When it comes to hiring a candidate with a PhD, the highest level of degree that a student can achieve, the topic can be a grey area for some employers. As a graduate recruitment agency specialising in PhD placements we often get asked the following questions…Would a PhD candidate applying for a commercial job only be doing so because they could not get an academic job or tenure? Would a commercial job be under stimulating for someone used to being in academia for so long? And perhaps the most damaging concern of all- are candidates with a PhD are work shy and lazy? We will be taking a look 4 reasons why hiring a candidate with a PhD can be beneficial below by exploring popular myths and genuine risks.
1. PhD candidates are...Ambitious
There is a view that candidates who have completed a PhD just ‘went with the flow’ and stayed in education rather than being ambitious enough to carve out their careers in the ‘real world.’ However, Ognyan Seizov, PhD says he would describe a PhD as working, not studying, and that reading and academic research only makes up part of what it takes to gain a PhD.
Some of the tasks Ognyan says counted towards the workplace experience were ‘working under a demanding supervisor’, ‘supervising undergraduate teaching assistants’, ‘managing independent projects’ and ‘administrative communication’ as well as ‘steering themselves according to a clear road map’; planning. The workload for a PhD is all the hours of full time job (and then some) and it does not simply involve sitting at a desk reading dusty old books.
A candidate has to have been highly ambitious to gain a place to study for a PhD in the first place. Gaining sponsorship itself is competitive and staying in academic is initially expensive. This is not a decision being taken lightly to avoid working a 9-5 job. These students worked hard through their Bachelors and Masters qualifications to get impressive grades and then researched, presented and defended a thesis to gain their place. In addition to this many PhD students also work in part time jobs to fund themselves whilst they study.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, the fear can be those with a PhD are overconfident and may have a tendency to ‘look down’ on other members of staff. Yet, as Ognyan explains, PhD graduates have not spent years just sitting in an ivory tower - they are used to being under a demanding supervisor, fitting into a strict hierarchy and consistently delivering high standards of results under pressure- hardly the mark of an overconfident, under performer.
Many PhD academics have taken to LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs and newspapers to tackle the stigma that they are work shy. Rebecca Tran writing for asianscientist.com listed traits identifiable in PhD-level staff that she believes would be an asset to a company, and being hardworking was one of them. She says, ‘After going through endless late nights in the lab, most typical working hours seem very reasonable in comparison.’ Once committed PhD graduates get the job done and get it done well.
For such hardworking people used to such a heavy and varied workload, having been given the autonomy to study within their field and topic of choice, perhaps the concern then is that the commercial life does not offer them enough of a challenge or scope to grow and develop?
This is something that Carrie Arnold examines in her article for sciencemag, when writing about a PhD student who had been struggling to secure a commercial job. Whilst the student had mastered tasks more technically challenging than would be needed for most jobs she still lacked strong skills in computer programming, an important aspect of most of the biotech jobs she wanted. She simply had not had significant exposure to it during her studies. This is why is it important to keep in mind that those with a PhD are not claiming to be an expert on everything within your industry, and will be keen to learn. As an added bonus, while training a candidate with a PhD graduate in a new area you’re likely to notice they are quick and efficient learners, able to develop new skill and absorb the information and learn faster than other members of staff.
Keep an eye out for PhD candidates who have also made a real effort to gain these skills outside of their studies, such as taking courses in coding perhaps, to boost their employability and demonstrate their intention of going into the working world early on. Not all PhD students want to stay in academia for their entire lives.
Independence can sometimes be confused with being stubborn, rebellious and lacking social skills. Ognyan asks you not to assume PhD candidates are the same as the socially awkward nerds from “The Big Bang Theory!” He argues that being in an academic environment and managing teams actually gives PhD candidates highly developed social skills.
Ognyan describes academic study as a ‘very social career environment where publications, collaborations, and even jobs are clinched through personal contact almost exclusively,’ and so speaking with big clients or tackling new sales leads could be second nature for some PhD candidates.
Isiah Hankel, Ph.D. also highlights that team working skills will not have been neglected as candidates have to, ‘Compete for resources and for publications…share resources and collaborate to get published. No one is more qualified than you to work with a team.’ It goes without saying that individual candidates themselves have different levels of social and soft skills and this is something that would be identifiable during interviews, but you should not assume a PhD graduate to be lacking on the social front.
Being independent can also sound potentially unruly and another concern is the idea of 'un-training' and 're-training' PhD graduates to think in the corporate manner of the company and not as independently. Carrie Arnold advises that it is important to keep in mind that PhD graduates are not lone wolves and that they have had to constantly justify their research and work within a tight hierarchy to high demands. It’s also worth keeping in mind that it is possible to study a Professional Doctorate. This PhD is for students of vocational subjects and are often chosen by candidates opting for a career outside of academia.
Gaining a PhD qualification involves incredible analytical skills and a PhD candidate will likely have had more training in research and analysing data than any other employees in your company.
Their workload is astounding and their research and findings are expected to be both original and significant so that they make a unique contribution to their chosen field. If you hire someone with a PhD educated in the field of business you operate in you can rely on them being able to offer you some excellent analytical skills, a fresh perspective on your field and original thinking. They will likely be able to identify any shortfalls with how you currently operate, find new original opportunities and innovative solutions. These skills can also be inspiring to your other employees, encouraging everyone to take the initiative when it comes to productivity.
That being said, research and analytics are not the only skills a PhD graduate can offer you and your company. Presenting information in a clear and concise way and then being able to defend that information can be incredibly valuable when making business decisions, training or briefing a team, developing a project or speaking with clients.Isiah writes that the top three desired skills for every industry; ‘critical thinking’, ‘complex problem solving’ and ‘correct decision making’ are ones PhD graduates excel at.
In summary, the stigma associated with PhD candidates can be very misleading and there are some very good reasons to open up a position you’re hiring for to those with a PhD- they could well be your perfect fit.
STEM Graduates is a recruitment agency specilising in placing PhD candidates. Please contact us if you have any vacancies you would like assistance with.