but it depends on culture, written and unwritten rules of your department / faculty. There is a good chance you are not the first with that situation. So the answer is, as in most cases at this site: Speak with your advisor.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.