Would You Remove Your Ph.D. Degree from Your Resume?

Let’s say that you just spent the last 8 years of your life earning a Ph.D. in biology, chemistry or physics, including 5 years devoted to graduate study (i.e., school) and 3 years devoted to postgraduate study (i.e., postdoctoral work). Let’s say that you are now looking for work outside of the academic realm, and perhaps even out of your field of study. Most corporations do not require a Ph.D. for entry-level positions. After a few interviews wherein you are asked why you are applying for a position outside of your educational level and realm of expertise, and after which you do not receive any job offers, you start wondering if perhaps you should leave your Ph.D. off of your resume. Does this sound crazy or just a case of career savvy?

For over a month now, I have been following a LinkedIn discussion about whether or not scientists should remove their doctoral degree from their resumes. The discussion, termed “PhD degree… include or remove from resume?” has 193 comments posted so far. This discussion is arguably one of the more popular discussions on LinkedIn, generating not only thoughtful answers and solutions but also some heated debates.

On one end of the discussion are scientists that have been looking for work for some time and have been unsuccessful. In most cases, these scientists have already completed one or two postdoctoral appointments and are now trying to take the next step in their careers. Due to the shortage of professorial positions in academia, many scientists have decided to expand their horizons and try for positions in industry. Unfortunately, after several promising corporate interviews, no job offers have resulted. As a result, these Ph.D.-level scientists are now considering removing their Ph.D. degrees from their resumes. Their assumption is that corporations are viewing all scientists, especially Ph.D.-level scientists, and professionally unqualified and personally unsuited to the world outside of academia.

At the other end of the scale are those scientists who feel that their hard-won Ph.D. degrees should not be hidden. Hiding a degree that took 4+ years to achieve will leave gaping holes in one’s resume, as well as questions about one’s professional ethics. Furthermore, these scientists are disinclined to hide an achievement that they are proud of and have worked hard to earn.

Between those who advise removing a Ph.D. degree from a resume and those who advise full disclosure lies a middle ground of individuals who suggest that scientists list the degree but not use it as their primary means of job qualification. These individuals advise that scientists emphasize the skills (e.g., management, public speaking, budgeting) that they acquired during their training rather than just the degree. Likewise, if a potential job requires additional skills, scientists should “bite the bullet” and get additional training for those skills. 

What can the Ph.D.-level job seeker take away from this discussion? In essence, while one might initially “get away with” not reporting one’s degree and end up getting hired, the downstream effects of such an omission may hinder more than help one’s career goals. An employee who is assumed to not possess a Ph.D. may be considered as unqualified for future job opportunities and/or promotions which require such a degree. Likewise, supervisors and managers may one day find out about an employee not reporting his or her advanced degree, leading to an awkward situation in the workplace. Furthermore, an employee who does not report that s/he has a Ph.D. is then “stuck” in a situation where s/he cannot give out too much information about prior work experience, publication history, grants/patents, etc.

What many of the LinkedIn members agreed on was that, when applying for non-academic posts, it is imperative that one research the company being applied to and craft a resume that addresses the needs of that company. Emphasizing one’s degree and placing it at the top of a resume is not ideal; rather, one’s knowledge, skills and abilities (i.e., KSAs) should be listed first. Applying for a corporate job is quite different than applying for an academic post, and one’s resume (as opposed to an academic CV) should reflect that fact.

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Halina Zakowicz

7 thoughts on “Would You Remove Your Ph.D. Degree from Your Resume?

  1. James, I think you making the assumption that the employer would pay extra for education that in this example is presumably not required (maybe not even desired) to fulfill the requirements of the job? Why would an employer pay extra if the qualification is non-essential and maybe even non-related to the job; obtaining the education itself does not grant an entitlement to a job or a certain pay level. Plus, if including the Ph.D. precludes you from getting the job, is the salary of the unemployed more satisfying than the (presumably) lower salary you would have obtaining the job without the Ph.D. listed?

    Interesting stuff…

  2. In these days where software scans applicatoin materials, keywords are king. Remove PhD and add more keywords and “buzzwords” (the only professionals that are allowed to use that term are apiarists) that the employers like to hear. Science based companies like Dow, DuPont and Bayer all seem to have bought the same software engine for their recruitment, as any UK scientist who has tried to translate their 2:1 into a GPA will know! The virus of HR (I am a person and not a resource) has infiltrated science, we have to use the primary immune response of answering them in their own language.

  3. Having a PhD implies a dangerous ability to think for oneself, and may come across as intimidating to an employer not blessed with such a qualification themselves. In terms of presentational PR I can completely understand the inclination to omit the PhD from the cv. The academic is then faced with the dilemma as to what is left of themselves to sell, in order to actually win the position. Also, having gone so far to get a PhD in a no doubt specialist field, the very act of applying for an unrelated job will immediately cause an employer to ask “what is it about this candidate that is causing them to abandon such a vast amount of specialist work to come and work for us?” Akin to a heart surgeon applying for a secretarial post – generates lots of why? questions. Also, is it not the case that, deep down, the PhD candidate almost invariably does wish to continue in their chosen specialisation but can’t do so due to lack of funding or opportunities? It’s almost an open admission that whatever job they’re applying for is a stop-gap – a filler role not to be taken too seriously, to be endured until a job more suited to their PhD comes along. As a potential employer these are all things I’d be thinking, and they’re all things which would put me off. In my opinion, as a PhD holder seeking alternative work, what you really need to do is work on a credible and sellable “story” as to why you’re turning your back on your chosen specialisation. I work in the film industry – I have no PhD but the role is similarly specialised and has an air of glamour and desirability (false I might add) which would cause a potential employer outside of the industry to ask “why is he leaving that for this?” – and in response to that obvious question, I have worked out a perfectly credible answer, not wholly true, but credible nonetheless. And as mentioned elsewhere, the thing to concentrate on at interview are your transferable skills, not your specialist skills.

  4. Removing a PhD from a CV or resume can become a necessity if you want to find employmnet as I found out when I left academia after a fairly nasty second post-doc. I found my non-PhD CV was winning me more interviews, a point I couldn;t ignore whilst I was out of work (i.e. better a salary than no salary at all).

    I hid the PhD by advertising the four years ‘gap’ as a ‘Senior Research Assistant’ post (I was effectively doing this whilst doing my PhD), for which I gained the agreement of my referees.

    I know hiding it implies potential dishonesty to a potential employer, however, in one interview (unsuccessful for other reasons) it was clear I had the qualification and the interviewers looked at each other. “It’s okay, we understand. You’re trying to avoid the overqualified label. Not to worry, we have other PhDs working here.”

  5. Ph.D is a mere wastage of time, money and energy in the end making you jobless, useless and hopeless. Most of the Ph.Ds including myself are even ready to work for food. (Honestly it the truth). The need of hour is to stop awarding Ph.D degrees for at least two and to stop any Ph.D admission for another 3 years. Failing to do so will lead to outnumber the number of Ph.Ds higher than street dogs with their values also less than the street dogs.
    I request any one who is reading please don’t register for Ph.D and doing so will save you as well as candidates like us who have to graze cows and donkeys to support ourselves..

  6. Why would anyone stop recruiting students for PhD programs? At least in hard science, it is virtually cheap/free labor for TA’s and gaining grant money for professors. It is frustrating because I feel like my doctoral work was kind of a scam for the university I went to, and I am more than happy to move on, but HR all over seems to think I will bail. There will be nothing to bail to, my small town posts about one job a week that I can MAYBE stretch my resume and skills for.

    I have a PhD in organic chemistry and I moved to a small town because my boyfriend (who also has a PhD) got a great job at a software company. There are NO jobs for PhD’s in organic chemistry here, and I regret the specific field of chemistry I went into. I want to be treated like I at least know what I am doing, trying to make a career change, and that I’m not just throwing my resume at any science-y job in the area. It makes me really sad, money isn’t really an issue, but I’ve been home doing nothing for 6 months now. I only apply to jobs I would want, schedule and money wise.

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