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I am a Masters student, and I think this is the only place in the whole internet that do not hold stereotyped negative attitude towards PhD recipients. From time to time,however, these sort of quotes scare me:

Having a Ph.D can close some doors for you. The general attitude and stereotypes about Ph.D holders are that they're uber academics/nerds who can't really function in the real world--this is an especially pertinent attitude to pay attention to in technical fields like engineering and science. So it closes some doors. You've also got less jobs to choose from, since you're vastly overqualified for many and you probably won't be able to find any good entry level positions because people will just assume you'll get bored and leave as soon as you find something better, so there is a cost to having everyone think you're a genius. Quora

Well I study for fun and advancing my knowledge -- and the last thing I want is these sort of stereotypes. I know if I pursue for a PhD I will have little to no experience about working for a corporation, so how worried should I be? Can I have the same level of experience compared to my peer who might have chosen industry instead of pursuing PhD?

  • see also academia.stackexchange.com/questions/44931/… – WoJ May 25 '15 at 15:04
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    It sounds like you might be committed to ultimately working in industry and are considering a PhD just for fun. If this is the case, you should think carefully about your decision. A PhD is a fundamentally different paradigm from a Masters, since it is about doing original independent research rather than studying more textbooks. It is also a lot of work. While there are some people who would do a PhD for fun, it is a very narrow range where you love the field enough to commit the prime of your life to it, but not enough that you actually want to work in it. – user4512 May 25 '15 at 16:09
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    You're not irrational, but to be honest, once we are talking getting "tangible value for your time", doing a PhD seems like a murky prospect at the best of times. – xLeitix May 25 '15 at 20:29
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    how about asking this question on workplace.stackexchange.com ? Maybe they have negative attitude towards Phd, which is an important information in itself. Point being do not ask fellow Phd holders or professor if a Phd is harmful to being employed, ask the people who decide to hire you :-) – Ant May 26 '15 at 16:35
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    @Ant It looks like it has already been asked, although I'm sure the attitudes will depend on the discipline and country. – Bruno May 26 '15 at 21:42

10 Answers 10

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First things first - this question is very region- and field-specific, as cultural norms and views of academia differ a lot in different places. Further, this will naturally also be highly employer-specific, as not every recruiter or employer has the same sort of requirements, views and prejudices. Everybody who tells you that there is a hard and fast rule is lying.

That being said, there are a few observations that I think are pretty general w.r.t. the PhD job market:

  • Nobody hires you or pays you more just because you have a degree. It's a pretty common misconception that having an advanced degree somehow magically entitles you to higher pay even if you do the same job in the same quality than somebody without a degree. This is particularly pronounced in computer science, where there are a bunch of excellent programmers / software devs out there without degree. Don't expect to make more than them just because you got your training in an university rather than through participation in open source projects.
  • At least in central Europe, no smart person does not hire you just because you have an advanced degree. I am confident to say that in Switzerland, the sentiment expressed in your quote is entirely wrong. A PhD certainly does not close any doors. There are a lot of jobs where it will be useless, but I have not yet seen cases where it was actively bad for the applicant to hold a PhD.
  • There are a bunch of jobs out there where holding a PhD is in fact very good for you, even outside academia and research. Here in Switzerland and IT, consulting is one of those fields. Consultants with PhD look smarter on paper, and hence their time is easier to "sell" for horrendous amounts of money to customers. It is pretty well-established that in this case just holding a PhD will in fact give you better starting salary and better career opportunities in many companies.
  • Generally speaking, as a PhD holder, you will have less experience than somebody who worked in the industry for 5 years. Contrary, you should (at least hopefully) have a higher level of formal knowledge and understanding of underlying principles. What you need is either (a) a job that requires the latter rather than the former (various "evangelist" or innovation jobs come to mind), or (b) and employer that has a time horizon large enough to allow you to get experience and who has problems complex enough that they need somebody with deep fundamental knowledge. This is the reason that big tech companies such as Google, IBM, or MS, often also pretty aggressively recruit IT and math PhDs, rather than going for cheaper and more experienced professional software devs.
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    "but I have not yet seen cases where it was actively bad for the applicant to hold a PhD." - Just to be fair I do know of people who were unable to find a job and got told multiple times that they overqualified (two who only finished their master, one who also had a PhD). The core issue is that a company might be unable to allow further career growth for its employees and thus somebody who is overqualified is likely to leave, which comes with a big financial overhead, so it's better to hire somebody who is likely to truly enjoy doing the job than somebody who will get bored within a year. – David Mulder May 25 '15 at 14:26
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    Your third bullet directly contradicts your first. – Ben Voigt May 25 '15 at 15:50
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    @BenVoigt It does not. If your PhD makes you easier to "sell" as a consultant, you do bring something to the table that a non-degree holder does not. – xLeitix May 25 '15 at 20:25
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    @xLeitix: And that something is a degree... which your first bullet point said was not, by itself, of value. Of course the skills and experience you'd gained during the research have value as well.... but people can have those skills without a PhD diploma. As you pointed out in your third paragraph, posession of the degree does, by itself, increase value in some circumstances. – Ben Voigt May 25 '15 at 20:27
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    @xLeitix: I'm pretty sure I understand what you're saying, which is that in some cases having a degree makes no difference financially, while in other cases, yes "you can expect to do a degree and make more money, but only because the degree translates to more money for the employer"... but that's because the employer is landing the contract in large part because you have the degree... So, it is situational, but in some circumstances the exact opposite of what you said in bullet #1 is true (from the perspective of the consulting company and also the degreed consultant) – Ben Voigt May 25 '15 at 20:35
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I'm just going to address this part of your question since I have direct experience with it:

You've also got less jobs to choose from, since you're vastly overqualified for many and you probably won't be able to find any good entry level positions because people will just assume you'll get bored and leave as soon as you find something better

It depends how in demand you are.

I think there are three sorts of jobs you can get after your degree. The first type are jobs where you directly use your degree. In this case, your degree is an asset: you would be unlikely to get the job without it and you have a strong advantage against another candidate who doesn't have your degree.

In the second case, your degree is either neutral, a bonus, or a small minus compared to someone with equivalent experience. The specifics will depend on the actual job description, the actual experience of your hypothetical counterpart, and the specifics of your degree and field.

The third case are jobs for which you are vastly overqualified. Let's say you have a PhD in chemistry and you're applying for a job as a lab assistant, or you have a master's in English and you're applying for a job as a shop assistant. These are the jobs where someone is likely to believe you are going to leave as soon as you get the opportunity.

I have a couple of friends with PhDs who struggled to get work in the recession, and were turned down for Type 3 jobs (in the UK) because they were overqualified. The irony is that yes they would have preferred something better if they had been able to get it, but in reality they wouldn't have had anything better to leave for, so they were not in fact the flight risk that the potential employers thought they were.

So type three jobs may turn you down. But if you're in demand enough, you won't need to apply for type three jobs, so it won't matter. It really depends on your field.

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Although the accepted answer starts with a disclaimer, it ends up painting a rosy picture. That's certainly not my experience in the US job market, as someone who studied a very pure field of mathematics and then sought jobs in finance. There are indeed some hardships faced by PhDs that can make it harder for the reasons exactly stated in the Quora snippet. The reasons are somewhat valid in that a PhD program isn't really about training you to accomplish things in the quickest way possible, which in the Real World is often what is desired.

However, having a PhD will open doors too, generally by companies/managers who have enough experience with academics to know the pros and cons. It's a mixed bag, like a lot of things.

I think the warning for the number of jobs being limited is true. There are many jobs where they will immediately assume you applied accidentally and throw out your resume. On the other hand, same is true for having a Master's too for some jobs.

Believe it or not, the hiring managers dismissing your application may actually know more than you. You may be desperate and really, really want that job doing glorified paperwork, but that hiring manager has dealt with someone just like you before, who left shortly after getting a much more interesting job.

As a word of final encouragement, things aren't as bad as they seem, but often they seem worse to PhD graduates, who lack the training and experience to seek jobs in industry. I think the most important thing for any PhD wanting to go into industry is, have a plan as soon as possible, at least a few years before you graduate. It doesn't take much in the early stages of your grad school to take steps that will end up moving you a lot closer toward that industry job. One that comes to mind is summer internships.

  • This is the best answer. – Flounderer May 27 '15 at 0:58
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you probably won't be able to find any good entry level positions because people will just assume you'll get bored and leave as soon as you find something better

I feel like this is a non-argument, if only because people without a PhD are also likely to leave a low-level industry job if they get a better offer elsewhere.

I know if I pursue for a PhD I will have little to no experience about working for a corporation, so how worried should I be.

Not a lot, I would say. Again, the same applies: people without a PhD also start out without any experience about working for a corporation (with the exception of older students who go back to school after several years of Real World work).

Can I have the same level of experience compared to my peer who might have chosen industry instead of pursuing PhD.

This is probably field-dependent, but I can't see why not. The best answer I can give without knowing what field you are planning to do your PhD in is that, while you might end up having a different type of experience than your un-PhD-ed peer, it doesn't have to be less experience. Keep in mind that, in order to get a PhD, you need an ability to think outside the box and come up with ideas that solve problems in interesting ways. Sometimes, employers value this ability more than n years of experience doing standard white collar work.

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    Your answers to the first two parts are all very sound and logical, but it doesn't mean anything if the people hiring don't believe them. The problem is not that you are more likely to leave, but that people will assume you are more likely to leave; whether you actually are or not is neither here nor there. – starsplusplus May 25 '15 at 10:07
  • About the first point, I think the argument is that PhD's are more likely to get a better job than someone without a PhD. This seems to make sense... – Asvin May 25 '15 at 11:28
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That attitude may be common, but it is definitely not everywhere. In my former group, one of the PhD students went on to industry after graduating, and the hiring committee was very impressed by the fact he had a research record.

All in all, how desirable you are in industry depends on what kind of research you do, and what skills you pick up along the way. My colleague went on from applying statistics to Biotechnology data, to customer behaviour data. Other people can directly apply their research into industry (say, Intel may be interested in incorporating your cutting edge compiler technology into ICC). Lastly, there are people that don't do anything remotely useful or applicable outside the academic world (say, string theory), but their research may show their capabilities and versatility, and private companies are willing to pay hefty salaries in their research branches. Of course, there is another group of PhD holders that have not found a good or fitting industry job.

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Aside from what the PhD was in, having a PhD in the first place demonstrates some very desirable qualities from an employer's perspective. These include:

  • The ability to work independently without supervision
  • Heavy refinement of one's own learning processes
  • Organisational and time-management skills
  • The ability to work on the same thing for a long time whilst still being able to keep focused
  • Communication skills and the ability to negotiate and exchange ideas.

If an employer is looking for someone to coordinate a project or carry out general research, as long as you can emphasise these qualities and how your PhD benefited you greatly with these skills, then I don't imagine there would be much of a problem. It's also another reason why maybe rather than taking a contrived approach towards a PhD, that maybe graduate students should try to engage with as many opportunities as they can during their PhD to make sure their experience is very well-rounded (although they may be less inclined to do this if they're absolutely adamant that they want to go into academia in the future or if they feel they're not cut out for anything else.)

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    Everything you mentioned are possessed by someone with a masters. I worked 1 year on my master thesis and learned exactly those you mentioned. A PhD was only going to show that I was able to generate "really" important original contributions that deserve to be published in top-tier journals. – Jack Twain May 25 '15 at 21:58
  • @JackTwain No, there is no reason to expect a person with a master's degree to be able to work independently without supervision, as that is not always part of the master's. But then, neither is it always part of a PhD (I mean, you have a supervisor all the way through either). – Tobias Kildetoft May 26 '15 at 10:50
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    Agree with these two comments. Also, in my experience academics who have great "time management, organizational and communication skills" are not a given at all. In fact, some of the least efficient people I've met while a PhD student have PhDs or are getting PhDs. – bfoste01 May 26 '15 at 21:12
  • @JackTwain That is true, but it depends on your individual experience during your Masters, I suppose. A lot of research jobs (here in the UK at least) require someone with a PhD as standard and will be less inclined to consider hiring only Masters students. So, even though doing a Masters does demonstrate those skills as well, having gotten a PhD can probably be seen as a "sure-fire" way to guarantee that a potential employee has much more experience in how to research. – omegaSQU4RED May 26 '15 at 22:12
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    Ironically as a hiring manager I see a PhD as a disadvantage for the SAME reasons. I need team people who collaborate (with the team and the business), learn by doing/shipping, deliver the best solution they can within an often fixed time, and can multitask when required. I've worked with PhDs before and the mindset of spending as long as required on a problem, often by themselves, and are ready to junk something and restart to get the perfect solution is totally at odds with delivering in business. It's admirable where it suits, but in general work it's a negative. – The Wandering Dev Manager May 28 '15 at 8:23
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First, let us distinguish two situations; jobs opportunities, which directly related to your field of research and prefer a PhD, and jobs which not. My understanding you are asking about the later ones, therefore stories that there are industries where PhDs are preferred do not answer your question.

Off course, it is really depend on countries/continents, but I have seen so far about two main types of situations where you PhD can be a negative:

  • Let's assume you are looking for a research job in an industry closely related to your research topic. Nice. Sure, you have good chances. However you should be careful about overspecialisation. Academic research topics (ie topics of your PhD) may or may not be useful in industry. When an industry guy looks for a researcher with PhD, generally he is looking for someone with very specific skill set, not just some smart guy. If a chemical company is looking for someone, they do not just look for a Chemist. So you can end up in a situation where you may be well employable, but there are only a handful of companies in the whole country who have position for you.

  • The other problem in one word: agism. Most company are looking for young people with experience. And you will be an old person without experience. If your PhD takes a few of years, maybe have a post-doc, a maternity leave, etc you easily find yourself to be rather old for the position. Bigger companies, who wants to keep you as a researcher maybe ok with that but most company sees you as a potential manager later in your career.

  • Just what is the safest bet if I want to do PhD and enter in to an average ~ I know I am not idiot, I need to look for opportunities, but how ugly can things get in your perspective - I am open to failure, no problem. – motiur May 25 '15 at 16:02
  • If you want to get a job, any job, and academia is not your exclusive choice on long term, then go for a MSc (only opinion). If your main goal is to have a PhD in medieval Latvic folk dances, do that, just be aware people will no automatically hire you based on you have a PhD, ergo you must be smart. The rest is in between. I think you are in CS: in that case your safe choice is to go for job experience (internship, volunteering, side job-side business). It is pretty easy in CS compared to other fields. – Greg May 26 '15 at 1:19
  • @Greg: The "medieval Latvic folk dances" gave me a good laugh, thanks. – Mehrdad May 26 '15 at 18:50
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I'm not sure if I'm qualified to answer this question since I'm only an undergrad right now (starting phD soon), but I'm going to try since I have some experience with it having worked in industry for the past few years in an (bit higher than) entry-level position. From what I've seen, yes unfortunately these stereotypes are correct. To the point that I have been told by multiple managers/directors at work to not pursue graduate school since I will only make myself overqualified like every other phD out there if I can't find a job at the end of it. People in academia will tell you that this doesn't have to be the case, but I wouldn't count on it. Of course there are exceptions to the rule and I also know people who were successful in obtaining employment after their phD, but the fact remains that the vast majority of phDs without other types of work experience will not have much luck in having people simply hand them a job because of their degree. Keep in mind though that I'm in biology, so this might be different if you are in say computer sciences, in which case I'm sure the situation is a lot more different.

Having said that, there is a solution to this problem, which is to make yourself into more than just the average phD graduate, which is actually not that difficult to do. For instance, most people with a phD go from their bachelor's degree to a masters to a phD, having done nothing but school for a really really long time. If you want to find a job outside academia, don't do this... The reason a lot of people don't want to hire phD's in my field is because they think phDs are overqualified in the knowledge area, but way under-qualified in experiences. For instance, people will ask why if you wanted to go into industry, did you choose to do a phD that is not a requirement of the job you are seeking. This then shows poor planning skills and judgement. What employers what to see are people who are PROACTIVE, no matter if they have a bachelor's or phD. So turn yourself into that person. Pick up experiences through your degree to make yourself stand out from the 10 other phDs applying for the job, this is why I kept a job through my undergrad, so that at least I'll have a back-up plan. If your grad school work is way too heavy for that, at the very least NETWORK with people in industry, if you are even considering a job outside academia. This is one of the only ways to get around people who view your phD as a negative. If they already know you as a person before you seek a job from them, or if you are introduced by someone they know, you being overqualified will seem less like a problem since they want to help you. Employers are not evil, they want to help people, just give them a reason to. This also leads back to the point of being proactive though, since networking requires years of work before you get a job at the end of it. It is a crucial skill if you wish to be successful outside of academia. So in summary, yes unfortunately the stereotypes are normally correct if you are a typical phD graduate. However, it's not hard to escape that stereotype if you plan ahead and work hard to set yourself apart from the "competition".

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If you are short on time you can skip to the summary.

The very first thing you need to do is ask yourself, why do I want a PhD. The goal of a PhD is to enhance the scientific body of knowledge in their field, by doing research. All throughout the PhD process your focus will be on understanding what others have done and what tiny little problem can you work on, that will bring some type of enlightenment to your field. So for example, my PhD is in Computer Science (CS). I spent the first few years in course work but my final 2 years I took 0 courses and spend all of my time reading scientific papers trying to understand my chosen field and how I might contribute. Ultimately, my dissertation research explored the question of what affect does a multimodal interface have on the ability of an operator to control multiple robots. Thus, my contribution to the field of Human Robot Interaction was on understanding the cons/benefits to adding speech and other modalities to operator user interfaces.

I say this to say that you need to understand the goal of a PhD so that you can understand future career opportunities. A PhD should be trying to push the scientific boundaries by looking for unanswered problems or applying research to address problems, e.g. Psychologist, Public Policy. Now there are plenty of people who get a PhD but have no wish to do research or apply research in novel ways. This to me does not make much sense because the purpose of a PhD is to do research, thus the reason every PhD has a dissertation.

Finally, to your question of opportunities. A PhD will close opportunities and at the same time open new ones. Your goal, if you so choose to get a PhD, is not to look for a leg-up on entry level positions (if this is your goal than stop at a Master’s degree). Your goal is to secure a position that allows you to do/apply research. So using my field of CS as an example. I interviewed at a number of locations e.g. Microsoft, Dow, a research lab at Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and a number of other places. In some of these places they were more interested in my ability to program (they thought a PhD meant I would be a great programmer) and in others they were interested in my ability to do research (find unsolved problems and solve them). Without a PhD I would not have been interviewed for research positions at locations such as the Naval Research Lab, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, NASA. However, I was not a good fit for Dow, Boeing and others because they wanted software development and not research.

Finally, as for pay. You can get paid a lot for doing research. My starting salary, as a PhD, working in an Industry lab doing research was 6 figures. The Taulbee survey gives the salary for research faculty and in CS the current average starting salary for junior faculty at public universities is around 95k for 9 months or 127k for 12 months. This is for CS and other Engineering disciplines. Similarly, a master’s degree and similar years of experience could put you in the same range so don’t let salary be your deciding factor.

SUMMARY: A PhD will close doors, but to careers that are not of interest if your goal is to do research. A PhD will open new opportunities to companies interested who do research e.g. Oil companies, Tech Companies, Government Research Labs, Defense Industry etc. Ultimately you need to decide what your goals are - if it is to learn or master a craft than stop at a Master’s and learn on your own; If however, you like to explore the unknown, are unafraid of failure, don’t mind occasionally being ridiculed by your peers, all for the sake of generating knowledge than PhD may be for you.

Here are some links on why get a PhD (or why not). Many of these links point toward becoming a professor since that is often a place where you can do research, however it is not the only place.

http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/education/jlemke/guidephd.htm

http://shouldigetaphd.com/

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IMHO there is no such thing as "overqualification". There are only incompetent people managers who cannot figure out what to do with talented individuals or how to put their skills to work. I hope that the (popularly memetic) picture below illustrates the issueenter image description here.

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