I spent sometime recently at a HR department of a government company (in the utilities) in the US.

I accidentally found a file that listed out interview outcomes for new applications for a technical position (spreadsheet jockey - nothing fancy)

Out of the 10 applications, 2 of which had a PhD, 1 with a masters degree and the others unknown.

One of the PhD (call him PhD A) had spent considerable time doing research at a university, the other (call him PhD B) just recently finished his PhD program.

The comments to the interview outcomes as follows:

PhD A:

  • spent considerable time in university, have academic (not real world) experience

  • might have difficulty adjusting to a new environment

  • may contribute to discussions

  • not likely to be followed up

PhD B:

  • fresh out of university, have less experience than PhD A

  • research is too narrow

What I found funny is that very few people who actually works at the organization have PhDs (or masters for the junior staff), you'd think they would get a staff rotation just to improve upon their overall knowledge level.

Do you also feel that people with higher degrees are not welcomed with open arm in the job market? Why do you think that is the case? Have you personally faced discrimination or prejudice when applying for a job that is not too academic in nature?

  • 4
    This is an interesting question, but as currently written, it seems to be a poll/mainly soliciting opinions, which is considered out of scope of this site (as per the help center guidelines). Can you edit the question to reframe it according to those guidelines? – ff524 Sep 7 '14 at 5:16
  • None of those statements are discrimination. Your question is close to "is research experience valued in industry job searches"? (which is closely related to this academia.stackexchange.com/questions/11993/…) – xLeitix Sep 7 '14 at 11:11
  • I don't see discrimination in this example, if I were the employer, I would hire neither ones of the PhDs to do a low-level technical job. They'd get bored, they'd question everything and quit after everyone had lost valuable time (and money). – Cape Code Sep 14 '14 at 17:58

It also depends on the type of job someone with a PhD is looking for outside of academia and how strong his or her preference is for "pure" research.

In academia, the focus is usually more on "pure" research where you just need to demonstrate that an idea is viable. You don't need to bring it all the way through to a finished product. In industry, the focus is usually more on development and/or "applied" research where ideas are converted into marketable products or services.

If you have a PhD and have a strong affinity for "pure" research and little experience / interest in applied research or development, and you are applying for a job in an organization that does very little pure research, then it will definitely be a disadvantage. However, if you're applying for a position at a research lab in a big or niche company, then this is probably an advantage.

For example, I work for a company that develops software. If during your PhD, all you did was hack together prototypes for your papers and are not very interested in the end application, then I'm not very interested in hiring you. If, on the other hand, you like the end application and like good software development practices, then having a PhD is a big plus.


I think of a PhD as "vocational education for researchers", not as the "highest level of education". So if a company is looking for a researcher then a PhD should be an advantage, but if a company is looking for a "spreadsheet jockey" as in your example then there is a mismatch between the education and the job and a company should take that into account.

On top of that there are large cultural differences between companies and universities. Such differences can lead to frictions, and if you can hire someone without such frictions then that will be an argument.

  1. Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn't have to produce anything! You've never been out of college! You don't know what it's like out there! I've worked in the private sector. They expect results. - Dr Ray Stantz, "Ghostbusters"

    Basically, the discrimination is not against someone being an academician. The discrimination is against someone having zero industry job experience - and that includes intangible but important things like different priorities, balances and tradeoffs in academia vs the for-profit workplace. You can do research but produce no results in academia. You can research pretty much anything you want. Doesn't work that way in real company.

    In other words, an academician who just got his PhD is treated exactly like a fresh BS graduate - nameley, like a guy with education but no industry exposure. (The difference being that BS analyst level fresh hire isn't paid a lot and doesn't have trust and responsibility in their first job that would have majors consequences because they are unused to "real world" and the needs of the business, so they pose a lot less risk).

    An easy way to falsify your theory is to compare the employability and level of interest in someone who has a PhD vs. someone who has a MS or PhD and after that worked in the industry for at least a year. Personally, when I do hiring recommendations, no-experience person has no chance by comparison, all other qualifications being equal.

  2. In certain cases, having a PhD isn't of any help (doesn't hurt, but it isn't a research position, or even one requiring super-high-IQ).

    As such, a PhD would be a hindrance since PhD holder would expect to be compensated higher merely due to holding his degree (since on average, PhD does lend itself to higher pay if you look at labor market statistics). So, why would a company overpay someone for a useless skill/resume point?

  • 1
    Note that OP works in a 'government company' in which it is far from uncommon to get heaps of money for no results whatsoever. – Cape Code Sep 14 '14 at 18:00

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