Similarly to how a Postdoc researcher is a researcher, I think that a PhD student should be considered a researcher. Especially when:

  • A salary is obtained for the research that is done as part of the PhD studies. Per definition, I would say that students pay, they are not paid.
  • A research master has been studied before and there are no lessons, classes, exams, etc. So in fact the person is not a student, but "at least" an "apprentice".

I know that naming things in one way or another may not make a big difference for those in academia that read the CV, but it may evoke different ideas for those out of academia that read it.

AFAIK, they are absolutely equivalent, even if one is more used than the other (mistakenly, IMHO). Nevertheless, I would like to get confirmation, if possible from an authoritative source (like a dictionary for titles), and at the same time I think that the question may be useful for many people.

  • 11
    A "PhD researcher" might easily be confused with a "researcher who has a PhD". PhD students are researchers in training, and hence of course do perform research.
    – Gerhard
    Jun 19, 2016 at 21:43
  • 3
    I think the main issue is that people who are working towards their PhD are considered "students" in many places, but not all. For example, I obtained my PhD in The Netherlands, where most PhD "students" are employees and a master is a prerequisite. Others and I have used the term "PhD candidate" to distinguish from the "student", but this term also has other connotations in English, see academia.stackexchange.com/questions/10972/… Jun 20, 2016 at 1:05
  • 5
    I agree with @Gerhard, and I'd go a bit further. To me, "Ph.D. researcher" unambiguously means a researcher who already has a Ph.D. Jun 20, 2016 at 2:12
  • 5
    There is no correct answer. Language varies wildly across disciplines, countries, and institutions. For extra confusion, let's throw in "PhD candidate"!
    – JeffE
    Jun 20, 2016 at 2:26
  • 3
    @Trylks: i unfortunately do not think so. "Doctoral researcher" might be a bit more ambiguous (in a good way from your perspective), but comparing it to "postdoctoral researcher" has the same problem as distinguishing between graduate and postgraduate students: there is no difference. Many languages have a separate word for phd students, like "Doktorand" in German, which reflects what you want to say. English unfortunately does not. The closest I can think of is "PhD candidate". I have also seen people advertise Predoctoral posts, which might also work, but sounds quite odd to my ears.
    – Gerhard
    Jun 22, 2016 at 19:48

6 Answers 6


I don't see the point in your distinctions in either bullet. Some students get a salary, some do not. Neither of these is determinative of whether a student is a researcher. Not every PhD student did a Master's degree before the began their PhD studies. I certainly did not.

Why do you care if PhD students (who I agree do "research") are "researchers" or not? Of course they are researchers because I think that anyone who does research is a researcher (paid, student, or otherwise). Are you looking to validate your ego, to overcome an officious rule that says that only "researchers" may do some thing or other, or are you looking for something else? Except in a few places, titles matter little. If titles matter where you are, then find the law or bureaucratic codes that define "researcher" and follow them. If you don't like the answer you find, you can either live with that, find a workaround, or fight (presumably through a legislative body if that place has one) for change. You haven't given us enough detail about why you care for us to helpfully answer your question.

  • 1
    @MikeyMike, I've seen similar things, but they almost always make the distinction that the applicant must be within X years after receiving their PhD. They're often very clear about their requirements. Being just a "researcher" is not a requirement I've ever seen. The word may be thrown around a bit cavalierly in the RFP, but the Requirements section lays out the details clearly in every case I've ever come across.
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 20, 2016 at 11:52
  • 1
    @Trylks, that's a pretty vague response to my question. Are you being rejected for a position or pay level because you're not a "researcher" in someone or some bureaucracy's eyes? I think PhD students are researchers and should be paid. I was regarded so and was paid, though not very well, but tuition was free and I got healthcare benefits. If you're trying to fudge or puff up your CV by adding the word "researcher" to it somewhere, that might not be OK. Some people might not even read far enough to notice. My student title was "Graduate Research Assistant" and everyone knew what that meant.
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 22, 2016 at 20:05
  • 3
    @BillBarth Well, I personally finished the PhD and moved out of academia, where HR people may care or not care about the word "researcher" (which I think would be the appropriate term), but in general they despise the word "student". However, I think that the whole topic may be relevant and important for people that are not me (or you for the matter). As such, I have not tried to be vague, but to be general, for the general interest of the community.
    – Trylks
    Jun 22, 2016 at 20:24
  • 1
    @Trylks, I haven't seen this to be a problem. Not all places use HR people to do the screening, and many hiring managers are aware of what a graduate student researcher was doing when they are looking to hire a PhD. They know that being a student researcher was part of the role, and they know this because they have hired PhDs before.
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 22, 2016 at 20:28
  • 3
    @Trylks, technically impossible, yes, but likely close enough. Maybe you can edit your question to add the stuff about strikes so that it's not so vague. Things are basically fine in the US right now. There's no apparent need to point out to everyone who reads your CV here that students and research assistants are researchers, too. People seem to get it. I hire PhDs who are mostly off the academic track, and I don't need to ask "Did you do research during your time as a PhD student?"
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 22, 2016 at 22:54

"PhD Researcher" implies that this person has a PhD. Also a post-doctoral researcher is something more specific. It usually refers to a person taking a short term 1-3 years individual Post-Doc after his/her PhD. Also, if you are a Researcher it should imply that you have a PhD since a PhD candidate/student is learning how to be a researcher and therefore not a qualified researcher yet. Also, a "PhD Researcher", "Researcher" or "Researcher PhD" could be more experienced than a Post-doctoral Researcher and it usually implies a more permanent position.

Personally I think it is important to stick to the title to avoid confusion. Personally I would like to see "PhD candidate" instead of "PhD student" since it sounds better. PhD candidates should be paid in my opinion as they do research for the university. But payment is independent of the title. Avoiding using wrong name is also advisable. If I was an interviewer and I had found out that I was cheated on thinking that you have a PhD, then I would not appoint you. I will loose trust on the rest of your skills on your CV. Keep your CV as truthful as possible.


The generally accepted job title of a researcher who already has a PhD is a post-doctoral researcher. Unless you want to argue that doctoral and post-doctoral mean the same thing then a doctoral researcher is a researcher who is seeking a PhD. This makes sense considering that we do not say doctoral student for students that already have obtained their doctorates. The purpose of avoiding saying "PhD Student" as your job title on your CV is because a common prejudice against people with PhD's seeking to work in the private sector is that all they know about is life as a student. This is obviously not the case if you work at a research institute where some of the researchers may not even have a phd and get to claim there time there as work experience. In German and French this is not an issue because the meaning of the words "doktorant" and "doctorand" are commonly known. In English, "doctorand" is actually the word you are looking for (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/doctorand), but it is not as widely known which makes it less suitable for a resumé/CV. When I did my PhD there was a person from human resources responsible for all the doctorands in the French speaking part of Switzerland who explained all of this using survey data and examples. My suggestion is to use "Doctoral Researcher" because "PhD Researcher" could potentially be confused with "PhD-level researcher".

  • 4
    Downvoted. People are not dictionaries, and human language is not logical. Idioms also vary significantly across different countries, institution types, and research communities.
    – JeffE
    Nov 8, 2017 at 23:34
  • 6
    "The generally accepted job title of a researcher who already has a PhD is a post-doctoral researcher." This is just not true. Postdoctoral researcher means something much more specific. "This makes sense considering that we do not say doctoral student for students that already have obtained their doctorates." In modern anglophone academic parlance, once you get your doctorate in X you are no longer any kind of student of X. Also, "doctorand" and "PhD student" are synonymous. If someone wants to stigmatize PhD students, then they will regardless of what they are called. Nov 9, 2017 at 0:11
  • @JeffE Idioms are expressions whose meanings are not deducible from their individual words and doesn't have anything to do with job titles. Also, language does have logical structure, it is called grammar. I think what you are trying to get at is that expressions evolve based on repeated usage, regardless whether it is correct or not (e.g. main courses are called entrées in the US).
    – Alex
    Nov 9, 2017 at 0:58
  • @PeteL.Clark This was based on a seminar that was available to all PhD students in Switzerland to help them plan their careers. They specifically advised us to avoid the term "student" for these reasons. Take from it what you want. I didn't make it up. It is possible that postdoc has a different connotation in certain countries such as the US. I only have experience with the Swiss and French systems where a postdoc is just a category of professional researcher who has already obtained their PhD and is not a part of the permanent staff (like a senior scientist). Maybe you could explain what you
    – Alex
    Nov 9, 2017 at 1:06

Perhaps the difference is in what Masters and PhD entail in different countries. I've spoken to several people in the US who have very different course content in comparison to what we have here in the UK. In the UK, Masters level research is of higher quality and rigor than a Masters in the US (the same can be said about Bachelors in the US and the UK). By the time we finish our Masters here in the UK, we are quite familiar with how to do research. We are no longer students of research. From this perspective, I believe those who are doing PhD are researchers, not merely students. Someone who is already granted a PhD is a post-doctoral researcher, not a doctoral researcher.

  • 1
    I don't think this applies anywhere near as universally as you claim here: if what you say is true, I think this is going to depend heavily on the institution and the discipline. (And by Masters in US are you thinking MSc, MPhil, .. ? )
    – Yemon Choi
    Nov 24, 2018 at 4:16
  • This definitely isn't generally true
    – Flyto
    Oct 2, 2019 at 16:53

PhD students and PhD researchers are not the same thing.

A "PhD researcher" is a researcher who has a PhD, while a PhD student is working on a project in order to obtain a PhD (i.e. does not have the degree yet).

I agree with you, that the term "PhD student" in English is rather unfortunate - in reality, it is much closer to an apprenticeship, as you are training to perform research. And you do this by performing research under guidance.

Other languages have separate words for people doing a PhD, e.g. "Doktorand" in German, which give less of an impression of "studentship". In English, this is (AFAIK) not possible, and the closest I can think of is "PhD candidate".

If you just would like to avoid the term "student" on a CV because you believe that it could be misinterpreted by people outside academia, I would instead refer to something along the lines of e.g.

"PhD project (in SUBJECT)"

"PhD research project"

This still covers what you have done, but avoids giving the job title you feel is ambiguous.

Making up new "job titles", especially if they can be misinterpreted, is not a good idea, as unilateral "bug fixing" of a language does not work: communication requires both parties to buy into the premise. In the best case, you will create confusion, in the worst case you will be guilty of fraud.

  • The closest translation of "Doktorand" seems to be "doctoral student". The latter is also a preferable term to "PhD student" because the German doctoral degree is not actually called "PhD". Jun 23, 2016 at 8:40
  • 1
    @lighthousekeeper: for all intents and purposes the translation of German (science) doctorates is "PhD", so making a distinction between "doctoral students" and "PhD students" is mainly academic (pun intended :) ). Neither of the terms helps the OP.
    – Gerhard
    Jun 23, 2016 at 8:46
  • About unilateral "bug fixing", I completely agree, that is why I am asking and I consider this very important. What would be the name for a person that has finished a master and is doing research (just like a PhD student would be) but is not pursuing a PhD? Predoctoral researcher? Could PhD Students be semantically equivalent to predoctoral researchers?
    – Trylks
    Jun 23, 2016 at 21:09
  • 3
    What would be the name for a person that has finished a master and is doing research — "Researcher".
    – JeffE
    Nov 8, 2017 at 23:35
  • @Gerhard: The German term that helps your argument is Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter: "knowledge employee."
    – aeismail
    Nov 9, 2017 at 0:03

Six years late, but I would say they are the same.

An undergraduate researcher implies an undergraduate student who does research.

Similarly, a Ph.D. researcher implies a Ph.D. student who does research.

In my opinion, Researcher, in general, without the degree as prefix, is someone who does research as a job.

  • 1
    "a Ph.D. researcher implies a Ph.D. student who does research" - does it, though? Could be someone with a PhD doing research. A PhD student is not a PhD, so why use PhD as an adjective? Perhaps (PhD Student) Researcher is implied, but perhaps not.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 21, 2022 at 22:56
  • As a Ph.D. student, you may do extensive research and prove it in a number of ways, like soloing papers and having an h-index in the double digits. Still, when you hand your CV to some people in the industry they will look down on you and think that "you have no real experience". What I have learned in these 6 years is that those people are idiots, and you are better off ignoring them and working with someone else, if you can. By discarding your CV, they are making you a favor.
    – Trylks
    Jun 24, 2022 at 9:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .