I'm gutted. I recently graduated with a non-thesis Masters degree and always wanted to do a PhD or at least a Masters thesis. I approached several professors to convert to thesis but it never worked out, due to the lack of funding. I have only done coursework and do not have any research experience or publications. I want to go and work in the industry for a while and come back to academica later, but I am afraid that I do not have any strong letters of recommendations now. How can I make up for it? Would work experience be valued and would letters of recommendation from my managers be okay? Thank you.

  • 2
    I think I and several others will be able to give you good answers. But can you clarify the general direction of the research you want to do? STEM, medical, social sciences, humanities, etc? I think you will get the best possible answers that way.
    – Anonymous
    Commented May 25 at 3:44
  • 5
    This is not helpful to you now, but I think this question should serve as a warning to future students. Accepting a slot in A (that you don't want) in the hopes of being able to eventually transfer into B is a risky play.
    – xLeitix
    Commented May 25 at 9:21
  • @Anonymous - Thanks. It is in STEM, in computer engineering Commented May 25 at 12:27
  • An indication of where would be useful. In the US most PhD applicants don’t have a masters.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented May 25 at 14:37
  • @JonCuster - in the US, Canada and Europe. Thanks Commented May 25 at 15:18

3 Answers 3


In the United States at least the lack of research experience prior to starting a doctoral program isn’t an issue. Few applicants have serious experience at that point.

The doctoral program is where you get that experience. There are a few exceptions but most fields expect only a bachelor’s.

You will need good letters of recommendation attesting to your potential.


As long as your Masters degree is recognized and you are eligible to apply for a PhD, I do not believe you are gutted. The value of past experiences and recommendations will depend on the field/project you apply for.

  • But I don't have a Masters thesis. I would be going into the field of computer engineering. Commented May 25 at 12:28
  • @blazingcannon degree is what I meant. Modified answer Commented May 25 at 15:54

You're Not Gutted

You have at least two options here:

First, you can apply directly for a PhD on the strength of your master's degree. A PhD is the customary place to gain research experience. Is it better if you have some coming in? Sure. Is it a requirement? Not in the United States.

Second, you can pursue some work in industry. It doesn't have to be research oriented-- again, that would be great, but it isn't necessary. But it should ideally be related to the kind of work you would want to do in industry, and it should lead to the same type of letters of recommendation you would get in academia.

I will give a concrete example: I was accepted to a PhD program in STEM straight out of my master's degree, but it wasn't a good enough offer. (There was no promise of funding of any sort. I believe I correctly read that as, "Well... if you really want to... I guess we'll take your money.")

I took a 13 year side trip through industry at a major engineering company in States. I did not do anything that could be considered as research, but I did work diligently on teams that produced very good work. My letters of recommendation came from the then-chief engineer of the site, the now-chief engineer of the site, and some senior staff engineers. None of them had PhDs. At least two of them supervised engineers who had PhDs. I was accepted to an R1 institute without incident.

(I don't really recommend my route, but it is a possibility if for some reason a direct application doesn't work or isn't feasible.)

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