Should I list an incomplete PhD degree on my resume? And how should I list it to make it look like an advantage?

I was working full-time when I was pursuing my PhD degree and at some point I've just dropped it because it was too hard to combine full-time employment and PhD. I've seen similar question but what's different in mine is that I was employed full-time at the time of my PhD, so I don't need to list it to "fill the gaps" in my years, just considering if I can add it in some way that it looks nice.

  • @JoeStrazzere Yes. I am currently on academic leave but I don't plan to pursue this PhD any longer.
    – Konrad
    Dec 13, 2019 at 20:05
  • @JoeStrazzere Wouldn't it be an advantage if, for example, I apply for a position where my area of research matches the requirements?
    – Konrad
    Dec 13, 2019 at 20:08
  • Does this answer your question? Incomplete degree on resume
    – gnat
    Dec 13, 2019 at 20:34
  • 1
    How much of your degree is complete? Have you done enough for your program to give you a Master degree?
    – BSMP
    Dec 13, 2019 at 20:44
  • @gnat No, it's completely another case.
    – Konrad
    Dec 13, 2019 at 20:55

2 Answers 2


So... there is an injunction that is true in all cases of job-hunting, but that is particularly true in cases like yours, where the information is mixed. Your resume must tell a story. When the recruiter reads your resume, they're going to be trying to put together in their minds an idea of who you are as a person and, more importantly, who you're likely to be as an employee. You need to get out ahead of that game by looking at the facts on the ground, figuring out a not-untrue story to tell about yourself, and building a resume that tells it. Worth remembering that this isn't just the story that gets you in the door. It's the story you'll want to live while you're there. Tweaking this story is also a good way to get companies that won't work well for you to not take you, and save frustration on both sides. If you can only get a job by convincing the employer that you are an absolute rockstar, and you can't back that up without breaking yourself on the stress, you might not want that job.

So, let's look at stories you could tell. - "I tried to go for a PhD, but I couldn't hack it and gave up". That's a seriously negative way to approach it, and it makes you look worse than you are. It specifically throws you in the same pot as the guys who were going for a PhD full-time and gave up, without reference to the fact that you were going full-time at the time. That's not giving yourself enough credit. - Leave it off entirely: no effect one way or the other. You're not hurting yourself, but I suspect we can do better. - "I'm a solid, full-time worker. Once, when I was younger and more ambitious, I tried to manage full-time work and a PhD at the same time. Didn't make it. I've mellowed a bit since then." Sets you up as the wiser, calmer sort. You know a lot, and you can put in the work, but they shouldn't expect you to be on-fire levels of dynamic and driven. - "I'm a solid, full-time worker, and I've put in a fair amount of effort on my own time in professional development. For example, between year X and Y, I took a whole bunch of applicable graduate courses in the evenings." This one ignores the idea that there was a "PhD program" or particular expectation of continuation at all. It positions you as someone who's going to keep going ongoing professional development in your personal time, if perhaps in other ways.

Of course, the resume is on the first step on this one. The interview keeps it going If you mention the classes at all, they'll likely ask you why you started, and why you stopped. You'll want an answer for that that both is true and supports the narrative that your resume is building. That's the trick, though - there are many things that one could say that would be true, and there's no way to say them all. It's worthwhile, then, to pick and choose... and don't let your story buy you a position that you won't be able to handle.

  • Fab answer!.... Dec 13, 2019 at 20:16
  • @Ben Barden It wasn't that I wouldn't be able to handle the PhD, I just couldn't handle basically working 2 full time jobs at the same time. Also I had to relocate to another city for my full-time job. Do you think I should mention it at all or maybe just omit it? I don't think there is a laconic way to express it all in a list-like resume.
    – Konrad
    Dec 13, 2019 at 20:19
  • 1
    @Konrad: were you perhaps awarded a master's degree as part of your graduate studies? That would be great in a resume, especially if you were working full time while you got it.
    – nomen
    Dec 13, 2019 at 20:26
  • @Konrad it's not about writing it all in. It's about figuring out what story to tell, first. Then think about what the resume that makes them conclude that would look like. For example, "I tried working on a PhD for a while, but had to give it up because I had to move" is a great story, all by itself. That one, you can tell just by putting "(left area)" or "(could not continue long-distance)" after the end-date of the entry in your "education" section. Then make sure that the location change is reflected in your "employment" section, and let them connect the dots themselves.
    – Ben Barden
    Dec 13, 2019 at 20:26
  • @nomen I was awarded a specific kind of 5-year long degree used in post-USSR countries - Specialist's degree, some credential evaluation organizations evaluate it as a Master's degree and some as a Bachelor's degree. I am not quite sure how to list this either...
    – Konrad
    Dec 13, 2019 at 20:33

University of Wherever

  • 2003-2007 Specialist's Degree in Whatever (equivalent to Master's degree)
  • 2007-2012 Ph.D in Whatever, partially completed

You can add information about how much/many credits/whatever is applicable to indicate how far along the Ph.D got. It shows you did some extra, which is good. You could upgrade that to "In Progress" if you still want to pursue it, especially if you'd like the new job to give you time/support towards it.

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