08 October 2019

To PhD or Not to PhD?

By George Coe

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen ‘PhD preferred’, while recruiting for positions in R&D and product development. 

But with so many successful people in the life science industry without PhDs, is the talent market changing? And should hiring managers take notice?

To get some insight, I spoke with Mark Kokoris, a R&D leader and CEO of Stratos Genomics. Mark has managed to thrive in this space, building a diverse team of PhD ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.

When hiring, we agreed that it’s important to look at the bigger picture. It’s crucial to take note of how people communicate, their ego, work ethic and ability to collaborate. No matter how good a candidate looks on paper, there needs to be synergy between their personal qualities, the company culture and the role.

Anything that’s worth doing is going to be hard. That’s science. But there certainly isn’t just one route to success in life sciences.

Mark Kokoris, CEO of Stratos Genomics

This isn’t to say that PhDs aren’t impressive on a CV. That’s why only 3% of PhD graduates are unemployed after six months of graduating, according to an in-depth study.

PhDs set you apart from the competition. They prove that you can independently conduct thorough research projects and present to industry experts.

Some argue that becoming specialised with a PhD can limit your options, pigeon-holing you into a single area of research. Nonsense.

I see people with PhDs doing things completely different to their research. A PhD is all about the capability to learn. It’s not limiting at all. Mark and other leaders are always looking to hire people with this dedicated learning mindset.

You want somebody who is well rounded, who can interact at all levels. Someone who isn’t just an intellect.

Mark Kokoris, CEO of Stratos Genomics

On the flipside, PhDs cost $35,000 per year and 8.2 years to complete on average in the US. With the earning potential of a PhD and a masters graduate differing by just 3%, the return on investment isn’t there. While PhDs will get you on the life sciences ladder, climbing it is different. That’s down to what you do next.

Ultimately, a successful career in life sciences depends on a dedication to learning. A PhD is a fantastic platform for this and is likely to make you an attractive candidate for roles at any level.

However, more paths to the industry are emerging. Knowledge, skills and experience are being developed elsewhere as more innovative companies look to hire candidates straight from academia and internships increase.

Hiring mangers need to recognise this trend to ensure that they don’t miss out on a new generation of talent. 

Have you done a PhD but wish you hadn’t? Do you prefer to hire PhDs? This is a divisive topic; I’d love to hear both sides of argument. Please get in touch an tell me what you think. 

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By George Coe

George Coe works across genomics and cellular biology, partnering with companies and candidates who are at the very forefront of research today. He is fascinated by the way in which genomics is going to affect our everyday lives and the growing regulations surrounding the technology.

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