Save The PhD Or It Dies

Are you a doctoral graduate? Congratulations for making it thus far, if so. It may feel nice to add ‘Dr’ before your name. You may also feel accomplished of having written a thesis that perhaps only your supervisor will read. But what real-world value does your degree have?

PhD graduates are considered as over-qualified by most job recruiters. This means that in the non-academic job market, a Bachelor graduate with considerable experience or a Masters graduate with little or no experience will either beat a well qualified PhD holder in the process of getting hired, or end up earning the same salary. There are people arguing otherwise. For example, a LinkedIn post states that PhD holders are “more valuable” than non-PhD holders in the applicant pool because they are “expert innovators”, “masters of conflict resolution” and “doctors of learning”. These arguments are suitable for the ill-informed reader. To paint a realistic picture, the recruiter is almost always aware that a PhD holder is used to long working hours and low remuneration. Hence the recruiter is in a position of offering a salary that may not match the academic qualification. Or he can simply choose the candidate who has proven experience in innovating and negotiating through conflicts. Besides, learning is a matter of attitude.

PhD programs will in many cases teach conscientiousness and perseverance. They are tests of stamina rather than of intellect. However, they do not teach professional skills. Surely there are academic jobs. But the number of doctoral graduates exceed the number of academic vacancies every year. The problems don’t end there. The post-doc path can continue for years. In addition, a PhD best prepares a person for a life of applying for research funding and writing grant letters.

The academia must change so as to incentivize upskilling and not merely reward citation figures or make candidates emulate their supervisors. This is easier said than done because there is pressure from the academic community apart from publishers. The PhD must be rebranded so that it becomes competitive with regard to the job market outside of the academia. Recruiters can then look at PhD as a notch higher than Masters by coursework. Some doctoral programs are already integrating projects into the curricula instead of pressurizing to publish. According to an article, “teamwork, critical thinking, diligence, project management” and “communication” typically involved in academic and research work should be emphasized when presenting oneself to a recruiter.

Another article argues and states that PhD is a “waste of time”. To sum up, we must understand that changing the system is an uphill task, but not an impossible one. The PhD degree will in often cases bestow nothing except vanity and hubris. It is up to the doctoral students to adapt to the real world besides learning intellectual humility.


Saptarshi Pal