Got a Ph.D. and No Job? Huh?


I really never thought it would be possible for someone to earn a Ph.D., which is the highest degree one can earn in any field, and not be able to get a job. I have, however, been able to see a recent example of this. What this tells me is people who are in Ph.D. programs are going to have to make strong efforts to obtain positions before they actually graduate. You cannot sit back and wait until you have graduated before you try to get a position. My early thoughts on this issue have me to think that a person like this really did not do good work while he or she was in graduate school. I often hear graduate students talking about what they have done, but the things they are saying are really not substantive achievements that employers will value. Some graduate students have tried to hate on me and criticize me, but what they have to recognize is my numerous authentic accomplishments have enabled me to gain previous and current positions—while I am still in graduate school.

Some people in Ph.D. programs try to act like they are so superior to all other students and try to use the fact that they are a Ph.D. student or Ph.D. candidate as the simple justification for why they are so accomplished. What they are failing to realize is they cannot simply rely on their Ph.D. student status or Ph.D. candidate status to secure them a job. You actually have to have authentic accomplishments while you are in graduate school before employers will really value what you have been able to accomplish. Just obtaining a Ph.D. is not enough. In down economy like the one we are experiencing, just having your Ph.D. is not going to be enough—employers are going to need to see that there is real value attached to the person who has this degree.

I contend that a person who does not obtain a job after obtaining his or her Ph.D. has to be someone who really did not deserve the degree in the first place or who has not done all that he or she can before he or she graduated to make himself or herself an attractive candidate. Don’t be sitting back while you are currently in a Ph.D. program thinking that you are simply the best thing since sliced bread and not doing the work that is necessary to obtain a job after you graduate. You should also be strongly encouraging the faculty members in your department, especially your dissertation director and dissertation committee members, to do all that they can to help you to secure a position. Do not allow them to simply give you empty rhetoric about what they are doing for you. Encourage them to give you genuine and meaningful opportunities while you are in your Ph.D. program that will empower you to be attractive to employers before and after you graduate.

Right now, I have to place the dominant blame on those who are graduating with a Ph.D. and are not able to get a job. At the end of the day, you can come up with all of the excuses you want to, but the dominant blame for your situation you have to place on yourself. I guess being called “Doctor” is not as satisfying as you thought it would be after all, huh?

Finally, don’t try to make what you are currently doing while you have no job seem to be more than it is. You have to remember your harsh social reality—you have a Ph.D. and no job.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

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37 comments

  1. i cannot believe you have a phd with your inability to articulate or process thought in a proper and convincing manner- you really owe your position to favoritism you elitist idiot, not your qualifications which, if we were to go by your rhetoric, are sorely lacking

  2. Wow! I seriously appreciate your text and I think many Ph.D. student are jealous that you realized the truth and write it down… but thanks for the advices.

    Mister non-PhD. (but MSc. with a job:))

  3. Hi Antonio,

    You are so right! This is very good advice. Just like with the Bachelors Degree or any other agree you have obtained over the years, just having a degree is no guarantee to get a job.

    I’m a PhD student and I know what you mean by the arrogance of PhD students/candidates or what have you. I do my best to stay grounded and not put off others by excessive bragging or give a presence of superiority. Excuse me, but we eat, sleep and sh*t just like everyone else. If anything I make sure to encourage others who may be interested in going for the PhD, and not thumbing my nose at people. It’s an awesome accomplishment but we must remember where we came from and that we are human and can be unemployed just like anyone else.

    -Sophia

  4. What? This is quite funny. I have a Doctorate Degree in Philosophy and Divinity. And I have 32$ in the bank.
    No job. Nothing. Being a Dualist will not help you find a job. May I recommend a useful degree. While i do not regret earning my Doctorate Degrees’. Philosophy has allowed me to conceive thoughts, use logic, exist in a manner which is beneficial and I can write coherently. So, with that being said study want you want. There are no right answers.

    thanks,
    Dr. David C.

    1. I don’t disagree with anything you said. The piece is not attempting to make it seem like getting a Ph.D. or a doctoral degree in any field is the way to obtaining money. This purpose of this piece is more about telling people that they still have to work for their goals while obtaining a doctoral degree and after they get it, and this piece about informing people that they should not be arrogant about their doctoral degrees or about being doctoral students. Yes, we can get a significant amount of value out of the pursuit of any degree, so I hope that my piece did not suggest anything otherwise to you. Thanks for reading and your response.

  5. “I contend that a person who does not obtain a job after obtaining his or her Ph.D. has to be someone who really did not deserve the degree in the first place or who has not done all that he or she can before he or she graduated to make himself or herself an attractive candidate.”

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, as it seems you have yet to earn your degree, but candidates in the liberal arts and humanities who worked very hard (by the standards of academic institutions) are not getting jobs (i.e people with upwards of 5 years teaching experience, multiple publications, university awards, and international presentations). Your argument is entirely based in a “bootstraps” model that assumes “working hard” equates success; unfortunately, many people have found that with the increased corporatization of the academy there has been an increase in the number of doctoral programs and simultaneously a decrease in the number of academic jobs (look at your own institution, I’m sure under Walker’s budget you aren’t getting many new tt lines). The Chronicle of Higher Ed has referred to this at times as even a “ponzi scheme,” whereby graduate student instructors and researchers do a majority of the teaching and research (for less pay) and are then left with few options upon completion of their degree. This is nothing new, look to the 90s when there were large movements towards graduate student and faculty unionization (actually Madison was a leader in this movement far before its time), this was to protect jobs as privatization made university budgets smaller and smaller, especially in the liberal arts.

    Understanding the social framework and changing political economy of the neoliberal university structure is a necessity to understanding the academic job market, you have neglected to understand this key piece of evidence. I wish you luck in your degree, but hope in turn that you will learn to have empathy for those many students and now doctors (many who I have even mentored) that have far better credentials than many of us who went into the market 10-15 years ago.

    1. I actually agree very much with most of what you have said. The dominant message that I wanted people to get from this piece is just having a doctoral degree or being doctoral students does not guarantee them anything, and people who have not worked hard during their doctoral studies should not be upset when they don’t get a job, considering they did not make a serious effort during their doctoral studies. I am very well aware of the difficulties all graduates are having in this struggling economy, including in Madison, Wisconsin. I very much appreciate your response.

  6. I have a PhD from the US and no Job. I do not have many achievements. However, I do have a peer reviewed publication, have won two dissertation research grants and the type of field research I did for my dissertation has never been done before. So I guess in my small, I do have a niche.
    The only thought that keeps me going is that if life gives me a chance I will pull the rug from under self sanctimonious and complacent pigs like you. For now I leave you with this thought… “Fuck you and the ass you rode in on.”

    1. Thank you for reading. I very much appreciate your comments. However, you interpreted the post as an attack when it was not at all. You missed the dominant message in the piece. Additionally, I don’t ride on anything–I’ll leave that for you to do.

      1. I did get your message in the original post and I am glad you read mine and showed a ‘human’ reaction to it… I felt your responses to the other posts were to some extent patronizing.
        I did not mean to offend you. My language was offensive for a specific reason. I made one offensive and wrong generalization [about the ass] in my statement which you found necessary to respond to. I just, respectfully, wanted to show you that false generalizations may offend people, even those people who know that there is no truth to them. You knew the ‘ass’ comment was nothing but a baseless personal attack, yet you could not help but react to it. You made a similar generalization in your original statement “I contend that a person who does not obtain a job after obtaining his or her Ph.D. has to be someone who really did not deserve the degree in the first place or who has not done all that he or she can before he or she graduated to make himself or herself an attractive candidate.”
        I am no good samaritan… but when I see a highly educated person making such careless statements in the name of freedom of expression, I just like to point out to him or her that ‘if you are willing to fight for your right to use words, then please at least choose them carefully.’ Respect your freedom by not wasting it.

        True, my method was crude, and probably unforgivable, but after reading this I hope you will find that my heart was in the right place.
        My friend the world we live in is not perfect and there are many reasons why some PhD’s are not getting jobs and some are getting laid off. Believe me it is not always the candidate’s fault.

        Advice from a jobless colleague.

        1. Thank you for expressing your disagreement with the post. As an educated person, I’m sure you know that you don’t have to resort to a “baseless personal attack” to get your point across. Therefore, I guess we both have proved one another to be imperfect.

  7. Antonio, you seem to be out of touch in this life…you might be one of those people who when they see a person who has cancer they think probably he did not live a healthy life or a poor person did not work hard enough. My friend let me tell you something, be humble and thank God that you are doing well in life, not every body gets lucky and remember you still have a future which I am sure you do know what it might bring!….

    This is from somebody who has a phd and has job.

  8. Well. I have submitted my thesis in November last year. I admit I have not done all that I should have while graduating. I could have done a lot more and achieve a lot more. But there were very strong family issues that pulled me back. Troubled marriage and a child to take care of. With all these problems all I could do is finish the small projects I was handling and getting them published in low impact factor journals. I am about to get my degree now. I am jobless for the past 3 months and desperately need one. I can think logically, I have many research ideas and plans but people look into my experience and ask.. “oh you did not do cell cuture? you have no experience in cutting edge molecular techniques.. you are ineligible for this position. sorry!”.. Now I lost my time during Ph.D. and I know I cannot get it back.. Am I the only one to blame?? It’s not always the person’s lack of capability.. Fate and destiny play a role too. I was never arrogant and everyone used to love me in the lab due to my sweet nature.

    1. Your situation is not your fault. Our economic conditions are to blame for you not being able to get a job. It is my hope that our economy will make significant progress, which will enable you to be better positioned to get a job. Thanks for reading and your response.

  9. You embarrass our school, Antonio. How dare you blame the inability to obtain a PhD research job on the student.

    Anyone who has gone through the grueling process of obtaining a PhD is clearly intelligent, motivated, a non-quitter. Whether or not a PhD translates into an appropriate position depends on factors completely external to the student: is the adviser well known, does the department have proper pedigree, was the adviser willing to add the student as a co-author of a paper? There is very little a student can do to assure success other than realize the importance of aligning oneself properly. Most of us begin thinking that getting a PhD is simply about getting some sort of research apprenticeship…but it is so much more than this.

    1. Sorry you feel that way. The article targets those individuals who were lazy during their PhD work and then find it difficult to obtain a job. It does not place blame on those individuals who worked tirelessly to position themselves for the best possible position.

  10. I have a PhD and seven years experience post-PhD. I have been out of work for 6 months and despite having several publications, I still cannot find a job. Lazy is not a word that appears in my dictionary, Antonio.

    1. I don’t claim that you’re lazy. You mention that you have several publications, which indicates that you’re not lazy. The piece directs laziness to those people who were in graduate school working on obtaining their Ph.D. and simply thought that getting a Ph.D. is all they needed to do to secure a job.

  11. It amazes me how stupid half the posters here are. The writer talks about a cause creating a result and people who have suffered the result assume an attack on them despite their claim not to have done the cause.

    People are idiots, PhD or not.

    This coming from a mere First Professoinal Doctorate (JD) holder.
    -Hot Damn people, learn to read and not just to react.

  12. I defended my thesis in chemistry in December 2011 and graduated the following April from a Big 10 school. It’s currently been 8+ months unemployed. I will admit that I waited too long to being to search for a job, I started the September before I graduated. But with that time point of starting, it’s been 16 months and I’ve still not been able to find a job. Prior to graduate school, I had 5 years as a co-op at a large chemical company working anywhere from 20-40 hours/week. What seemed to have messed me up, was during that entire time, everyone I worked with had been telling me that I would have my pick of jobs after graduate school. Likewise, professors in graduate school gave similar indiacations. Right now I’m back living at home, and volunteering to do research with my undergraduate professor. I’ve applied to over 400 jobs as well as grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, etc. in the area. I have 8 publications right now, with a publication with what I’m doing now in the works and also included on a potential patent. I’ve been in touch with all of my connections in various different places of employment, I am looking nationwide (and even beyond that, as I’ve also applied for positions in Asia). I really think the job market just sucks right now, and while many say that there is a shortage of science majors and PhDs, I think it may be the opposite. I’m currently searching for a good headhunter, and I don’t care, I’ll pay their fee if they can get me a job (though it would have to be in installments over a year or more since it’s around 30% of a year’s salary).

    1. This is certainly a tough economic market we’re currently situated in. I would be happy to look for positions for you, and to see what my network of connections might be able to offer you. I certainly hope things improve for you.

    2. Kevin, I am in the same boat as well. I defended/graduated my thesis nearly six months ago (from 2 first tier schools) and still unemployed. Applied a year in advance (before graduating) for several job positions (industry,government,academic) and nothing (with networking). Reason being due to either job outsourcing or significant federal budget cuts (DOD,DOE,NSF,etc). As a result, some professors retire early, and there is more competition for jobs in the U.S. (pharmaceutical, industry, etc). I also had worked with several research labs/companies prior to grad school, in addition to undergraduate work. I was told (by professors,graduate students) that getting into a first/second tier school would get you a job, provided you work for it (like give a talk, publish, and write a research proposal before hand). There is truth to what Antonio said earlier, “The piece directs laziness to those people who were..”. Back in 2007, most chemists in the organic division had at least three jobs lined up. Then in late 2008, chemists in our department were struggling to get just one. I am also at home, applied to grocery stores, pharmacies, shopping malls… I also have publication in a top journal. I was told I was “set” after publishing, whatever that meant. What gets me is, why is it that the media and politicians claim there is a shortage of scientists/PhDs??? And why do the media/politicians claim they need more STEM teachers (when many of them were layed off in my state). A PhD is not Enough! ( A book that is worth reading). I humbly pray that our economy improves, and people/graduates (not just phDs) find a stable job.

      some sources:
      http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/bigwideworld/2011/07/do-we-really-need-more-science-graduates.html

      http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110420/full/472276a.html

      http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/science/2011-03-02-scienceresearch02_CV_N.htm

      http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-07-07/national/35486154_1_research-jobs-life-sciences-scientists

      1. I very much appreciate your response. I hope things improve for you. You have done what you needed to do. The best thing you can do is continue to look for jobs/careers, market yourself, and present people with the opportunity of opening up a position to work with them. Hopefully, our economy will improve and this will make things better for all of us.

    3. Kevin, Any luck so far with the headhunters? I understand your point and currently in the same position; however, try innocentive.com for freelance research jobs. It could probably help your situation..

  13. I must concur. It is vital for you to secure a position in this economic trying time. Furthermore, it is a good idea to make sure you talk with your chair person of your dissertation, about other fellowships and other postdoctoral programs…, that will help you secure positions in your field of interest. Otherwise…., you will be on the food stamp line waiting for food stamps like every other person without a degree. a Mass among the masses of Lehman’s people….,And please do not wait for your state to take care of you with unemployment, it is a cluster “F”waiting to be helped …, and for those of you that are thinking about collecting disability, well here and again it is a cluster “F”waiting to happen. “The United States of America has so many problems with its financial instability of its; current sick or handicap or in need of people that you must be a state upon yourself to procure your own security. A student center professor
    “by Dr Bryan k Hickman, economics professor. 916-548-2113

    1. Very true, Dr. Hickman. One of my fundamental goals in writing this article was to motivate graduate students who are working on doctoral degrees to work hard while they are in school to present themselves with the best opportunities for success when they graduate. Thank you very much for your response.

  14. You’re a smug asshole. When was I supposed to be doing stuff outside of grad school when I was already spending 80+ hours a week on this shit. Fuck you.

    1. You’re a lying dummy! You were not devoting 80+ hours a week in graduate school to simply doing your coursework. If you needed to dedicate that much time to your studies, then you were not supposed to be in that degree program in the first place. You’ve proved your stupidity.

        1. Since I’m nearing the completion of two PhDs, I certainly know what I’m talking about. Your responses simply make excuses. You had time to network, go to conferences, publish, join professional and academic associations, and etc. All of those aforementioned things and more make people more marketable when they graduate. With the economy as it is, I very much understand how people can do all of those things and still not have a job. Just don’t make excuses for not maximizing your time when in graduate school. I do all of these aforementioned things, work in the athletic department, and teach at the university level. Don’t make excuses; make things happen! I, therefore, very much understand that graduate school is about much more than coursework.

  15. I agree with you to an extent, but I also believe that Universities are granting far too many PhDs than there are jobs and funding. Universities also focus so much on the 2% of the graduates that go into academia, that they forget about the rest of us. Luckily my University does a great job at career services and getting us prepared to apply to the non-academic sector (there is a difference between a CV and a resume, who knew!?). I also tell incoming students that they need to pay close attention to whose lab you conduct your PhD work in and to make sure your PI is well funded. It also matters if the PI allows their students to publish (does the PI only publish Science/Nature/Cell work? Or do they allow you to publish your work in other journals?). To me this is KEY!!! I’ve seen too many times hardworking scientist material students with out any papers because either their PI has no funding to fund quality research so they get no papers or their PI is so smug they refuse to publish anything less than a Nature paper so again they get no papers. My husband and I did our PhD work in very distinguished labs that were well funded and allowed us to publish our work and present at conferences. We both had tons of job offers throughout our last year. I had about 3-4 post-doc offers where the PIs approached me and asked me to work for them. My husband spent his entire 4th year interviewing for positions at large companies, and accepted a research leader position with a very well known company (of course it would have been stupid to pass up). Unfortunately there are no major Universities here, so I was without a post-doc because I didn’t want to be separated from my family. I’ve had numerous job offers where we live, but I felt like they were so far below me and they really weren’t career positions. It took perseverance but I was finally able snag a position in my field!! Everything is settling into place.

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