Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Ask Slashdot: Which Ph.D For Work In Applied Statistics / C.S.?

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the there's-a-spray-to-reduce-the-inflammation dept.

Education 173

New submitter soramimo writes "I'm currently a Ph.D student in Machine Learning and Biology at a pretty good European university. As my lab is moving to the U.S., I have the chance to get my Ph.D from an Ivy League university instead of the one in Europe (without much additional work, as I'm close to finishing). However, I would be getting a Ph.D in Biological Sciences rather than Computer Science. As I'm planning to work as an applied statistician / computer-scientist / analyst in the U.S. after graduating, I'm wondering which path to take. Is a Ph.D in Biological Sciences frowned upon by technology companies, or is it out-weighed by the Ivy League tag? How big of a role does the type of Ph.D play in the hiring process in the U.S., compared to what you actually did (thesis focus, publication record, software)?"

cancel ×


Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

biology degree... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38137978)

its a funny thing about "biology" degrees. I've seen them mean everything from cutting-edge molecular biology to wildlife biology. and everything in between.

Re:biology degree... (1, Insightful)

rwa2 (4391) | about 2 years ago | (#38140012)

Meh, you can say the same thing about engineering... could be anywhere from a train conductor or someone who controls the thermostat for a building to someone who sits at a desk and writes papers about splitting atoms in deep space and everything in between.

I think if subby can get their work accepted in the "Quantitative Biology" section of arXiv, they'll probably do all right.

Do you plan to work in the real world? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38137982)

In the world of business, what you did is much more important. Your experience and actual outputs are far more important then the kind of Ph.D you have.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138168)

Unfortunately, knowing the difference between than and then is not too important anymore. Fucking fags.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (5, Insightful)

nothousebroken (2481470) | about 2 years ago | (#38138256)

That might be true at the bachelor level, but at the PhD level people hire you for your specialized expertise based on your degree. For example, no brokerage house is going to hire a biology PhD to do statistical analysis research. They're going to hire someone with a PhD in math/statistics. It might be somewhat different if you are going to work for a pharmaceutical or other biology-related company. But in general, don't expect to get a degree in biology and then get job offers from companies looking for a PhD statistician. In fact, I would suggest that you view the corporate PhD hiring process as being quite similar to the faculty hiring process.

A PhD is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, employers immediately assume you are mature, intelligent, and highly-motivated. On the flip side, they are generally not willing to pay PhD salaries to someone outside their field of expertise. Put yourself in the employer's shoes. Why would an employer pay PhD rates for someone who doesn't have a PhD in the required discipline.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138698)

As someone who worked in High Finance, I can tell you that you are full of it. Most of the employees were science and liberal arts Ph.D's with very few of those degrees directly relating to what they were working on. My manager (I was doing fixed-income pricers) was a Chemical Engineering doctor, my partner on the project had a Ph.D. in english. There are other examples, but I'll stop there. All that matters is aptitude.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138770)

if all that matter is "aptitude" why did you all have a PhD? You could hire a genius out of high school in that case.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (5, Insightful)

idbedead (2196008) | about 2 years ago | (#38139346)

A Ph.D. like all degrees has very little to do with genius. It is a signifier of your ability to work independently for long periods of time (3-6 years), and adapt to changing circumstances. This is the kind of aptitude that employers in nearly any field look for. A high schooler, even a genius, remains unproven in that area. This is why many genius people don't get any degree's yet companies still like to hire Ph.D.'s (even though most of them are not genius).

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (2)

hrvatska (790627) | about 2 years ago | (#38139434)

if all that matter is "aptitude" why did you all have a PhD? You could hire a genius out of high school in that case.

How would companies identify HS geniuses? Grades? SAT scores? Dissertation? Oh, that's right, they don't have one of those. Generally speaking, aptitude + a PhD is a better indicator of ability and potential performance than aptitude + a HS diploma. A person with a PhD has a much longer and better documented track record on which to judge how well they would fit into a job and an organization. There's more to aptitude than being extremely bright.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (0)

gl4ss (559668) | about 2 years ago | (#38139970)

if all that matter is "aptitude" why did you all have a PhD? You could hire a genius out of high school in that case.

seeing how "high finance" has done for the past decade(or two).. I don't think even aptitude matters that much.

they all had a phd because their HR thought it means something and that they're off the hook then if they fuck up, after all they hired phd's.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (3, Insightful)

nothousebroken (2481470) | about 2 years ago | (#38139230)

Special cases are just that, special cases. Sure, there are lots of PhDs working outside their degree field. But the reality is that most employers hiring someone fresh out of school are going to too look at what that person did in school, both in terms of the degree field and the dissertation. Companies generally don't pay PhD salaries to new graduates for aptitude. They pay for somebody who is highly educated in the desired discipline and who can hit the ground running. If you don't believe that, just look at a bunch of PhD-level job postings. They don't say: Candidate should have an aptitude for, and ability to learn, statistical analysis". They say something more like: Candidate should have extensive experience in xxx analysis as applied to yyy systems. If someone is many years out of school and can show the requisite experience they might get the job. But even then they could easily lose out to someone with similar experience and PhD in the desired field.

So, yes you can switch fields. Lots of people do. But if you have a PhD in math, you can expect to have an uphill battle convincing people you have PhD-level expertise in biology. You're probably going to have to provide a lot more evidence than the guy with the PhD in biology.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (5, Insightful)

kubernet3s (1954672) | about 2 years ago | (#38139532)

I think what Anon was trying to say is that the PhD is not a vocational degree. It's actually sad how little people understand that. True, there are positions which require vocational experience, and employers will fill those positions banking on PhD applicants previous experience. However, the PhD is more than learning a set of specific skills: it is an experience which teaches a broad range of specific cognitive behaviors, many of which are extremely useful to many disciplines, not just the one on the degree. A PhD must by default be disciplined, skilled in problem solving, an excellent written communicator, and have modest experience giving presentations. STEM PhD's have to have experience with math up through linear algebra, possibly with partial differential equations, and often quite a bit more than that. They are able to think critically, organize projects, work in groups, solve problems, and moreover their degree now indicates that they have *expert level* capability in those skills. True, a pharmaceutical company isn't going to hire a philosophy major to fill a position requiring the experience of a PhD in biochemistry, but the facts are that industrial positions for specific PhD's are fairly few and far between: a lot of companies are just looking for PhD's in general. That would be the only explanation for Anon's English major friend, who I sincerely doubt was hired in the firm's "English department" before clawing his way over to financial analysis. That bloke was likely hired for his degree, and the aptitude it promises.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138888)

Your Ph.D. will be the name of the department you graduate from, but that says little about the work you do. I work in a Department of Anatomy, and some of our students do purely physics work using MRI technology to quantify signal intensities based on a chemical marker. Their Ph.D. will be in Anatomy, but their work will be in Applied Physics.

Your C.V. should show your entire career trajectory, not just a single line with some name of a department on it. In fact, many people simply omit the department name because it is unnecessary. When you apply for jobs, you will write several letters: a general cover letter, a letter introducing your research, a letter proposing future research potential. You will not be judged on the name of your Ph.D., you'll be judged based on how cogently you can write a letter.

In addition, your P.I. may get a primary appointment in one department, but he can also request secondary appointments to OTHER departments, say in Biostatistics, Neuroeconomics, Computational Statistics, etc.. This might benefit him as well, by giving him a stronger association with potential collaborators. One of our professors has 'dual-appointments' in four departments, including Anatomy, Electrical Engineering, and Chemistry, because their research reflects all of these disciplines.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38139012)

> That might be true at the bachelor level, but at the PhD level people hire you for your specialized expertise based on your degree.

Every PhD that I have ever seen just says "Doctor of Philosophy" on it. You can claim any specialization that you want afterwords. It wont matter if he was in a bio department if he studied stats. He just says his PhD was in statistics, and his thesis will back up that claim.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (2)

backwardMechanic (959818) | about 2 years ago | (#38139206)

The faculty hiring process (at least here in Europe) really doesn't care what subject is listed on your certificate, as long as you have the right experience. The title of your thesis is much more important. In fact, people who cross subject boundaries often earn a little extra respect - it helps you to bring new ideas from one field to another. My prof is famous for his work in biochemistry, but his degrees are all in physics. It hasn't hurt him at all. I do not know if this works outside of universities though, where there is likely to be less understanding of the details of your PhD. The hurdle, as ever, is to get past HR so you can speak to someone who actually knows something about the job you've applied for. Sadly, I suspect HR will dismiss anybody who has a PhD in anything other than stats, if that is the job title. I'm not sure CS has any advantage over biology in this case though.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (5, Insightful)

pigwiggle (882643) | about 2 years ago | (#38139234)

I second that - you are full of it. People are going to look at what a PhD did. I've personally seen brokerage houses recruiting out of computational labs at the University of Chicago. They were looking at people doing computer simulations of large biological systems, among other things. They wanted people with experience in statistical mechanics and and computer modelling. I had a former colleague with a PhD in Physical Chemistry go through the application process for a Quant position. His experience was that the prospective employers took his computational and mathematical aptitude on faith, given his schooling, and were only interested in asking question about what he had taught himself about economic and investment models.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (2)

idbedead (2196008) | about 2 years ago | (#38139250)

Yeah, as a Biology Ph.D. I have watched many of my friends go into finance and consulting and a number of other fields. No one gives a crap what your Ph.D. is in. They will look at your publication record (academic jobs) or just interview you to asses your specific skills/reasoning abilities.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (4, Informative)

ScottyLad (44798) | about 2 years ago | (#38140116)

Personally when I'm interviewing for staff (in the UK), I only look at what university they went to, not what they studied.

I'm not sure what other countries are like, but over here everyone under 30 years old has a degree, so the only interest I have in their university experience is whether they went to a "Red Brick" (Ivy league equivalent) or a "modern" university (re-branded technical college or polytechnic)

The fact you have a degree shows your ability to learn. What you learned in the past 4 years of University is of less interest to me compared to your potential to learn over the next 30 or 40 years of your career.

I personally value the fact someone even managed to get in to Oxford or Cambridge higher than someone else's 2:1 "degree" from some "university" I've never heard of in the North of England. Sadly this is what happens when governments devalue higher education with misguided targets such as 50% of the population must have a degree.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (4, Interesting)

winkydink (650484) | about 2 years ago | (#38139282)

I have hired five PhD's over the course of my career (maybe more, but five that I remember). All of the where hired based on what they did / what they could do and not on the basis of their theses. Granted my statistical sample is tiny, but there you go.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38139272)

In the world of business, who you know is much more important. Your friends and parents are far more important then the kind of Ph.D you have.

Re:Do you plan to work in the real world? (2)

Chapter80 (926879) | about 2 years ago | (#38140354)

Applied Statistics?

Can I assume that the results of this Slashdot "survey" will appear in your dissertation?

What you actually did is more important (5, Informative)

ClickOnThis (137803) | about 2 years ago | (#38138002)

Employers will care about what you did more than what your degree is named. There are lots people working in fields that don't correspond to the subject-name of their PhD degree.

Re:What you actually did is more important (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138196)

Exactly, the department isn't all that critical compared to the topic area. For your first job, the subject matter of your thesis may be important.

Once you have your first position, the topic area isn't even all that critical. The little title at the end is all that really matters.

Re:What you actually did is more important (1)

kubernet3s (1954672) | about 2 years ago | (#38139134)

For that matter, there are plenty of PhD students working in areas that don't correspond to their PhD expertise. Maybe it's different in computer science, but in the physical sciences the extreme specialization you pursue in your undergraduate research doesn't really transfer to the function you'll be serving afterwards (that function is, after all, is your advisor's job: you aren't being trained to usurp your advisor!). While they won't hire someone with no background in the area they're looking for (i.e., you should maybe know a little about circuits if you're building chips for Intel) they will certainly be flexible if can convince them you are capable of applying your knowledge to the correct area.

Re:What you actually did is more important (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#38140040)

I would caveat that - big business and government do have formal requirements for such things, and they sometimes DO get enforced even when they don't make sense. It could also affect your job classification (regardless of what actual work you do), which would affect your pay rate.

I agree it won't matter in most cases, but to be on the safe side, I would personally rather have the CS PhD.

Really? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138042)

Why would you think that a PhD in Biological Sciences would be closely related (or even related) to one in Computer Science? Really?

The intelligence of PhDs really are Piled Higher and Deeper.

Re:Really? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138142)

Maybe he is sequencing DNA.

There are a lot of Biological fields that generate huge amounts of data that needs to be analyzed.

Re:Really? (3, Interesting)

misosoup7 (1673306) | about 2 years ago | (#38138282)

Why would you think that a PhD in Biological Sciences would be closely related (or even related) to one in Computer Science? Really?

The intelligence of PhDs really are Piled Higher and Deeper.

Biological Sciences have a lot of need for Computer Sciences right now. Everything from Genetics to Molecular Biology spends on staggering amounts of Statistics and CS work. I have a few friends of mine working for the National Health Institute and at Medical Schools and they all need CS and Stats background. So there is a pretty deep connect between Biology and CS right now. So yes, there is a very close relationship.

Obviously, a software firm may ask you why you got a Biological Sciences Ph.D. as opposed to a CS one, and why you are qualified. You may also get filtered out if CS is not on your resume as well. So, if you do get the Ivy Ph.D. you'll have some work cut out for you on your resume to make sure you come off the right way on paper.

Also, if you end up working for a Bio Tech, then this argument is moot, they would take a Biologist any day of the week.

Re:Really? (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | about 2 years ago | (#38138472)

Protein folding requires all the CPUs in the world and then some more. So to get the most out of all those you'll need a decent understanding of network programming. A while ago on here I recall a problem of non Computer Science students writing awful programmes to do their work. so its a real problem
Biological student need high level programming and stat skills to be effective Biological Scientists in day to day life. So yes Biological Sciences needs Biological Sciences.

If you get a chance watch this []
Sir Tim Hunt gathered large amounts of data for his discovery of the mechanism of cell division. Sciences needs data - that data needs to be lifted. Programmers are lazy when you need to lift things and the best ones know how to lift the most with as little effort as possible. / getting my train - above not proofed - sorry.

Re:Really? (2)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about 2 years ago | (#38138616)

We have a bioinformatics PhD where I am, which is half biology, half CS. Maybe you didn't read the part where he mentions machine learning which is decidedly computer science.

The Lead systems guy on WoW (Greg "Ghostcrawler" street) is a PhD in marine biology, so it's clear you can move around easily enough. You can simply omit the Biology part and say "PhD from Ivy league school, thesis: Machine Learning for ....".

My PhD is decidedly CS, but it steals a lot of stuff from strategic studies and economics, so just by the title, it's not really possible to know which field is the 'core' area.

Re:Really? (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about 2 years ago | (#38140472)

You should add statistics to bioinformatics.

40% bio, 40% comp sci, 20% statistics that isn't highly overlapping with the generic needs of the other two fields.

Re:Really? (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about 2 years ago | (#38140440)

With (admittedly, only a BS, not Ph.D.) in both fields, I have to say...

Which field are you lacking knowledge in? Is it both? Given this is slashdot, I'm inclined to guess the biological sciences, but you never can be certain.

Put yourself in their shoes (5, Informative)

NeumannCons (798322) | about 2 years ago | (#38138078)

You're hiring a someone to be a computer scientist. Would you rather see them have a CS degree or a biology degree? Ivy League degree or Pretty Good European University? I think everyone is going to look at this differently. I know *I'd* rather see the CS degree. I wouldn't be overly impressed by Ivy League but I think a lot of others would be. I work in the the tech field along with people who have degrees in unusual areas (Dance?) but are technically top notch.

BTW, these days it seems a lot of resumes are searched for key words. If they're hiring a computer scientist - guess what keywords they're going to look for?

Re:Put yourself in their shoes (3, Insightful)

tixxit (1107127) | about 2 years ago | (#38138126)

Usually jobs at the PhD level don't get hundreds of applicants and the resumes can be looked at a bit more carefully. Moreover, if someone is posting a position requiring a graduate degree, they're probably interested in your thesis and research, not what your degree says.

Re:Put yourself in their shoes (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138244)

I've applied for many university faculty jobs (that require a Ph.D.) and they routinely had several hundred applicants.

Re:Put yourself in their shoes (1)

tixxit (1107127) | about 2 years ago | (#38139748)

Yeah, I'd imagine faculty jobs would. I was thinking of my experience in my previous job, where we were hiring PhDs to fill pretty specific slots. So, the job requirement wasn't PhD, papers, and lots of funding potential, but PhD with lots of research in this fairly specific area.

Re:Put yourself in their shoes (1)

bjorniac (836863) | about 2 years ago | (#38139412)

Last few jobs I've been involved with had around 400 applicants for a single place. Jobs at the PhD level are like gold dust at the moment.

Re:Put yourself in their shoes (1)

pr0fessor (1940368) | about 2 years ago | (#38138216)

Applied Music but I'm a sys admin and I am usually in charge of teaching the fresh out of college new hires what the five "w"s are. Since no one ever teaches them how to think they just throw facts at them.

Re:Put yourself in their shoes (2)

ClickOnThis (137803) | about 2 years ago | (#38138536)

You're hiring a someone to be a computer scientist. Would you rather see them have a CS degree or a biology degree? Ivy League degree or Pretty Good European University? I think everyone is going to look at this differently. I know *I'd* rather see the CS degree. I wouldn't be overly impressed by Ivy League but I think a lot of others would be. I work in the the tech field along with people who have degrees in unusual areas (Dance?) but are technically top notch.

BTW, these days it seems a lot of resumes are searched for key words. If they're hiring a computer scientist - guess what keywords they're going to look for?

I think a good way to put yourself in the employer's shoes is to look at the requirements stated in job postings. If the software job calls for hard-core CS work, you might see "PhD in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering or related field or experience" [emphasis mine.] For software jobs that involve a heavy scientific component (e.g., biology) you might see "PhD in Biology or Bioinformatics preferred; PhD in Chemistry, Mathematics or Computer Science acceptable; biology experience a plus." And so on. The point is that employers describe an ideal candidate in a posting. Yes, they do search for keywords, but in the end they're going to hire someone who they think can do the job, not someone with the ideal subject-name for their PhD.

for sys admin look out side college. look at tech (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138828)

for sys admin look out side college. look at tech schools / and do apprenticeship.

CS does not give the skills for hands on work it's all about high level theory.

A few suggestions (4, Informative)

codeAlDente (1643257) | about 2 years ago | (#38138108)

Bio-informatics is a good place to be an applied statistician. There are also good opportunities in neuroscience, especially if you want (or are willing to) do experiments. Some of the data analysis and acquisition code is pretty sophisticated, and a grad student from my last lab got a good CS job by doing that. Further, any lab that uses super-resolution or EM microscopy is a good place to look. If you tell me which school, I can perhaps give you a few names.

Re:A few suggestions (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about 2 years ago | (#38138192)

From experience with the bioinformatics field...

not just sophisticated, but pretty damn fun too, once you get past the bits of manual labor involved. Or in my case, automate the hell out of many of them. I was such a lazy bastard, I automated everything I could when I worked in the group I worked in, and got done faster than most others.

Re:A few suggestions (1)

pmgarvey (2497652) | about 2 years ago | (#38138668)

Re:A few suggestions (1)

unkiereamus (1061340) | about 2 years ago | (#38139390)

Actually, I think you'll find [] is the correct OXKCD

Re:A few suggestions (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about 2 years ago | (#38139486)

LOL, nice, though mine did end up save time, usually after 2-3 data sets. And that was writing in the clusterfuck known as perl.

Re:A few suggestions (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#38139600)

I was such a lazy bastard, I automated everything I could when I worked in the group I worked in, and got done faster than most others.

You're hired. ;-)

OK, so I don't actually have a job to offer you in bioinformatics (or any job, really) ... but on a recent project we took the opportunity to automate anything that allowed for it.

Automating reduces manual errors, cuts down on human time, and means you have more consistently reproduceable outcomes. It also means you've thought about the long-term and realized that if it was tedious and error-prone the first time, scripting it would yield better results.

I guess we probably saved hundreds of man-hours by automating some of our steps that would have had one or more techies plodding through some repetitive steps. And, I'm really not kidding about the amount of time we saved.

When I told my manager it was out of mostly being too lazy/unwilling to do that over and over again he more or less said "I'll take that kind of lazy any day of the week" ... most of these have become standard process now, since there's just no damned good reason to do it otherwise.

Re:A few suggestions (1)

codeAlDente (1643257) | about 2 years ago | (#38138198)

Looks like I misunderstood the question - you're probably staying in the same lab, in which case the department name on your degree will not matter at all. Only your skill set.

how about your Masters degree? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138112)

Is it CS?
I would think a CS masters degree + ivy league PhD in a related field (Machine Learning), even tagged as Biology should get your foot in the door for most software engineering gigs?
But it depends on what gig you expect? Are you thinking 6 figures out of the starting blocks? Manager? ppl under you?

Ask someone in the field (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138114)

Do you want a good answer? Find someone who has the job you want to get after you graduate. Then, ask that person's boss what job qualifications he or she is looking for.

Do you want a stupid answer? Ask slashdot.

Many things to consider (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about 2 years ago | (#38138154)

Biological sciences (as you are probably well aware) involves a LOT of statistics, and a LOT of computer work. Ironically, in my experience, it is also heavily populated by computer-phobes.

Would it be possible to add a statistical or computational focus to your Ph.D so it is mentioned on it?

Then biology would probably not be a bad idea. One of the things many friends of mine noticed in undergrad, that people in the hard sciences were doing better at getting many CS jobs than people with CS degrees. You can teach any monkey to program, and it doesn't take much more work to give them an idea of how to look at things to make them more efficient/clever. However, the logic an analytical abilities that are more heavily focused upon in math and science degrees are much harder to teach or test for in the training or hiring periods.

Mind you, that is from the undergrad level, the Ph.D. level could be very different.

Another thing to look at, is what do you want to do, where do you want to work, once you get your degree? If it is biologically focused statistics and applied computer science, then a biology degree may actually be pretty good. Is the degree in a specific subset of biology? In particular, I know genetics can end up doing a LOT with statistics and computer science, and in particular, for a good combination of the three, would Bioinformatics or Biomedical Inforamtics be an option?

And of course, as many have mentioned, what you have done often means more than the exact degree - will your disseration/thesis be any different? Will the papers you get first author on, along the way, be any different? In these cases, which do you think will look better for your prospective employers.

A Ph.D is only a foot in the door (2, Informative)

Matt_Bennett (79107) | about 2 years ago | (#38138184)

In my experience, the employers that really want Ph.Ds are educational and research institutions, and the odd technology company that wants to have some additional buzzwords to put on slides. It doesn't really add much for a technology company, unless your area of study is very specific to their business area. I'm kinda scared of any place that would do hiring based upon a degree or where it came from rather than what the person can actually do.

Re:A Ph.D is only a foot in the door (5, Insightful)

Diss Champ (934796) | about 2 years ago | (#38138522)

My employer historically has hired lots of PhDs; we design mixed signal chips. My own PhD has basically nothing to do with my job, but the sort of person who can make it through the PhD process in a hard (science or engineering) field has tended to do well here. That high % of PhD folks is changing a bit as we have been growing way too fast lately to not hire a larger % of MS, but when your bread and butter is to do chips that are "hard" enough to get decent margins rather than being commodity priced the ability to go figure things out that everyone doesn't already know is quite useful. Actually FINISHING the PhD is a lot better predictor than STARTING a PhD BTW.

Really? (0)

datavirtue (1104259) | about 2 years ago | (#38138206)

Anyone tired of these tired Ph. D. posts yet? Unbelievably boring and lame. I guess several of the editors are "working on their Ph D's."

I went to school for art (1)

shadowrat (1069614) | about 2 years ago | (#38138220)

Art! Other than my first job out of school, i've worked as a software engineer. I've been in several interviews where i've expressed a feeling of inadequacy because my education is not in comp sci. 100% of the time, that is pish-poshed away by the interviewer. If you can prove you are analytical and smart, nobody is going to look down on a PhD in biology. I'd even go so far as to say many american companies love a candidate who is multidimensional.

Re:I went to school for art (4, Interesting)

rk (6314) | about 2 years ago | (#38138986)

Some of the finest people I've worked with in software have degrees distantly related to computer science, math, or software engineering. Music, religion, "interdisciplinary studies", and an accounting dropout are included in that mix. They are right to pish-posh it away. Actually, as an art person, you wouldn't happen to live near Phoenix, know Java well, and be interested in working on GIS applications for remote sensing, would you? We have a good product that probably could use a techie with an art background to improve its UI.

Are you sure you have a choice? (4, Informative)

vossman77 (300689) | about 2 years ago | (#38138234)

In my experience when the lab moves the students either (1) get a degree from old university or (2) apply to new university and go through the qualification process over. I would check again, before assuming it is your decision. I even know a case, where a 3rd year grad student at Yale was turned down acceptance into Berkeley grad school

Re:Are you sure you have a choice? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138682)

I applied to a software company in the Netherlands. They replied that non-European hires would have to be a for a research position, which requires a Phd.

In order: (1)

ocean_soul (1019086) | about 2 years ago | (#38138236)

(Applied) mathematics, physics, theoretical computer science (and yes, I have experience because I have a PhD in one of this fields).

Every PhD is unique, that's the point! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138242)

One of the requirements of a PhD is that it makes a unique, novel contribution to human knowledge. Therefore no 2 PhDs are alike and therefore the skills you learn during your PhD will depend upon what you specifically did. Any employer who knows anything about PhDs should understand that any two PhD students from a given discipline may have very different skills and will hopefully dig down a little deeper to find out what your skills really are.

For example, I did my PhD in Computer Science but looking at Biologically Inspired Robotics. In this I gained a lot of practical robotics experience and some theoretical biology. A friend of mine did a PhD in the same department at the same time in computer vision, his skills are in mathematics for handling high dimensional spaces and optimising graphics algorithms to run faster.

Also today many PhDs are cross discipline, so it might not be unusual to find a biology student who needs to learn computer programming (and increasingly complex levels of programming) and applied statistics.

Market Your Skills Appropriately (3, Insightful)

Frightened_Turtle (592418) | about 2 years ago | (#38138260)

Most of the Biopharmaceutical companies in the Boston area are going to look at your Ph.D. to determine whether it is relevant to the work they do. But it won't be the only thing they look for.

Many biopharms are leaning very heavily on computer simulations to model various molecules they are pursuing as potential drug candidates. Having a an advanced degree in biology and the ability to prove strong computer skills might open vastly more doors for you than just having a Ph.D. in a relevant field. Having a programmer who can also intimately understand what the scientists are trying to accomplish is desperately needed by many companies.

But don't sell yourself as a programmer with a doctorate in biology. Rather, sell yourself as a biology doctorate with advanced computer skills. If they think you are a programmer, they'll treat--and pay--you like one. Sadly, there are still WAY too many CEOs (and CIOs, CFOs, and COOs) who are still under the 1980's notion that "high school kids could do this work," and treat computer engineers like they are unskilled labor. As a "respected scientist" you'll be treated far more appropriately by management/business types.

Re:Market Your Skills Appropriately (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38140154)

I saw something like this at one Biotech company I consulted with. The research lab had tons of funding... it would routinely use "arrays" (scientific ones and not data structures) that costs thousands of dollars each and were discarded afterwards. Millions of dollars flowed through that lab and there was only a handful of people in it.

The development group on the other hand that produced systems to help track all this information was one of the most unhappy, underfunded, and overworked group I've met. Most people lasted one year tops. I felt sorry for them and decided that this industry has a long ways to go before it's attractive to programmers.

The field is often irrelevant. (1)

ElmoGonzo (627753) | about 2 years ago | (#38138290)

If you intend to go into research, the area of concentration for your dissertation may be important but if you're looking for a job, it may not be. When I was in grad school in Anthropology, one of my fellow students ended up working for Chase Econometrics developing multi-variate statistical models.

Get the Ivy League degree (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138330)

Get the Ivy League degree. The difference in salary over your lifetime will offset whatever challenges you face in the placement/interview process. After you've worked at a couple places, your experience far outweighs the type of your degree.

Obvious Answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138332)

Being a computer programmer in the US simply does not pay well. Your super skills are not acknowledged by MBAs or the general public at large. Use your PhD for what it was meant for, to become a doctor, save lives, and get paid the big bucks.

Re:Obvious Answer (1)

certain death (947081) | about 2 years ago | (#38138800)

So...with that logic, if you have a Ph.D. in Fish Hatcheries, you would save people's lives using Fish Mating?

Re:Obvious Answer (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38139692)

Being a computer programmer in the US simply does not pay well. Your super skills are not acknowledged by MBAs or the general public at large. Use your PhD for what it was meant for, to become a doctor, save lives, and get paid the big bucks.

I have an MBA from Duke. That's not acknowledged in any compensatory way, nor reflected in my rank. It was an unbelievable waste of time and money. But people constantly say, "Would you like to be an entry level Java programmer?"

No, the MBA isn't what you're thinking it is.

Reform the PhD system or close it down (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38138408)

Depends on what you want to do (1)

guruevi (827432) | about 2 years ago | (#38138424)

If you want to do research/find a job in the biocomputing field (such as programming clusters or designing data analysis) either will work very well. PhD's in business, I don't know, not really a good idea as you'd be overqualified and the perception would be not practical enough to work outside of academia or the (again) medical/biology fields.

If possible, get your degree from both places. If you're in a 'pretty good' EU University (such as Geneva, Italy, Paris or other well-known institutions) I wouldn't bother with Ivy League who have been getting a bad rep among the hiring personnel in other institutions in the last few years among other things the 'rich snob' syndrome, the quality has gone down in general and the expected salary being much higher. It also doesn't look good on your resume if you transferred at the end just to get a title from an Ivy League. EU schools are much higher regarded in the US.

Disclaimer: I work at a very well-regarded educational institution in the US.

The intuitive approach... (1)

ThorGod (456163) | about 2 years ago | (#38138438)

If you went-in working toward a PhD in CS/applied statistics...shouldn't you finish with a PhD in CS/applied statistics? There would need to be a compelling reason to make a drastic change at the last possible second.

(Of course, if the program you'd graduate under is closing...then the quality of it's name is uncertain. That might decide the matter in itself.)

In industry, what you actually did probably matters more.
It's the same thing in academia, only names of universities and where you've been published matter more than in industry. If your CV shows all tier 1 publications, that's helpful. If your degree's from a tier 1 university then you could teach at a tier 1 university. (speaking in gross generals)

It depends who you know and where you're applying (1)

Flavio (12072) | about 2 years ago | (#38138444)

1) Is a Ph.D in Biological Sciences frowned upon by technology companies, or is it out-weighed by the Ivy League tag?

If you're applying for a job at a company where you don't know anyone, your CV will end up in the hands on an HR person. I'm not in your field, but I think there's a considerable chance this person won't be able to see how a PhD in biological sciences connects to a CS/applied math job. The Ivy League tag will (on average) give you an edge, I suspect that to the uninformed eye, it might still look like you're applying for a job out of your field. Note that this doesn't make things impossible. They just make things more complicated, and you'll have to do some explaining on your cover letter.

If you use your connections to refer you to a hiring manager, then you'll skip HR and things will be easier in every respect. This is what you should always try to do, even if you get a PhD in CS.

2) How big of a role does the type of Ph.D play in the hiring process in the U.S., compared to what you actually did (thesis focus, publication record, software)?"

For a pure research position, your publication record is what matters (and people publish more in the US than in Europe). For an industry job, your work experience weighs in and people want to know what you can do (your publication record is important to show you can produce innovative ideas, but the industry generally requires a strong component of practical, hands-on experience).

Technology companies need a variety of knowledge (3, Informative)

burnin1965 (535071) | about 2 years ago | (#38138464)

From my experience in semiconductor manufacturing, technology companies frequently hire individuals with degrees and areas of research that deviate from the core function of the business. Be prepared to discuss the details of your research and work while pursuing your degree and you will do fine.

Many of the skills utilized in your education are common across job fields and in some cases they are not utilized as often as they should in the work place. Some examples include...

- The scientific process itself. A sound decision process is key to problem solving within technology businesses and all too often mistakes are made by "gut feeling" or "common sense" decisions that are followed far too quickly without proper critical thinking.

- Understanding statistical significance and proper reading or presentation of statistical data. This is a hugely critical field to technology companies and at the same time a massive weak point in U.S. businesses. In my opinion there should be some basic statistics courses in K-12 education.

- Working in groups. U.S. corporations spend millions in consultant and training fees trying to instil some group working skills into employees but from what I have seen it is very difficult, and in some cases impossible, to teach people to set aside their individualistic wild west cowboy mentality.

- Communication and presentation skills. Meetings are frowned upon, partly due to the lack of group work skills, yet they are also necessary. You will quickly lose an audience that already doesn't want to be there so you need good communication skills to both keep the attention of individuals but also to transfer the information and knowledge effectively.

There are many more, of course, but these are just a few that come to mind.

what you do (2)

cthlptlk (210435) | about 2 years ago | (#38138602)

Bioinformatics seems to have an especially even spread of people over the continuum from comp sci to biology, so (from what I have seen) readers of C.V.s tend to focus on work and publications to figure out where you fall.

I would stick with the degree that is at the heart (1)

spads (1095039) | about 2 years ago | (#38138718)

of your invested work and interests. Similar to the above, I don't think the type of degree would matter much in industry, though it might matter a great deal in academia (ie. for teaching). (At least at the junior college level. (Private) universities might have more leeway in this area. I'm not familiar with that.)

If it was me, I would not look so much at the degree as simply a credential for gaining admittance somewhere. I would look at it as documentation of my core intellectual values.

Having / Getting a Ph.D. (1)

certain death (947081) | about 2 years ago | (#38138752)

I don't quite understand this - When I was a youngun', not that long ago, I swear, Getting a Ph.D. was a terminal degree in a subject that you had spent enough time learning about and researching that you had purely mastered the subject of said Ph.D. Now a days, I guess it just says "HEY, I CAN HAZ DR!!!11". The purpose of getting that deep into a subject is because you want to be a master of that field and a thought leader when it comes to the subject matter, not so you can get a job working on PCs!~ Jeezus H. Christ on a popcycle stick! Why would anyone work that damn hard and then _NOT_ work in the field?

Re:Having / Getting a Ph.D. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38140166)

I think it highlights the amount of progress we've made in science and technology. Complex systems require even more complex skillsets. We build such intensly complicated systems that need scientists and technology experts. And in some cases, the task is so complex you need someone that is capable of understanding multiple complicated concepts to manage a team putting a project together.

Think about the legal battles between compainies like Samsung and Apple...I'm willing to bet they have a small army of lawyers with a heavy background in engineering. Try arguing the merits of an antenna patent with an attorney specializing in real estate law.

easy answer (3, Informative)

Khashishi (775369) | about 2 years ago | (#38138872)

Biological Science. Any scientist these days is going to have to be proficient with computers and analyzing data. In fact, you'll probably be doing much more statistics and number crunching in biological science than in PhD level computer science, which tends to be in some theoretical study less focused on crunching of numbers. And biologist just commands respect. There's just no similar honorary title for computer scientist, and although PhD is different, it's hard to not associate CS with a factory-like undergraduate program, churning out low-skilled CS majors.

Re:easy answer FTFY (1)

hyperfl0w (2429120) | about 2 years ago | (#38139362)

"Any scientist these days is going to have to be proficient with computers and analyzing data" IAMA phd bioinformatics person with a CS background and love for math. The biological problems are increasingly requiring graduate level math and computer science training, for example gene network analysis, biological structure and binding prediction, and bayesian analyses, to name a few. While the biology is obviously not simple, it can be more easily learned as "on the fly" (though this is still very difficult). Why? Because biology is more QUALITATIVE and computer science/math is more QUANTITATIVE. FWIW, 1 opinion + 1 more = 1.

Focus on machine learning (1)

anandrajan (86137) | about 2 years ago | (#38138982)

If your real field is machine learning, it won't matter if the dept. is Biology or CS as long as you publish in machine learning conferences and journals (NIPS, ICML, Neural Computation, JMLR). When you're done, you should be able to get a postdoc/faculty/research lab position strictly based on your machine learning credentials because this is a hot area right now. OTOH, if you didn't actually work in machine learning but instead applied machine learning ideas in biology, then it is possible that you'll only get a job within biology. If this is the case and you want to switch to more standard CS/CE, do a postdoc for a year or two in the field of your choice.

It depends on who you work for! (1)

methano (519830) | about 2 years ago | (#38139000)

If you get a PhD, early in your career the most important thing is who you worked for in graduate school. If the people who will be hiring you know who your boss is and know about his work (and like it), you'll do much better. If you work for a nobody or you're trying to get a job a bit outside of the field that your thesis adviser works in, my guess is that the closer your degree sounds like the job, the better. You might try a post-doc to fix that while the job market sucks.

And, if they don't know anything, then the better the school, the better your chances. Unless the people hiring you are the kind of people who don't trust Ivy League graduates for whatever reason. There seem to be more of those people around these days.

Doesn't matter (1)

asher09 (1684758) | about 2 years ago | (#38139020)

It doesn't matter whether your PhD certificate says Biology or Computer Science. The only things that people will care when they hire you after your PhD are your references, experience, skill set, and publications. I got my PhD from Scripps Inst. Oceanography and so my PhD paper says Oceanography, but for my PhD I worked on organic synthesis of naturally occurring medicinal compounds from the ocean. So I don't know anything about Oceanography. I'm an organic chemist. So I was hired as an organic chemist at another university.

you are defined by your projects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38139136)

I have a PhD in Computer Science. I did a postdoc in Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins. I can tell you that you will be defined by your publication record and not your degree.

IT Jobs (1)

Botia (855350) | about 2 years ago | (#38139160)

As a hiring manager for software development, I typically have a need and am looking for a person who can fill that need. The schooling is less important than three things: 1) How quick do you learn / how intelligent are you? 2) How well do you already know the skills? 3) How well do you fit inpersonality wise with the existing culture?

"Almost finished?" (1)

kubernet3s (1954672) | about 2 years ago | (#38139200)

In my experience it's pretty difficult to get a degree from a new university if you're "almost finished" even if your lab is moving. Usually, what happens is the new institution will allow you to complete your studies, but you will still receive a degree from your home institution, unless of course you have some preexisting arrangement between the two schools Additionally, what is the difficulty in receiving a computer science degree? I understand most ivy league schools would be expected to have a comp. sci. department.

Re:"Almost finished?" (1)

kubernet3s (1954672) | about 2 years ago | (#38139244)

Oh and yeah: Ivy League tag means nothing for a PhD unless the program is well known, like chemistry or physics at Berkeley, or computer science at UIUC. Your adviser will be a much more important name than your school.

PhDs less important in the USA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38139290)

My gut feeling (and I'm an AC with no references whatsoever, so keep that in mind) is that a PhD of any kind is much less important, in the business world, in the USA than in Europe.

In the USA, a PhD is almost exclusively valued only in research-oriented positions. That means academia and those few companies (eg. pharmaceuticals) that have big-time R&D operations. In your case, a PhD would be a big advantage in any sort of bioinformatics company, or at Microsoft Research or Google Research. But the less specialized and more mainstream the work, the less valuable a PhD is. You'd be considered overqualified and possibly overspecialized, and probably to expensive to hire versus someone with a masters in the same field.

In Europe, especially in (for example) Germany, a PhD is always a plus, even when the position is not research-related. Even executives consider it to be a major feather in their cap long after they've ceased to be involved in any research or technical work.

Please note that these are huge, huge generalizations, and there are exceptions to everything.

My 2 cents (1)

M0j0_j0j0 (1250800) | about 2 years ago | (#38139420)

When you are good, you see the profit, if not you can always go for a MBA.

You should read this (1)

afabbro (33948) | about 2 years ago | (#38139610)

Just so you're fully informed:

Biology-specific [] General []

In short, the advice from grad students is, "if there is anything else in life that you would be happy doing, do that instead of getting a PhD."

Schools (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38139642)

I have a degree from Berkeley and I know that has opened a few doors. I think the school name counts for a lot and gives you an opportunity to explain yourself. Then again my degree is in my field, so what do I know. ~Ben

Why are you asking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38139686)

You are going for your PhD in Machine Learning. You have the tenacity and ability to research, dissect and analyze the most minutia of details about a subject to generate some sort of inference. What does your research indicate you should do? All you are going to get here is biased group think. If you base a career decision on the comments posted here I would sincerely question the intelligence of both you and your adviser in granting you the sheepskin.

Hurm.... Maybe you are a Touring Machine posing as a grad student...

Depends on the department (1)

JimThePravoNut (1472925) | about 2 years ago | (#38139712)

I have a PhD in statistics from the University of Minnesota, and I also have read extensively on machine learning since the degree and have used that learning on the job. Statistics programs vary widely in their emphasis, so the answer to your question comes down to exactly what direction you want to go into. Loosely speaking, the main statistics directions I see (in the health area) are clinical statistics, industrial statistics (including optimal experimental design), and machine learning. There are some who do two or more of these well, but most statisticians do well at one. A machine-learning expert is not necessarily an excellent applied statistician, and vice versa. You need to think about what exactly you want to do and then find a department (statistics or c.s.) that best achieves it. One thing to ask yourself: do you want to fit models and analyze data after it's collected, or do you want to be an interactive contributor to the design of the data collection and the evolution of a project? The former is more in line with machine learning, the latter with applied statistics (traditionally understood). They require different skills. Nothing says you can't do both, but most statisticians and machine-learning people I know don't. General advice: pick a program that will cover decision theory. This provides a valuable perspective that is often missing. It's possible to have an interesting type of model but miss out on how best to evaluate it or make predictions with it. At that point you're in the world of clever ad-hockery. Also, check out Hastie and Tibshirani's _The Elements of Statistical Learning_.

Mathematical Biology or Biostatistics (1)

Yoik (955095) | about 2 years ago | (#38139750)

I expect that you will find a PhD program at an Ivy league school to be incompatible with your current job unless the head of your lab was hired by the department with your intended degree. Unless a lot has changed, those programs are more about apprenticeship than education. They are full time jobs in themselves, and you pay tuition on top of that. Grants, scholarships, and loans may make it possible if you are good enough and were not born into the 1%.

That said, Mathematical Biology or Biostatistics departments might be your best choice. They are likely to have people that can teach you something without looking down on you too much for your history. In the dark ages, I worked for Dr. Carol Newton, in Chicago, trying to teach programming to biologists. Talk about teaching pigs to sing, the thought modes were completely incompatible. Musicians make much better programmers.

Recently, the big money in statistics was going to physicists as Wall Street tried to use statistical models. Those PhDs unfortunately don't include a lot of the practical knowledge a statistician needs when the assumptions are uncertain. The results may have made for some good openings for biostatistics folks.

PhD degree is a waste of time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38139820)

Google (the company with the highest percentage of PhDs have realized that an this is why they created "Summer of Code" - to hire extremely smart coders before they have been corrupted by the school system.
In our company we had the misfortune of hiring a CS PhD with 10+ years of experience leading the performance lab at HP. Three months later we decided that PhD is enough to disqualify a candidate.
What degrees do Jobs, Gates and Zuckerberg hold?

Re:PhD degree is a waste of time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38139854)

you're dumb and HP is a garbage company anyway...

We are the Borg! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38139982)

Suggested Resume Headline for your next job: "We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your jobs. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your company will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile"

Which PhD for Applied Statistics? (3, Funny)

Smallpond (221300) | about 2 years ago | (#38140238)

Just choose one at random.

Applied Mathematics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38140286)

I always thought the Applied Mathematics programs at UWO looked very interesting. Seems to bring together many facets of science such as biology and physics and combine them with computer science.

Hiring Scientists for Financial Services (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38140364)

I have been actively hiring PhDs to do analytics work for financial services for the last two years. We primarily use machine learning techniques to develop risk management tools. We prefer the applicants to have a PhD, although industry experience can make up for the lack. In general, however, we do not specify that the PhD come from a specific field. Indeed, we have a bio-informatics PhD in our group, and we have interviewed several others. I myself come from a physics background, and others came from engineering, cognitive science, etc. We like to interview candidates who have experience in machine learning or computer science, but even those without such experience are considered if they have shown strong analytical skills during the course of their research.

Asking in the wrong place - epic fail. (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 2 years ago | (#38140376)

You should be asking in Academia circles, not slashdot.

Your Ph.D will be worth exactly dick the instant you get your first job afterwords. PhDs matter to schools, in the real world, no one gives a shit.

So, if you intend to stay in or around Academia, then your question is valid, but you should be asking around in the academic world, not slashdot.

If you aren't staying in Academia, then drop out of your silly Ph D program and get a real job, the experience will be far more profitable for you in every way.

Either way, as a Ph D student ... asking on slashdot would be considered an epic fail by anyone that matters, this is hardly the place to go for that sort of advice.

Why ask here (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38140404)

Worked for JP Morgan Chase for 2 years, and Sungard Data Management for 6 in Forcasting and Modeling. Have BS CS, MS Information Systems Mangment, and PHD in Business. None of which matter after a year in either company. Everything after getting my foot in the door was do to my output, not where or what I studied in school.

Broaden your appeals (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38140410)

My advice is to broaden your appeals to future employers by having a CS degree instead of biology one. I have a computational biology Ph.D., but my salary in that field was less than what I am getting from other IT fields because there are so many underpaid Ph.D. in the biotech or pharmaceutical industry. If you really want to get into the big pharma or biotech companies, you can still convince them with your publications and relevant training on your resume.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?