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I'm coming from a biomedical engineering background, and I'm noticing that almost all job postings ask for either an MS or a PhD, and from speaking with my friends with masters it seems that masters are often favored, because they demand less pay. In fact, the only positions that specifically seek out PhDs seem to be research positions in industry.

Based on that, I'm curious to see if this exists beyond just engineering. Are there any non-research industry positions that actively seek to hire PhDs over masters students?

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High-tech engineering companies, for one. A friend of mine works at a small system-on-a-chip designer company, and they supply highly specialized chip designs to other businesses which utilize embedded systems -- think leading automotive, aerospace, consumer electronics OEMs. The company is small and every engineering employee has at least a MSc, most of them have PhDs or higher (that would be associate professors and professors).

Another example is automotive R&D -- mechanical engineering. Companies are financing new development of new methodologies in product development -- particularly structural optimization, design automation, manufacturing process simulations. Virtual prototyping is the name of the game for top manufacturers currently, and the demand for highly-skilled experts is great, even in these uncertain economic times.

In the country where I study, PhD projects are financed jointly by interested private companies as well as research organizations, and the companies have a vested interest to receive not only the direct results from the research, but also trained individuals that can integrate the research outcomes into their product development or manufacturing process.

Obviously YMMV by country and research field. PhDs in in mostly theoretical projects might have harder time finding a good position after graduating, while hands-on graduates whose projects were conducted in collaboration with industrial partners are much more likely to secure a senior technical position even before their dissertation.

  • What is "higher" than a PhD? – vocaro Feb 23 '12 at 23:25
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    @vocaro post-doc of course :). – Zenon Feb 24 '12 at 2:33
  • @vocaro or, in some countries, habilitation. – ESultanik Apr 4 '12 at 14:15
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I am currently employed in the biotech industry. Hopefully this is helpful but it may all just be obvious:

Concerning research industry positions, jobs are generally classified as PhD (scientist) or non-PhD (research assistant/associate). For scientists positions, sometimes someone without a PhD will be considered if they have significant experience - e.g. Masters plus 5-8 years, Bachelors plus 10+ years. However, PhDs are generally favored over non-PhDs for outside hires. For research asst/assoc positions, non-PhDs are favored over PhD holders, and many companies have policies that prohibit hiring PhDs.

Concerning non-research industry positions, holding a PhD will give you an edge over BS/MS holders, but you have to compete with other specialized degrees. For business developement and upper management positions, you'd have to compete with MBA holders (along with internal hires from research/scientific management). For legal positions, you'd compete with JDs and certified patent agents. For project management, there are certifications as well.

If you were to hold MBA/JD/additional certification AND a PhD, you would be extremely marketable for these types of positions. It's a lot of work to add something like that on after finishing a PhD program, but companies often love to have PhDs on staff in those types of positions - but generally you need to have the other qualifications as well.

Edit: Also, the best people to talk to are professors from your current/old department who are on any company's board of directors. They will know exactly what kind of people a company wants to hire, and will be able to tell you how to target your job search, or what kind of experience/credentials matter most.

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I don't have hard numbers to support this statement, but I've been told that many investment banks are quite interested in PhD (although mostly in hard sciences) for quantitative analyst jobs. These positions are not research positions, but it seems that the rigor and the experience of research, in terms for instance of modelling data, acquired during the PhD is appreciated.

  • But I guess @eykanal can say more about that, and correct me if I'm wrong :) – user102 Feb 23 '12 at 15:59
  • So, interestingly enough, we're doing a lot of hiring now. I'll state with some certainty that although none of the jobs we're posting (all quant jobs) require a PhD, we're getting what I perceive as a disproportionately high number of PhD applicants. However, at least in my role, we don't really favor one over the other. – eykanal Feb 23 '12 at 19:30
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I think that the only positions where it makes sense to hire a PhD over a master's degree holder are those which require a lot of analytical skills, plus the ability to be "laterally" flexible. That is, you want to hire someone who can do many different tasks over time, rather than just lead one project or group. These occupations would include quantitative analysis, but would also include more non-traditional jobs such as a journal editor or a consultant.

From an industrial perspective, though, for anything outside of research, it's probably more economical and practical to hire someone with direct or relevant experience at the master's level and train them to do the job you need them to do.

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PhD is all about getting qualifications for becoming a scientist/researcher. You learn how to do the research independently, how to present your work, you meet people who might be helpful in your further career, and incidentally you get some hands-on experience in an obscure area of science. These are "hard" skills you get along the way. This means that the only type of work PhD is required for, or gives you a real benefit, is a job of a researcher, either in academia or in the industry.

Occasionally you might be lucky to work on something truly useful and job will be a natural extension of your PhD. But since getting a PhD degree is really a learning process, the topics are necessarily moderately ambitious and niche - you have the rest of your scientific career to "make an impact".

Outside the research the only thing PhD gives you is a bit of "prestige". This might be a hindrance, or, at best, make no difference when you search for a job. But in a long term you'll likely find that the ceiling is a bit higher. The good thing is that any job you end up doing will be good - the title automatically "filters out" positions that you would later find unsuitable.

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From what I've heard, some companies prefer hiring PhDs over Masters not because of their additional knowledge because people who have done a PhD will in general be more mature and reliable. Some companies also count having a PhD as work experience which will reflect on your salary.

To answer your question, I'm not aware of any specific positions for which this is done, but depending on what the actual job is, recruiters may prefer candidates with a PhD (even if it's not in exactly what the work is going to be) for the reason mentioned above.

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