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Author Topic: How should PhD dropout list academic credentials?  (Read 13894 times)
luckychance
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« Reply #15 on: April 23, 2012, 9:41:03 PM »

I have plenty of successes on my resume, including since I left the PhD program several years ago. I'm not worried about that.  (And no, I'm not applying for teaching jobs. Sorry if that wasn't clear.)

I am interested in the idea that anyone who leaves a PhD program would automatically be seen as a failure, though. I actually know a number of PhD dropouts who became quite successful in fields like academic librarianship, publishing, high-end journalism, and science writing -- and some PhDs who are not successful at all, in terms of finding steady work that pays a decent wage in a place they want to live, or who no longer enjoy the field they got their PhD in. Seems odd that the former would be considered "failures" while the latter would not.  (Didn't Margaret Atwood drop out of her PhD program in literature at Harvard?  She's certainly not a failure.)  And isn't it the case that some people leave PhD programs for perfectly good reasons that don't have to do with academics?

It may well be that this is the wrong place to ask my question. However I did think perhaps that people other than those who are or who want to become professors might be on these boards. The CHE is for administrators, librarians, and staff too, after all. (But what do their resumes/CVs look like if they dropped out of their PhD programs??)

Anyway, I think, in the end, that listing the 2 master's degrees and leaving it at that is probably the best way to go for me. The program was long enough ago that it doesn't really make sense for me to belabor in the present what is actually history now. Posting here has helped me understand that.  If it comes up I can talk about the PhD work in the interview.  Thanks, everyone, for your responses.
Regardless of how you think of your experience, it should be clear from reading these replies that many people will interpret dropping out negatively. 
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dr_prephd
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« Reply #16 on: April 23, 2012, 10:08:10 PM »

You could go with:

BFA in Basketweaving, 1996, State College
MA in Basketweaving Technology 2000, State College
MA in Basket Theory, 2005, Fancy Pants University
   39 additional credits in doctoral-level Fiber Theory, 2000-2005, Fancy Pants University


Anyhow, you've gotten some good advice. As others have mentioned, there's no need to highlight it in a way that could potentially look negative to you. Look for ways to highlight it positively.
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mleok
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« Reply #17 on: April 24, 2012, 5:41:37 PM »

OP, dropping out of a Ph.D. is not an achievement, whereas earning a Ph.D. is. That is not to say that one's ultimate career success or failure is defined by the act of earning a Ph.D. or of dropping out of a Ph.D. program, but as I have said above, pointing out that you were admitted to a Ph.D. program with full funding, but then dropped out, probably isn't the best thing to do from the point of view of a job search. If you have had professional success since then, then it seems best to emphasize that instead.
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snowbound
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« Reply #18 on: April 24, 2012, 6:15:35 PM »

Really.  What possible advantage could there be to highlighting this???  "Dcbetty? Oh, she's the drop-out (or maybe pushed-out).  She couldn't handle the last thing she tried, so she probably can't handle this job.  Guess she was admitted because she looked good on paper, but obviously couldn't cut the mustard in person."  I'm sure this would be an unfair evaluation, but that's the impression your CV is inviting if you pointedly draw attention to your failed attempt at a PhD.  By all means list the additional coursework, as others have suggested, and don't like about anything, but the CV should be about your successes, not your failures.  Certainly your competitors's CVs will be.

DcBetty, my post, quote above, probably came across as way harsh, and I think you were responding at least in part to me.  All I, and others, are pointing out is how an employer may respond.  A CV and cover letter are all about highlighting the bright shiny side of yourself and all your wonderful achievements, not about drawing attention to something that (for whatever excellent reasons) you did not achieve.   

I'm sure you are not a failure in the broader sense!  Many PhD candidates decide, at some point, that this route is not for them, and go on to have very successful careers in non-academic jobs.  Far better to recognize that this is not the right career path for you and change course, than to limp through to completion with a not-very-good dissertation and no decent publications--which, in this job market would likely doom you to a lifetime of adjuncting or a very late start on an alternative career.  The reading, writing, analyzing, thinking skills you honed in your classes will serve you well no matter what you do.
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jerseyjay
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« Reply #19 on: April 24, 2012, 10:17:30 PM »

OP, dropping out of a Ph.D. is not an achievement, whereas earning a Ph.D. is.

I think that this is too categoric. Obviously, for some jobs, dropping out of a doctoral program is not a qualification but rather a disqualification. Many research and teaching jobs are like this. However, there is a certain "value added" aspect of spending time in a PhD program, even if to drop out later, including a broad engagement with the subject and familiarity with the literature and a sense of how academia works.

I can think of several jobs in which these are a definite plus, especially those that require interacting with people who do have doctorates and are engaged in research or teaching. Some of the best reference librarians, administrators, assistants, and publishing representatives were ABDs. They knew enough about academia to navigate it.

Part of trying to "pitch" this is to present it not that you decided to drop out of a PhD program, or that you couldn't finish. Rather, that you enjoyed your subject but decided that research was not for you. You did not drop out, that is, but rather changed directions.
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luckychance
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« Reply #20 on: April 25, 2012, 6:13:52 AM »

I think there would have to be more to the story than just deciding research wasn't for you in order for there to be value added - like simultaneously getting an outstanding non-academic full-time job offer.
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dcbetty
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« Reply #21 on: April 25, 2012, 10:58:33 AM »

I can think of several jobs in which these are a definite plus, especially those that require interacting with people who do have doctorates and are engaged in research or teaching. Some of the best reference librarians, administrators, assistants, and publishing representatives were ABDs. They knew enough about academia to navigate it.

Yes -- this is exactly the kind of job I am going for (and, in fact, have had since leaving the PhD). Depending on where you live, there are actually quite a few of them out there, in stimulating environments working with great people (often, as you say, ABDs, or else PhDs who chose not to become academics -- so you can continue to interact with colleagues on that level). I've also discovered that academic librarians and academic staffers are not infrequently writers, musicians, and artists in the other parts of their lives -- and these are also people I enjoy being around.

I guess I see the potential for a lot of value-added in leaving a PhD program now, or in not pursuing academic jobs. My PhD program was well worth it to get me to point where I can go for these other kinds of positions (plus I also love research, actually), and I don't regret the time spent in my program at all.  It's just that there is definitely the possibility for a very interesting and rewarding life outside that track -- and you have lots of good company.
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jerseyjay
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« Reply #22 on: April 25, 2012, 11:21:09 AM »

I think there would have to be more to the story than just deciding research wasn't for you in order for there to be value added - like simultaneously getting an outstanding non-academic full-time job offer.

I disagree.

There may well be "more to the story" as to why an individual does not finish a PhD. But the point is that spending the better part of a decade in a doctoral program gives one skills that one did not have before.  I would break these down into two types: subject specific and cultural.

Subject specific skills are derived from the fact that the point of a PhD is to make the student into a master of a professional guild. To not finish disqualifies one from being a master in that guild. But it might qualify one to work as a journeyman--for example, in a library, a technician, an administrator, a publisher, or a high school teacher.

The cultural aspects boil down to the fact that academia is a weird place. In six years, one learns much about how it works. Especially if one decides it is not for oneself, this places one in a valuable position for jobs that are both in but not in academia. There are several jobs I might hire an ABD to fill which I would not hire a PhD (or at least one without much non-academic experience.) 

Also, to reply to luckychance: given the really bad economy, today there are no jobs available in any field, and even being an adjunct professor often looks better than the alternatives. However, when I was in graduate school, it was relatively easily to get a much better job outside of academia than it was to get one inside academia. So one kept working in one's research because one liked it, not because there were no economic alternatives. It was quite easy to leave graduate school if one felt one was not made out for research.

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mleok
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« Reply #23 on: April 25, 2012, 6:05:05 PM »

The problem with being ABD is that is can correspond to a broad range of experience.

In particular, most departments will award the consolation Master's degree upon completion of the course requirements, qualifying examinations, and advancement to candidacy. In some cases, this is not clearly distinguished from a terminal Master's degree, but at the University of California, for example, it takes the form of the C.Phil.

An ABD could have dropped out immediately after being advanced to candidacy, all the way to unsuccessfully defending the dissertation, so again, I reiterate that dropping out of the Ph.D. program, in itself, does not constitute a well-defined achievement, beyond that which was already indicated by the awarding of the consolation Master's degree.

As many have suggested, it is okay to mention that the OP has had additional teaching experience, and doctoral coursework beyond what is expected for the Master's, but simply hanging around a Ph.D. program, and consuming resources, does not strike me as a qualification onto itself. If you acquired specific skills and experiences through the process, then by all means emphasize that in your non-academic resume.
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mleok
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« Reply #24 on: April 25, 2012, 6:08:51 PM »

There are several jobs I might hire an ABD to fill which I would not hire a PhD (or at least one without much non-academic experience.)

I think you're confusing the issue, since the academic status (ABD vs. PhD) of the applicant is not the deciding factor in your decision above, but rather the independent issue of non-academic experience.
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dr_prephd
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« Reply #25 on: April 29, 2012, 10:32:02 PM »

There are several jobs I might hire an ABD to fill which I would not hire a PhD (or at least one without much non-academic experience.)

I think you're confusing the issue, since the academic status (ABD vs. PhD) of the applicant is not the deciding factor in your decision above, but rather the independent issue of non-academic experience.

Not necessarily. Some are hesitant to hire PhDs who might "jump ship" quicker than ABDs. Whether that is true or not is less of an issue; the fact is that there are people who believe and act on that in hiring decisions.
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #26 on: April 29, 2012, 11:04:49 PM »

I think I agree with mleok here, but I wouldn't phrase things in quite the same way.  There is nothing wrong with listing your post-masters work (I like dr_phd's formulation above), but I would be cautious about framing this, either in your cover letter or your interview, as part of a full-ride PhD program, as it really will look to some as unrealized potential or squandered opportunity.  (Or - worse - that the committee that awarded you admission with the full ride made a mistake.) - DvF
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quantum
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« Reply #27 on: April 30, 2012, 12:13:38 AM »

I don't see how a job search committee would view an incomplete PhD as a bad thing, unless they were looking specifically for a PhD candidate.

In today's world, you can change a job in two years and not have it viewed negatively. You spent much longer than that in your PhD program, and it demonstrates tenacity and perseverance. I'd try to paint the work towards the PhD in terms of various skills learnt. There is so much one can take away from a PhD regardless of whether one reaches the end or not.
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hungry_ghost
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« Reply #28 on: April 30, 2012, 1:04:42 AM »

But the point is that spending the better part of a decade in a doctoral program gives one skills that one did not have before.

This. Your doctoral work is additional education and experience, and it is an asset. How you present this experience it depends on the job and the organization.

I've read figures suggesting that well over half the people who enter PhD programs don't finish. Leaving a PhD program is not a sign of being a failure, a quitter, or a loser, and I am surprised at how many people assume that it might be so perceived. (Obviously, no one is suggesting that dropping out is an achievement. It is the time spent in the program that is an asset.)

A PhD requires lengthy commitment of many years, and it is also a major financial commitment, since even if you are funded, you are not earning as much as you would in a fulltime job, and are certainly not building up savings. And there is no promise of a rewarding career at the end of those many years. People who leave PhD programs do so for the same range of reasons people leave jobs or even change careers: they decide they want to do something else with their lives. Some people leave for financial reasons. Sometimes they have family or other personal obligations that necessitate a "career change." Often, leaving a doctoral program is not quitting or failing out, but just a career change and no more. In most cases, the decision to leave a PhD program is a completely different sort of decision from dropping out of high school or even a 4-year college. High school and college require a much shorter time commitment and the majority of people who start manage to finish.

I think it is perfectly legitimate to list your doctoral coursework and any details that would be an asset to the particular position for which you're applying. Have a clear answer in case you are asked why you decided not to continue and be prepared to put a positive spin on it: you decided not to continue with the program for personal reasons, career reasons, financial reasons, because you had a better career opportunity elsewhere, etc. But yes, you are indeed better educated than someone with just master's degree, and you should put this on your resume.
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