For some background, I am currently an Australian PhD student in my 4th year. From reading posts on this site I have gradually noticed the differences between the content of my degree and of a PhD awarded in either the US or in Europe.

It appears as though an Australian PhD program is noticeably shorter than PhDs in other countries, with a maximum of 4 years of scholarship provided. Along with this, we are offered no coursework of any kind during our degree and completing a masters before starting is uncommon (at least in my field of engineering).

My primary question is how the structure of a PhD degree affects the perception of a graduate overseas? Are these degrees considered less important than longer degrees by any significant number of academics internationally?


4 Answers 4


I assume that you are asking about the perspective from the US and the EU. The following is the US perspective, although I lived for many years in the EU (Germany) and about 50% of my research was based in Tasmania, so I have some familiarity with people holding PhDs from both places.

Since the question is about perception, the only good way to answer it would be by doing a survey of US/European researchers and ask questions about the relative value (however defined) of a PhD from 'anonymous university' in Australia. I don't know of such a survey.

The words "US PhD" covers a wide range. You have the ivies, and R1s, and on the other end you have what are essentially mail-order PhDs. And within the highly-ranked universities, you of course have different professors with their individual reputations. In my experience, Australian states and European countries have fewer (no?) universities printing mail order PhDs. By which I mean that if you come from a relatively unknown university in Australia or the EU, I'd assume it's a real PhD, while if you come from a relatively unknown university in the US, I'd check if the degree is real. So the following assumes that everything else is being equal, e.g. reputation of the university, professor/advisor, etc.

People with recent European or Australian PhDs tend to be on the shallow/narrow end of having background knowledge of the history of the field, as compared with US PhDs. The keyword here is "tend": the two bell curves have a lot of overlap. I acknowledge that this could be specific to my field, Biology, where it's impossible to cover the whole historical and technical aspects, so knowledge in one end comes at the expense of the other. If this matters when hiring, it depends on the opinion of those doing the hiring. But I think that this perception exists.

In my experience hiring, people with PhDs from the US tend to be more experienced teachers. This does not mean that US PhDs are better teachers, but that, at least in my field, the perception exists.

Another perceived difference, and this is based on complaints from PIs in the US when talking about non-US postdocs, is the holiday culture of Europeans. For example, I did a postdoc at a US lab (R1 institution) led by an European PI, who hired lots of European postdocs. These postdocs would pretty much work 3-4 days a week, not answer email during nights or weekends, make every US holiday a long weekend (e.g. come back to the lab on Wed after every holiday falling on a Mon), then take off a full month during Christmas and pretty much disappear during the summers. In my experience, Australian PhDs fall in between European and US attitudes towards holidays. I lived in Germany for many years, and certainly appreciated this aspect of European culture. But in terms of perception, which is the OP's question, I think that it's a real issue.

As others have pointed out, what will get you an academic job are your publication record, your history with grants, your teaching experience, and your letters of reference. So there's little use in worrying about how your PhD is perceived just because you come from an Australian university. But you asked about perception, and that's my perspective after 20+ years as a US-based academic.

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    +1 #perception | #categorisation | emphasise #tend Commented May 9, 2023 at 15:10
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    I think several times in your answer when you write "is perceived" you actually mean "is perceived in the US". Commented May 9, 2023 at 16:20
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    Maths experience: the US gives everyone some background in all areas of maths in courses and beyond that students only know their own research. European universities offer a whole bunch of advanced courses, so some students have a lot of background in a lot of areas but others only know the background in their own speciality. Fully agree on the teaching, US PhDs usually are required to teach, Europeans in general are not. Also agree on the holiday culture. These Americans send emails on Satursay night and expect an answer requiring multiple hours of work on Sunday morning.
    – quarague
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 18:05

Degree equivalence is often determined by governmental departments or educational institutes (based on their internal rules).

For example in Australia: https://www.education.gov.au/qualifications-recognition

Qualifying for a position/grant/visa is not about "perception" but about how a body compares overseas courses to what they offer. This is likely a well defined set of comparisons and takes into account many different parameters and may vary from institute to institute inside a country.

As for personal "perception", that is individual and not something you can really theorise about.

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    The question is about perception, not equivalency. Of course perception matters, although I agree there's little use in spending time on the issue of perception when you are almost done.
    – Cheery
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 11:43

In my experience, academics switch very often between Australian and UK universities. In the UK, an Australian PhD is likely to be considered equivalent to a UK PhD.

In some other countries, academics may know little about Australian universities.


After you graduate, you are judged on your publication record, ability to attract grants, etc.

In a US PhD, because you spend longer as a PhD student, you usually also build up more of a publication record. Furthermore, because you take courses, you usually also become knowledgeable in more subfields. Comparatively, in a Europe-style PhD, you master one subfield (the subject of your thesis), and one subfield only. So, in that sense, non-US PhDs are considered 'lesser'.

The corollary to this of course is that US PhDs take longer to complete, during which you are not very well-paid. You can still get postdocs with non-US PhDs, as well (if you are good).

Edit: in spite of all the downvotes, I got the above mostly from my Australian supervisors. Interpret as you will.

PS: One other thing they said is that thesis Masters are generally more prestigious than non-thesis Masters, aka Masters by coursework, if getting a Masters degree is something you're considering.

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    This answer seems to misrepresent the situation. PhD's in the US take longer since they include course work which would be part of a Master's degree in several European countries (where a Master's degree is often required to begin a PhD). So both claims that earning a PhD in the US will give you broader knowledge or lead to more publications than a "European style" PhD seem very questionable. It's just that the coursework part if the program tends to be outsourced to a Master's degree in (at least parts of) Europe. Commented May 9, 2023 at 3:46
  • @JochenGlueck that does not match my experience, which is that the typical PhD student starts after 4 years in a BSc (Hons) program, and then they apply to either US or non-US PhD programs, going direct to the PhD. See e.g. ast.cam.ac.uk/students/prospective.students/ph.d.programme. "The University's minimum academic requirement for admission as a Ph.D. student is the equivalent of a good UK 2.1 four-year undergraduate honours degree (five-year from Scottish universities)" There is no Masters degree requirement, and you go direct to thesis work.
    – Allure
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 6:35
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    According to the answers to this question a Master's degree is usually required to start a PhD at least in each of the following European countries: France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Sweden. The only European country for which there is currently an answer and that does not require a Master's degree is the UK. So it seems much more typical for a European PhD to require a Master's degree than not. Commented May 9, 2023 at 7:08
  • @JochenGlueck that's weird. I just searched up the admissions requirements for a random German university (LMU), and I got "A 5-year Master's degree with at least the grade 'good' or a 3-year Bachelor's degree with the grade 'very good' is required for admission to the doctoral program." -- my experience as well is that as long as you can convince the professor to supervise you, you're good.
    – Allure
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 7:14
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    Your experience being in the UK is common, but it is not representative of how it works in mainland Europe. You need a Masters or equivalent to do a PhD in Europe.
    – Dr. Snoopy
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 18:37

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