Opinions differ on the doctorate. Some scramble for it, even if the title has already been revoked because of copied passages. You simply acquire a new one. It would never occur to other people to spend longer than necessary on books and sources for a doctorate: too long, too strenuous, too uncertain the path.
But working your way up to a doctorate is fulfilling for many – albeit a backbreaking job. Accumulating knowledge about an area, making your own contribution to a research area, documenting and defending it, takes an average of four and a half years.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, there were 29,000 completed doctoral theses per year in 2019. “There have never been more doctorates in Germany,” says Kolja Briedis, project manager at the DZHW, who has been researching this for years. At the end of June 2020, the number of employees with a doctorate subject to social security contributions was just under 1.3 percent, according to the Federal Employment Agency.
Ulrike Schwabe is one of them. The sociologist from Hanover, who will finish her doctoral thesis in the summer, has been dividing the time for years. “I was either active in university teaching or worked on research projects,” she says. Her current position also applies to her field of research: As a research assistant at the German Center for University and Science Research (DZHW) in Hanover, Schwabe analyzes the careers and life courses of doctoral candidates. To this end, extensive data is collected and evaluated as part of the “National Academics Panel Study”.
“A supportive environment and appropriate structures are helpful for doctoral students,” says Ulrike Schwabe. After all, doing a doctorate and working full-time in a different context at the same time is not enough. Those who do not have a scholarship earn their living in various jobs or employed. Schwabe himself gained work experience before the title, which later helped her. There were a few years between her master’s degree and starting her doctoral thesis, during which she taught students, among other things. She was already employed at the DZHW back then. Then the PhD topic arose.
A salary increase of 10,000 to 20,000 euros per year is possible
The time for a doctorate also plays a role. Eva Haeske-Braun, Director Executive New Placement & Career Advice at Kienbaum Consultants, estimates that doing a doctorate immediately after completing a master’s degree is less likely to bring financial disadvantages for a later job in the private sector. “The question is: what do I want to achieve? Where do I want to go with the title? ”She says. “Is it important to the industry in which I work? Does my company benefit? ”You know people who are doing their doctorate while working because they like to deal with something in depth. But that is the exception. “The industry is practice-oriented and not a scientific enterprise.”
A doctorate is economically worthwhile. “But you have to be able to get very involved. If you only want to do it for the sake of better salaries, you’d better not do it, ”says Kolja Briedis. On average, working people with titles outside of research, development and academic teaching earn just under 5,700 euros gross per month. Depending on the subject and industry, doctoral graduates earn several thousand euros more than untitled colleagues.
Engineers, lawyers, economists and natural scientists benefit. “For them, the doctor can mean an average of 10,000 to 20,000 euros gross salary per year,” says Briedis. Engineers with a doctorate can even generate up to 20 percent more income per year. For humanities scholars, the researchers did not see it to the same extent. “We also see lower income effects with psychologists.”
The researchers also saw the benefits for graduates in medicine or mathematics. The chemical industry is a special case. Without a doctorate, chemists would have hardly any career opportunities, says Briedis. 90 percent of them have a doctorate. But the title doesn’t mean more money everywhere. “The public service hardly pays employees with a doctorate better.” Collective bargaining structures take into account academics in general – whether with a doctorate or without. Briedis collected the information for a study in the new “Federal Report on Young Scientists”, which will appear soon.
One reason for the income advantage for people with a title: They are trusted with a lot. “Tough, powerful, motivated – many people with a doctorate automatically attribute these qualities,” says Briedis. Because of their use beyond the norm, it is assumed that they move up into performance positions more quickly. Personnel consultant Reinhard Scharff confirms her performance. “The points are made on the scientific route,” he says. “Those who do a doctorate are at the height of their knowledge and intelligence. In my opinion, new, comprehensive connections are recognized at every level and new things are created from them. “
This seems to be successful in working life: one fifth of the doctoral candidates are still working at the university seven years after completing their doctorate. 20 percent do research in business. The majority, around 60 percent, no longer have anything to do with research. “We see that mathematicians and engineers are in great demand in research and development in various industries,” says Kolja Briedis. “In pharmaceutical companies or in future-oriented fields such as regenerative energy technology.”
The doctorate in business – more “acceptance and perception”
The influence of the doctor is clearly there, says Eva Haeske-Braun. A certain signal effect of the title ensures radiance. “Wherever the public is concerned, for example in associations or when the professional authority is to be underlined, the title helps with acceptance and perception.” That is then independent of the subject.
Reinhard Scharff believes in the power of a hierarchy. “Not least, hierarchical structures in management need externally visible badges of rank,” he says. “In principle, flat hierarchies do not change that. The argument that companies today are structured fractally or that Bezos, Gates and Jobs had no titles also makes little sense. ”Scharff did his doctorate himself.
The title can polarize
The doctor can polarize. HR consultant Eva Haeske-Braun points this out. “In some professional groups you need a doctorate, in others, for example in the advertising sector, as a bachelor you work better on the job,” she says. For key account managers or employees in sales, a master’s degree is enough to be on an equal footing with customers. “If you sell products in the technical field, where the majority of people have doctorates, it helps if you do the same.” Doctorates would also have a better standing in management consultancies. In controlling and finance, however, it doesn’t matter.
The doctor will probably only develop his full effect later in his career. In supervisory boards, executive boards and working groups, personnel consultant Scharff, for example, experiences how “title matter automatically leads to position power”. “There’s something like ‘understanding’,” he says. From his work in board areas of insurance, banks and mechanical engineering, he is used to being addressed with a doctorate. “When it comes to the external presentation to customers or banks, the best marketing is.”
Practical theorists? What helps against the cliché
Young people with a doctorate encounter another phenomenon in their first few years in the private sector: the cliché of the practical theorist. “If I start my job at 31 after completing my doctorate and colleagues of the same age have five years of practical experience ahead of me, that is of course noticeable,” confirms Haeske-Braun. Only one thing helps: hang in and catch up on the missing practice.
Ulrike Schwabe knows what would be necessary to support doctoral students who are interested in the free labor market: In the future, universities will be able to prepare even better for the fact that many doctoral graduates will later pursue careers that are “remote from research”. “In addition, the area of science management is an interesting field of activity for doctoral graduates,” she says. Career services at universities could also provide them with better information about career options outside of the university and provide courses for acquiring interdisciplinary skills. “The need is there.”