Past the Prestige

Twenty-two years ago, Debra Banks, then director of career services at Chicago State University and a year shy of completing her doctoral course work, accepted an offer to work for First Chicago as a college recruiter. Today she is vice president and senior relocation counselor for Chicago-based Bank One (formerly First Chicago).

“The Ph.D. had no value in the bank at that time. A senior vice president suggested I take the number of hours I earned toward the degree off my resume, since it might be a distraction for [future] interviews and open me up to a lot of questions,” says Banks.

Aside from possibly being deemed as overqualified, Ph.D. graduates have been criticized by some in corporate America as being unable to effectively transfer theories into working strategies or work as a team.

“People who have been largely involved in the academic world all their life don’t really understand what it’s like to work in private industry or even a large not-for-profit and don’t have some of the skills [they need]” says Trudy Steinfeld, director, New York University Office of Career Services. “It is assumed that they don’t know how to transfer research and teaching into a job when many of the things they learned in the academic world are quite applicable to private industry.”

“[But] you can’t market yourself unless you know [these opportunities] exist,” she continues. “Someone with a food-related doctorate—in nutrition or food services—could work for a large consumer food corporation either doing research or strategic planning, or for a bank that’s investing in food-related companies, and become an expert in that market.”

A 2001 national study, At Cross Purposes: What the experiences of doctoral students reveal about doctoral education (, prepared for The Pew Charitable Trusts, found that no more than half of the 4,000-plus doctoral students in the arts and sciences surveyed at 27 universities will get tenure-track positions.

Nicholas Cohen, director of the graduate studies department of microbiology and immunology at the University of Rochester and co-author of The Ph.D. Process: A Student’s Guide to Graduate School in the Sciences (Oxford University Press; $18.95), sees the benefit of a Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences. “It’s a passport,” he says. A doctoral degree is instrumental in reaching certain levels of the industry and in federal laboratories like the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the Environmental Protection Agency.

“It’s necessary if you want to be a division director, the head of a program, or in a particular line of research. If you want any supervisory role, a Ph.D. helps,” says Cohen.

After five years of study, Patrick Morris, a 39-year-old doctoral candidate and a former assistant vice president and loan trader at a Fleet bank, can’t decide whether to pursue teaching or business interests. “I started out with the full intention of becoming a professor, but circumstances have changed a bit,” says Morris. Opportunities that have presented themselves include a startup business venture and real estate development.

Morris also notes that, post-Enron, some financial firms have