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Before accepting my current job I forwarded a PhD application at my local college. I didn't win the PhD, since there were few spots available (let's say I placed 20th on 45 people, and they took in seven PhDs).

Still, the whole application for the PhD was quite dense - in terms of preliminary research and work with one of my professors. Should I consider mentioning it in my CV as "past experience"?

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No. An application in itself is not an "achievement" (even if it feels to you like one) and would look rather strange. However, if you worked with your professor, you can probably write this into your C. Vitae. Especially if you have gotten publications (or similar) out of it. Good luck with your applications!

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    Please do not downvote answers only because the user is new or anonymous (let's make this place gatekeeping free). If you don't think this is a good answer, advice on how it can be improved, or at least state your arguments against in the comments.
    – Raf M.
    Aug 2, 2018 at 15:30
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If your definition of experience is professional work (i.e., what you've been hired and paid to do), no part of a PhD program would count even if there was a stipend involved.

The fact that you applied for a PhD program at all shows that you have at least some interest in pursuing one. That information would fit nicely in the section where your academic activities are covered. For example:

B.S. Underwater Basket Weaving, Foo University, 2014

M.S. On-Shore Basket Weaving, University of Bar, 2016

Currently seeking admission to PhD programs in Hybrid Basket Weaving.

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  • Would the downvoters care to comment on how this answer could be improved?
    – Blrfl
    Aug 2, 2018 at 17:33
  • Not a downvoter, but OP is not "currently seeking admission" (and, if they were, including that would be arguable). Additionally, OP only said "past experience", not "work experience", so your first paragraph can probably be removed. Furthermore, the answer giving the opposite advice (i.e. don't include it) is on +9, so it stands to reason that some of those people downvoted this for being bad advice / not useful (in their opinion, which may or may not be an appropriate use of votes). Aug 2, 2018 at 18:53
  • @Dukeling All good points. I went on the assumption that if the OP wants to pursue a PhD and might not stop at just one application. I'll adjust some of the wording in the first paragraph.
    – Blrfl
    Aug 2, 2018 at 19:27
  • "no part of a PhD program would count even if there was a stipend involved" - this isn't actually correct. If you were a teaching assistant and paid a stipend, for instance, you could include that as professional work experience.
    – jcmack
    Aug 2, 2018 at 20:37
  • Even if you were no teaching assistent, why shouldn't it count as work experience? For many industry jobs, I can imagine many "normal" jobs providing less useful workplace skills than a PhD program...
    – user90867
    Aug 2, 2018 at 20:43

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