I have an unusual perspective on this as someone who has made a career in industry rather than academia or government.

At the beginning of my career in 1995, I read a New York Times piece (which you can still find online very easily) that confirmed a truth that I was feeling personally at that time. This truth was that the fastest growing segment of unemployed and underemployed people in America was, you guessed it, people with Ph.D.s in scientific fields. I’m not joking or exaggerating. The average age when finally landing a permanent first job was close to 40! It was true then, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s still mostly true today. People with Ph.D.s in scientific fields were living hand to mouth, starting families, bouncing from one low-wage post-doc to another every couple years, and doing this through the entire first half of their working adult lives!

Here are some other perspectives and experiences that you may find interesting:

  1. A senior HR manager at a Fortune 500 company once told me that the reason they don’t hire Ph.D.s, even when they represent ‘best value for the money’ hiring opportunities, is that they figure we’ll be dissatisfied with the work, and leave within a couple of years. Better to hire a Master’s. Most R&D jobs in industry are Master’s level. They don’t tell you that when you’re in school, that’s for sure.
  2. Once I asked a guy from Taiwan why he was getting a Ph.D., in engineering in his case. He said: Oh, it’s like the entry-level in Taiwan. I need a Ph.D. to get a job at my dad’s restaurant. That’s what I’ll probably do when I go back. He wasn’t joking. More education doesn’t imply that a person is only interested in research. Some of us got Ph.D.s just because we thought it would make us more competitive.
  3. Bias and discrimination against people with Ph.D.s is a real issue in industry. We rarely get considered for management, if at all. We are usually permanently assigned (and assumed) to be on an individual contributor career track the moment we step foot in the workplace. Our entire careers are filled with snide remarks about eggheads. “Damn Ph.D.” is a commonly heard kind of joke. It means “a person who is not seeing the forest for the trees; someone who is going too deep on an issue.” We are heavily stereotyped.
  4. Although the general public sees and hears pleas from government and industries that say “Oh my God, we’re facing such a shortage of people in STEM fields, whatever will we do?”, Ph.D.s in STEM fields know better. We are shaking our heads and saying B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T.! This is a a bald-faced lie that companies tell us, and themselves. What they really mean is, “We want to continuously hire new graduates while laying off anyone over 45, to cut costs. In order to do this, we need more people going into STEM.” The idea that there’s a shortage of STEM professionals is one of the biggest false narratives going right now. This is just the perspective of the employers. People are misled to believe that a career in STEM will have good job security, but that is not actually true. What it really means is that careers in STEM fields tend to be artificially shortened because salaries are higher.
  5. I once removed my Ph.D. from my resume in order to improve my chances of getting an interview, and it worked. I figured lying on your resume in a way that omits relevant education or experience is OK; it’s my business. Companies shouldn’t be presuming that I’m a flight risk simply because I have a Ph.D. It’s unfair.
  6. My entire career I have always been diligent to never tell anyone that I have a Ph.D. I don’t lie if asked, but I never, ever mention it. I value people mostly for their experiences and social skills, and I want to be treated the same way. I don’t want to be stereotyped.

So my opinion about people who would put Dr. in front of their name is ‘So what?’ Let them be proud of their accomplishments. It’s a small compensation for our suffering.

We have a harder time getting jobs than people with Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees. Our career options and potentials are limited, starting on day one. Our careers start later, and we have a much larger problem with underemployment. We are stereotyped and discriminated against both in our workplaces and outside of them. So if we want to put Ph.D. after our names, or we want to be addressed as Dr., so what? Let us dogs have a bone.

Conversation mover. Engineer. GenX. FL-CA-AL-TX-Korea. edblosch@zoho.com

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