After encountering a few official forms to fill out (tax, medical, linkedin, job applications), I don't know what my official job title is during my PhD. There doesn't seem to be a standard for this. I don't think "student" accurately reflects my role, because I'm doing research and getting a small stipend for it. What should I put down as my occupation?

  • 7
    What's wrong with "PhD student"? Feb 22 '15 at 0:25
  • 6
    @Penguin_Knight PhD candidate and student do not mean the same thing
    – Kimball
    Feb 22 '15 at 4:30
  • 2
    Do you mean your official title for immigration, tax forms, your business card, professional webpage...? Is this more for Europe or the US?
    – smci
    Feb 22 '15 at 8:46
  • 5
    "Apprentice ninja"
    – JeffE
    Feb 22 '15 at 15:54
  • 3
    @NajibIdrissi But of course French has three specific terms for situations such as these!
    – Michael
    Feb 22 '15 at 22:05

Your professional title is Ph.D. student, or doctoral student, or just student.

  • 1
    What about doctorand(us)? Feb 22 '15 at 21:34
  • 2
    @PatricHartmann I've never head anybody use those before. Apparently, Doctorandus is a title in the Netherlands and Belgium, but I been have a number of colleagues from both countries and have spent time in both, and have never heard anyone actual use the word. Even in the ultra-formal procedures of the Dutch thesis defense where I served as an examiner, we called the candidate "waarde promovendus," and not doctorandus.
    – jakebeal
    Feb 22 '15 at 22:43
  • I can't speak for those places but my institution, which is located in Switzerland, uses these titles on a regular basis, also as an address during defence. Feb 23 '15 at 20:01
  • 1
    In Belgium the title doctorandus (f. doctoranda) is definitely used to refer to a PhD student. At least in social and human sciences. Apr 20 '17 at 17:46

There's really three different things mixed up here.

Your job title, as an employee, is whatever it says on your paychecks. Maybe "Teaching Assistant" or "Research Assistant" or something similar. This is what you should list on job applications, etc, under "employment". No choice here.

Your educational status is "graduate student", "PhD student", or the like. You could also use language like "PhD (in progress)" or "PhD (expected completion 20xx)". You might be a "PhD candidate" but defer to your institution's rules as to if and when they consider you to have that status.

Your occupation is just a word to describe the field you are in and the type of work you do. So you could list "biologist", "historian", "physicist", etc, as appropriate. You could also choose something more generic like "researcher", "educator", "scientist".

For tax forms in particular, I don't think it makes a lot of difference how you describe your occupation. I don't actually know how they use this information (maybe a good question for Money.SE), but I've always assumed it was mainly that if you gave your occupation as "oil baron" or "railroad tycoon" and then reported a tiny income, they'd probably audit you.

  • 2
    Occupation usually means your job or being a student. Maybe profession is a better word for your third point?
    – Kimball
    Feb 22 '15 at 9:13
  • 1
    I would consider it a stretch for a graduate student to declare that they are already a scientist, educator, etc: they are studying to become such, but are not yet there.
    – jakebeal
    Feb 22 '15 at 15:01
  • 4
    What's a "paycheck"? Oh, you mean those annoying pieces of paper we used to have to take to the bank? They never include my job title.
    – JeffE
    Feb 22 '15 at 15:53
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    @jakebeal I've published papers, attended conferences, and contributed to science before starting a PhD program. I don't see why one would lose the status of "researcher" after starting a PhD program. May 3 '19 at 21:30

During the time I was studying for my PhD, I put "Student" as my occupation on my income tax forms, even when I was being paid as a TA or GSR. That was after my industry career, so I had a more complicated financial situation. The returns were prepared by a tax-specialist CPA who agreed with "Student".

I had a lesser form of the "oil baron" issue Nate Eldredge mentioned: the change in occupation from "Computer Architect" to "Student" explained both the disappearance of the relatively high wages I had been reporting, and the appearance of educational expenses.


Your department may employ you as a "graduate teaching assistant" or "graduate research assistant". In the US, at least, these title will be understood to imply that you are a student.

  • 1
    In this vein, in my graduate university students were "graduate student researchers", or GSRs.
    – eykanal
    Feb 22 '15 at 2:26
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    It might be understood by academics but it won't be understood by anyone else. For example, every time I travel to the US, the immigration guys ask what I do for a living. I tell them I'm a researcher at a university (I'm a postdoc) and they invariably reply, "Oh, you're a PhD student?" because I didn't say I was a prof and the only people at universities are profs, grad students and undergrads, right? Also, "graduate research assistant" sounds, to my British ears, like a postdoc-type role for somebody who doesn't have a PhD. Feb 22 '15 at 8:39
  • @DavidRicherby: I fail to see any distinction between doctoral research and "postdoc-type role for somebody who doesn't have a PhD".
    – Ben Voigt
    Feb 22 '15 at 23:16
  • 1
    @BenVoigt Doctoral research gets you a PhD; a postdoc-type role doesn't. Feb 23 '15 at 1:00
  • @DavidRicherby: Being in a doctoral degree program and completing its requirements gets you a PhD. The research is just one of the requirements, and the associated tasks are really no different from the postdoc-type role you mention.
    – Ben Voigt
    Feb 23 '15 at 1:02

Since you mention title for tax purposes and similar, if I were you I would assume the title of whatever your "job" functions are. Generally, in the case of a PhD candidate, you are usually either a "Assistant Lecturer" or "Doctoral Candidate Research Assistant." Otherwise, you are a Doctoral Candidate, which I would use to explain my job title, rather than student.

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