A newbie here :)

I am currently a PhD student in a computer science program. My research interest is about quantum information science. Back then, I also got accepted into a Physics PhD program, but I decided to join my current department because the project is much more interesting.

Here is my problem: when people ask me, "Hey, so what are you doing in grad school?" , I feel quite uncomfortable to mention that I am doing a degree in "Computer Science". Don't get me wrong. I love computer science. But I prefer to be regarded as a Physics person rather than a CS person (actually, I am doing a lot of theoretical quantum physics for my thesis). My feeling is that, the name of the department/degree ALONE doesn't do me justice in telling other about my research interests and experiences.

Funny enough, my boyfriend is also suffering from the same problem. He is in the same CS department with me, but focusing on computational biology. His plan is to attend medical school after his PhD, so he usually shows a tremendous amount of angst when being asked the same question. People often joke about his decision, like "So why an IT guy like you suddenly wants to go to med school?". The poor guy has spent quite a lot of time to do wet labs, and is drafting a thesis with 50% bio and 50% CS components, so I can tell that he really hates when people calling him an "IT guy". While I understand that doing a bio-related doctoral research is a very logical transition for him to med schools, the name of the department alone is causing the confusion that he has abruptly changed his interests into medicine, rather than planned for it ahead.

My question is, what is the best way in our cases to "market" our research focus and experiences to other people? Should it be:

  1. Ms.Catwoman, PhD in Computer Science
  2. Ms.Catwoman, PhD in Quantum Information, or
  3. Ms.Catwoman, PhD in Computer Science with special focus on Quantum Information?

Thanks for the answers!

  • I don't agree that this question should be closed as a duplicate. The question linked to is about a masters degree (where the specialisation is explicit). This question is about a PhD (where no specialisation is explicit). The other question is about how to list the masters degree in a CV. This question is about how to describe the nature of your PhD to other people. Most fundamentally however, none of the answers to the other question feel like a good fit for this one.
    – badroit
    Mar 28, 2014 at 17:40
  • Are you marketing to other academics in CS and Physics / Biology, or people outside those fields? If the former, "Ph.D. in CS, dissertation on Quantum Information." If the latter, "Ph.D. in quantum information." Mar 28, 2014 at 18:52
  • 2
    @badroit: Thank you, I agree with you. How to unmarked this question :( Mar 29, 2014 at 2:29

2 Answers 2


My question is, what is the best way in our cases to "market" our research focus and experiences to other people?

Marketing is all about knowing your audience. And thus you may market your PhD to different audiences in different ways.

If you're talking to a person on the street, you could say "PhD in Computer Science".

If you're talking to a Computer Scientist, you could say "PhD in Quantum Information".

If you're talking to a specialist in Quantum Information, you could say "PhD in X, Y & Z" where X, Y and Z are detailed topics.

The truth of the matter is that a PhD is a PhD. Officially speaking, there's no such thing as a "PhD in ...". So for the given person in front of you, try to communicate the area of your PhD as best as you can.

And as for the "IT guy" stuff, if that's how they chose to stereotype what you are doing, then that's their problem, not yours/your boyfriends.


I am sort of in the same spot as you, even if maybe to a lesser degree. I hold a master and PhD degree in Information Systems, even though all my research is really in distributed systems and software engineering. Some people kept asking me during my PhD time whether I am not worried that my IS degree will keep me out of CS postdocs or faculty positions.

Now, after going through a few rounds of job search, I can report that the topic has come up a grand total of 0 times during job hunting. Realistically, people simply do not care about the name of your degree / department. If you publish in X, you are a research in X, no matter what your degree says. If at all, the entire thing is an interesting tidbit for small talk, not something that anybody should be stressing out over.

About the case of your boyfriend - maybe the reason that people keep calling him "the IT guy" is because he is so annoyed by it? For some people, if somebody reacts so strongly to something that seems rather trivial to others, it would be prone to make him the butt of some inappropriate jokes ...

  • Thanks xLeitix for sharing your experiences. He is paranoid about what if med schools will also view him as "the IT guy" who suddenly wants to switch the field. But what you say may be true, that people just want to make fun of him ;)) Apr 3, 2014 at 3:54

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