Should you consider an additional degree after the PhD?

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Should you consider an additional degree after the PhD?

Postby Dave Jensen » Tue Aug 01, 2017 12:25 pm

There's an interesting article in about this topic, and after reading it, I agree with some of the comments, but feel (as we often do) that there might be an easier way to accomplish the same thing.

The story (located at describes a number of people who have transitioned from postdocs or what looked like purely academic career options into new types of jobs because they went for certain degrees after their PhD. For example, tech transfer, patent law, or regulatory affairs. Some of these clearly require additional degrees -- Patent Law is an example. If you want to be an attorney, you need the law degree, no doubt about it! But you may find that you enjoy working with the technology of patents and becoming a Patent Agent does not require the law degree. So there ARE options that don't involve years of additional schooling.

Let me know what you think about this subject. Yes, it's possible to completely revamp your career options by adding other degrees. But often, it can be a certificate from an industry organization (like RAPS, for example, in regulatory affairs) or even just taking the first steps and having that evidence on your CV -- that can get your foot in the door as well. Which is why we've never recommended adding additional degrees as wholesale advice here on the Forum over the years. For some people, that's fine. For others, there are shorter and more direct routes to a job.

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Re: Should you consider an additional degree after the PhD?

Postby Nate W. » Tue Aug 01, 2017 10:06 pm

Dear Dave,

This is a timely topic for me because last week, I signed a contract as a scientific and patent analyst for a family owned venture capital firm. I said to myself while teaching as an adjunct if these guys will not listen to me in the patent or VC business, I will create it myself through shear hustle and determination. Because I know the life science quite well; better than the dummies that funded Theranos and the law firm that did their patent work. Well me and my big mouth, I was sitting next to a real estate entrepreneur who invested 1.6M in Theranos and an investment banker who works with medical devices at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. Then I followed up once I knew who they were with "those dummies should give me that 1.6M and I'll turn a profit." That's what eventually landed these gigs. They laughed at me and then actually realized I was a good scientist with a business acumen.

This lastest firm handles early stage technology in the life sciences. Also, I have a contract with a large investment bank that handles late stage technologies with revenues greater than 1.5 M. This required some soul searching because I really wanted to attend law school and had the resources. However, I wanted to gain experience in patent drafting while attending law school at night. The problem was the only way to accomplish this was to attend a law school in Boston, DC, or SF. I couldn't find a firm in DC that had enough life science work to hire an agent or technology specialist; let alone, willing to pay for law school. Plus, law school in those cities would have cost in the range of (with living expenses) about 140-300K. Maybe I could have gotten 1/2 off the tuition through a scholarship. Further, the USPTO has not expanded their biotech unit in the last three years and now there is a hiring freeze since Trump took office. Based on my contacts at the local patent office, the Myriad and Prometheus SCOTUS decisions have had a chilling effect on new patent applications in the life sciences. Plus, there is a significant push to improve the quality of patents granted and eliminate silly patents being granted; this has also slowed business in patent prosecution. It will be difficult to find life science work outside the hub cities; it does exist but firm head counts are full and it is quite competitive. So, I got my patent experience working with a monetization and litigation firm on several drug patents. Then I networked like crazy to find VC firm that would give me some experience. At first, I volunteered to help a financier who I knew through Rotary vet a technology he didn't understand but I did. With the late stage investment bank, I work as both an advisor and business broker. I found a biotech diagnostics company that need financing and wanted be acquired. So, the answer to your question is yes you can create your own breaks through experience. It is tough because biotech is esoteric compared to other industries in non-hub areas. However, it is difficult in the life sciences because there are so many talented candidates with multiple degrees. I wished academia would make it easier for PhD candidates to acquire multiple degree while in school depending on their goals. Most PIs and graduate schools are against this (because it takes away from lab time but only helps if you land a PI position not an alternative track position); I tried this by offering to pay for my degree(s) to get what I wanted career-wise and they said no.

One frustrating aspect of my search was just how myoptic some firms and hiring managers were about advanced degrees to the exclusion of solid experience; in their minds, the more degrees the better.

Personally, given that the majority of life science PhDs are going into alterative track careers. Graduate program should place less emphasis on the dissertation and high impact publications and more emphasis should be placed on the diversity of ones' education (given one's goals) as well as one's ability to apply what you have learned in different situations (critical thinking skills).

Volunteering at the technology transfer office or a private equity firm is a great way to gain business expertise and build your LinkedIn Rolodex. Join the Chamber of Commerce or Rotary for networking while in graduate school; forget what the PI says about this, it helps you get noticed or get connected. And if these guys in the local chapter (Chamber or Rotary) don't know, they will put you in touch with member chapters in hub cities!

PS: Schools have to get their tuition expenses under control. Or the biotech industry needs to change its views on the value of degrees; be more like the IT industry where experience and accomplishments are valued.

Let your new employer pay for a MBA. An MBA is easy to get and it can be done mostly online (or through weekend classes). If you go the clinical route, you are stuck (PharmD, DVM, Dentistry, MT, MD, MSN, PT) ; you have to go back to school for 2-4 years. Sadly, these programs don't give credit for classes taken in a PhD or MS program. These programs should change their policies on this. There is so much cross-over between these clinical degrees and what is taught in PhD programs; however, the clinical folks don't want to help the PhD graduate; if anything they try to exclude others and make it more difficult to obtain these degrees. Maybe the PhD programs should exclude aspiring doctors from the MD PhD programs.
Last edited by Nate W. on Wed Aug 02, 2017 1:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Should you consider an additional degree after the PhD?

Postby D.X. » Wed Aug 02, 2017 5:01 am

Hi Dave,

This is one of those it depends type question and the answer is unique to each individual's goals, readiness Status, finanical Situation, and personal stage.

As for me, I have questioned additional degee or certificate Training but have forgone that in General with the view that at least at the Point when I completed the PhD I was not sure where I wanted to invest at the risk that I may not like what I choose and Options available. I.e. my PhD experience all over again.

So I decided to explore and see what I could get with out additional, and at least at that time, non-focused, unsure Investment of time and Money.

As you know - i choose a Medical Science Liasion (MSL) role as my path and first industry role. This was a new Team on which all of us were new and started together nearly on the same day. On this Topic, a learning I found for myself was that looking at fellow MSL Team members, among the 7 of us, 3 had MD and MBA degrees. Looking at them, I viewed myself as an imposter newbie loser academic compared to These Folks with direct clinical and medical relevant experience (they were all licensed physcians with Patient experience) and had MBAs - but then I realized, this was thier first industry experience too...and thier path included investing in a MBA, yet here we were in the exact same Position - learning next to each other, doing the same Job -- we were Peers. So - at least that was my first experience that has solidfied my over all view and perhaps Validation that another degree is not needed, at least in my case at that particular Interface.

Now let me raise my Partner - also science lab rat at the time who had an opportunity to do a post-doc in a well renowned lab at a well renowned Cancer Research and Treatment Institute acceptance into MBA School. She had an interest in entering pharma but her decision at that Point was to invest in the MBA - so with a decision to invest in a new career rather than persue academic endeavors, the MBA School was taken. Make a Long Story short - over some period of years post her MBA and some steps - we ended up in nearly exact same roles (Global Medical Affairs), in the exact same Thereapetuic area, talking to the same KOLs, just different companies, she in a big pharma and me in a small pharma - it was funny we attended the same congresses yet stayed in different Hotels in the same City - it was like having an affair - one night her Hotel another one mine. Point is she took the MBA path, and yet ended up at my same endpoint. She does not look back negatively on the Investment at that time it was the right Thing for her and that's a key learning, sometimes on this particular Topic, you do what you think is right for yourself and well for her taking the MBA was right for her at that Age and stage.

Now upon completion of that MBA, it was no easy road - getting her first Job was still a challenge - she was a PhD no industry experience and MBA, no industry experience...well combined no industry experience was still a challenge. Networks with her alumni didn't really work at that time because, well, they were all in the same boat - MBA with no experience applying for Jobs. So eventually about 4 months into Job search she found something at a botique Consulting firm doing grunt work (drug pricing). Wasn't what she wanted but the door was now open and well..the experience was now there and well you know the end.

So here you have a Story of two People sharing the same bed, one took an additional degree, one didn't and we end up in the same spot. C'est la vie.

I'll touch on Nate's Point about some hiring Managers being myopic about having degrees over relevant experience, this does happen sadly.
And some may even be myopic over relevant experience too...sadly. For example one with a MBA may say you Need a MBA for a role where maybe you can debate if it is needed but the hiring Manager has that view. Or say in my spot, Marketing, one may say experience wise you Need a be a Sales Rep first, because they were a Sales it happens but not all are like that and certainly i would have have gotten my Position if my hiring Manager Held that view back in the day (a PhD with MBA).

I'm in a degree program now - paid by my Company - i did only only because the Company is paying for it but to be honest..i see no relevance to my career - so I still have my view.....and recommendation to the Forum:

See what you can do with your PhD or MS or BS or whatever first before committing to an another advanced degree - see if you like what you're doing first then take a decision should you see a degree is relevant.

you have a tail of two People here - so this is my experience, others can disagree or agree based on thiers.



Note to the edit;

Also wanted to add, based on my experiences as well, having an additional degree (i.e. MBA, or MPH) once you have experience and within a Job, is not a predictor of career advancement - at that Point the value of the degree has left the Station in-Terms of any edge and it boils down to experience. I have seen those with other degrees passed over for opportunity - once you're in the Job, career advancement is a function of your work-style, experience and subsequently your record of performance. So again those Folks with the added degree remain in the same competitive pool as me in my humble opinion.
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Re: Retained Recruiters with a MD or PhD

Postby Nate W. » Sat Aug 12, 2017 2:25 pm

I wanted to add a point to this tread. Because there are so many candidates with multiple degrees this often leads to degree creep. That's where an employer expects a higher level degree than what is normally (w/o any consideration of experience) or really needed. Yesterday, I saw this add for a senior research associate at a retained recruiting firm wanting the following:

• Post graduate degree in life science fields, Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent a plus
• 1 to 3 years’ experience in a research role preferably within an executive search, staffing or consulting firm.
• Worked in an environment and/or role where multiple projects and competing demands are standard.
• Exceptional computer skills specific to Outlook, Microsoft Word, Excel and Power Point, and also must be comfortable learning new technologies. Database experience a plus.
• Currently able to demonstrate Life Sciences knowledge, with insight and an informed view OR interested and curious to learn about the Life Sciences industry.

Personally, I think this employer is dreaming. How many MDs would actually consider this position? Could the firm afford a MD given their student debt and average compensation of $150K?

Plus, how many retained recruiters have a MD or PhD. Is this level of education needed this position and can't a BS level learn what is needed?

I know one with a PhD after many years in research. They are rare and is probably overkill.

If there wasn't surplus of advanced degrees glutting the market, do you really think this firm would actually expect this? I think they are trying to take advantage of the marketplace and these prospective candidates.

Can anyone justify the rational of the employer here?
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Re: Should you consider an additional degree after the PhD?

Postby Dave Jensen » Sat Aug 12, 2017 9:17 pm


The job of a research associate in a search firm is an important one. If you are working in life sciences jobs, you need to hire people who understand what they are looking for, and why. Just like a job in a Venture Capital company -- they want to attract the PhD to the VC firm, and it's the same way in the high-end search firm.

If you don't hire a person who knows WHY they are looking for a specific background, you end up with a research associate who is simply rattling off terms to people. I remember someone contacting me who was recruiting for a "PhD in Microbiology with 5+ years of experience with "E Collie fermentation experience" (and pronouncing it like the dog). That's what you DON'T want.

My company has an agreement with a contract search research organization, where 2 of the 5 people I contract with have PhDs. They are great. They have career satisfaction, as well, because they can move from the research role into a managing director role, which the BS person would have a much tougher time doing. At least, they'll get there faster.

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