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How should a partial PhD be presented on resume when looking for a job?
January 7, 2013 10:46 AM   Subscribe

I’m looking for opinions on how to best represent coursework and research taken toward a PhD on my resume.

Backstory: I graduated high school in 2004, finished my BSc in 2008, MSc in 2010, and immediately started working on a PhD after finishing my MSc. Soon after starting my PhD with the same advisor I did my MSc under, my advisor took a job in industry. The advisor agreed to continue to serve on my committee as my primary advisor, and at the time there wasn’t a suitable replacement within the department for what I wanted to continue doing research on. I continued taking coursework until the end of May 2012 when I finished my last class and withdrew from the program. I had an assistantship throughout, but didn’t feel that the environment was right for me to continue with a PhD after my advisor left. While working on my MSc the lab was always busy with multiple projects and other graduate students. After my advisor left and other students started to graduate, the energy began to wane to where at the end it was just me working toward a PhD by myself. During this time another professor was hired to fill the position vacated by my former advisor, but I didn’t feel their research interests were aligned with mine, and I was hesitant to start a new research focus with a new, first-time professor in what would be a new lab.

I did well academically throughout my time at school, was awarded Outstanding Master’s Student at the department for my MSc, and was able to publish a first-author paper from my master’s research. My lab skills are sharp, I’m creative and young, and I want to continue working on a career in the sciences. However, I haven’t had any luck finding a job since leaving school. Is the job market for researchers that bad? How would someone hiring for a science job view an additional two years in school with no degree to show for it? Has anyone been in a similar situation and what did they do about it? The bulk of the science jobs in the vicinity of where I live are academic and I would like to work in industry. Should I relocate myself to an area with more science jobs? I intend to go back to school and finish a PhD one day, but right now I am more interested in working.
posted by Lord Force Crater to Science & Nature (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
List the MSc under education and then list the work you did toward your PhD as a job. Put whatever they called you as a job title: "graduate assistant, "research assistant," "researcher," etc. Then just talk about it like you would any other job.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:00 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


You have a MSc and then you did some additional research and teaching. Always frame things as pluses (more research on top of my MSc) rather than minuses (didn't finish a Ph. D).
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:09 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


2010-2012 PhD coursework University of Whatever, Department of Whatever
2009-2010 MSc University of Zoo, Department of Something
2004-2008 BSc University of Cow, Department of LaLa
posted by k8t at 11:16 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Checking out the location listed in your profile, yes, yes you should strongly consider relocating.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:21 PM on January 7, 2013


> List the MSc under education and then list the work you did toward your PhD as a job. Put whatever they called you as a job title: "graduate assistant, "research assistant," "researcher," etc. Then just talk about it like you would any other job.

Wouldn't this backfire if the reader thinks you're hiding something? In some fields, virtually the only way you ever get to be a graduate assistant (et al.) is if you're a graduate student, and it seem odd for a person to hold an assistantship for years after convocating without this. Most readers would instantly fill in the gap, and some might wonder why the applicant was hoping they wouldn't.

Given this, I'd lean on the side of candor: include "doctoral research" as an entry under your education, or "withdrawn in good standing from PhD program", etc. It probably won't even be viewed as a negative, since most people are aware of plenty of legitimate reasons to leave a doctoral program. (Some might even think it was a smart move--or, at the very least, they may ask about it, and you get to explain why it was.)
posted by matlock expressway at 1:20 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't this backfire if the reader thinks you're hiding something? In my field, virtually the only way you ever get to be a graduate assistant (et al.) is if you're a graduate student, and it seem odd for a person to hold an assistantship for years after convocating without this. Most readers would instantly fill in the gap, and some might wonder why the applicant was hoping they wouldn't.

That is what I'm worried about. I don't want people to think that my MSc was awarded as a consolation prize after dropping out of a PhD program. I also worry that leaving at the two year mark makes it look like I couldn't hack qualifying exams. I left because I didn't see myself being able to continue with the research that initially attracted me to the program, and had no interest in restarting a PhD after working on projects and coursework for a couple of years due to something out of my control.
posted by Lord Force Crater at 1:30 PM on January 7, 2013


Wouldn't this backfire if the reader thinks you're hiding something?

Yes, good point, I should clarify. The point of this isn't to hide that you were in the PhD program - it's to highlight the relevant work that you did while you were there. I definitely don't suggest that you obfuscate your time in grad school. What's most important is that the various jobs that you had while you were there that were part of your funding package were jobs themselves. So you can put the whole thing under the umbrella of "grad student," or you can break them out more specifically, which is more useful for a resume. Even if you were on a fellowship, you held the position of "fellow," with all the research responsibilities that entails.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:51 PM on January 7, 2013


I'm in a similar situation though I left my PhD program after one year and it was at a different school than my MSc. I've been doing a combination of what everyone here has been suggesting. I put the research I did under a job titled "Graduate student researcher" and listed some class related things in my education section under the heading "Doctor of Philosophy Student in ____ Engineering". I feel that putting it as both education and a job is most accurate since the classes and lab work were totally distinct endeavors.

Wouldn't this backfire if the reader thinks you're hiding something?

I think the worry about the reader thinking you are hiding something something is valid. Pretty much everyone who has looked at my resume has asked me why I left my PhD program. For me that is alright since I would like to be able to explain why I left. For you I would also expect that is something you are fine talking about since what you did is totally reasonable.

Then again maybe it isn't the right strategy since I haven't been able to find a job since I left my program.
posted by Medw at 1:55 PM on January 7, 2013


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