European PhD: Less Respected Than U.S. PhD?

Here’s everything about a European PhD being less respected than a U.S. PhD:

In a vacuum, a European PhD is just as valuable as an American PhD and vice versa.

In practice, America spends more money on professional research than Europe, and as a result, has more influence in professional research.

This means that American PhDs tend to have an advantage in the job market.

So if you want to learn all about when a European PhDs is considered less valuable than a U.S. PhD, then this article is for you.

Keep reading!

European PhD: Less Respected Than US PhD? (All the Info)

Is a European PhD Less Respected Than a U.S. PhD?

serious female student working in a library

The short answer is no.

The longer answer is sometimes.

In general, PhD graduates in the same field are expected to have the same set of knowledge and skills whether they graduate in America or Europe.

There are a lot of things in place (like accreditation) that work to ensure some consistency across PhD programs, even in different continents.

But, studying in Europe is not the same as studying in America.

Outside of the work you do as a student, you will meet different people, make different connections, develop different external skills (you might learn multiple languages in Europe and only speak English in America), and have completely different experiences.

As a result, European PhDs are more valued in some situations, and American PhDs are more valued in others.

It depends on a lot of circumstances.

With all of that said, the United States is still the world leader when it comes to spending money on research.

As a result, there is a tilt toward American influence when it comes to recruiting experts for that research, and across a global average, American PhD graduates have a leg up over European graduates.

But, it’s not nearly that black and white, so let’s look at some of the key differences between Europe and America when it comes to PhDs.

Then, I’ll talk about which circumstances favor which graduates.

What Are the Differences Between American and European PhDs? (3 Things)

happy female university student with books standing on campus

The full list of differences between studying in Europe and America could probably fill many different books.

To keep this simple, I’m going to reduce everything down to three ideas:

  • the prestige of the school
  • how it is accredited
  • the actual process of obtaining the degree

#1 Schools

Bodleian Library, Oxford University

We’re going to circle back to this idea a couple of times, but the school where you get your PhD really does matter.

To an extent, a PhD is a PhD, as in you are a qualified expert by the time you finish the degree program.

But, you probably already know that a degree from MIT is more prestigious than a degree from Eastern New Mexico University (yes, it’s a real school).

The simple fact is that the prestige of the school matters, and there are prestigious schools in both Europe and America.

That’s going to matter a lot as we break everything down.

No matter the situation, a graduate from Oxford or another top European school is going to have advantages over a graduate from ENMU.

Likewise, a graduate from Harvard will probably be more respected than a graduate from Yildiz Technical University.

That’s just the nature of prestige.

#2 Accreditation

professionals having a discussion

Accreditation is a big deal.

If you’re not familiar with the term, this is the process by which governing bodies ensure that a PhD from one school really is as valuable as a PhD from another school (prestige notwithstanding).

In the United States, accreditation is largely handled by non-governmental, third-party agencies.

The best known is probably ABET, which is basically an organization of STEM professionals who set the rules for STEM accreditation.

Outside of STEM, you’ll find additional accreditation agencies that are basically the same thing—groups of professionals who want to ensure that colleges are doing right by students.

In Europe, there is a different set of agencies, but it’s still the same idea.

The agencies review the colleges and grant or revoke accreditation depending on what they see.

The point behind all of this is that the agencies in Europe are different from the agencies in America.

That means that the standards of accreditation are different in the two regions, and that’s why the PhDs from each region are not exactly equal.

That said, the agencies are aware of each other, and there is some collaboration to try to ensure that European PhDs are valid in America and vice versa.

So, if you get your Phd at an accredited school in either region, you’re qualified as a PhD graduate in both regions.

There are other differences that will still make one PhD better than the other, depending on circumstances, but in a very general sense, the PhDs are equivalent.

#3 The Process

university students in class using laptops in class

The thing is, the PhD process is different in America and Europe.

In Europe, the vast majority of PhD students have to complete a master’s degree before they can even apply for a PhD program.

As a result, PhD students are already experts in their fields.

The PhD program is intended to help them specialize their research and hone their professional skills.

This means that PhD students in Europe have to publish while they are still students.

They also typically have to write grant proposals and secure some or all of their own funding for research.

Conversely, the majority of PhD students in America go straight from completing a bachelor’s degree to joining a PhD program.

That means that there is still a lot of coursework necessary in American PhD programs, and the students are really experts in their fields until closer to their third year of the PhD program.

American PhD programs are typically fully funded too, meaning the students don’t have to do as much grant writing and research proposing.

As a result, European PhD students, on average, have sharper business skills than their American counterparts, and they’re already better at securing funding and that side of being a professional researcher.

There are plenty of exceptions to this, and in the U.S., you can join a PhD program after completing a master’s degree.

This is just how things are on average.

When Are European PhDs Better? (2 Scenarios)

Hipster male student studying in library

You can see that PhDs aren’t exactly the same in each region.

Despite that, a PhD graduate in either area is expected to have a comparable level of expertise.

As an example, if you have a PhD in astrophysics, it shouldn’t matter if you got it in Europe or America.

You’re an expert in astrophysics.

When we’re talking about which region has more respect behind the PhD, it really has to do more with intangible factors.

It’s not that students in one region are just plain better than the other.

It’s that each region offers different external advantages, and there are situations where a PhD from Europe is worth considerably more than one from America.

#1 When European PhDs Come From a Top School

Cambridge university

Some of the best schools in the world are in Europe.

Oxford, Cambridge, Zurich, and Amsterdam are just a few that come to mind off the top of my head.

If you get your PhD from one of the best schools in Europe (which would also make it one of the best schools in the world), then you can trust that your degree is highly valued across the planet.

PhD graduates from prestigious schools are heavily recruited in all major research regions. 

Graduate from a top school, and you can pretty much work in any region in the world.

You’re not necessarily guaranteed whatever position you want, as there are dozens of top schools to compete with, but you’ll be highly respected and have tons of job opportunities.

#2 When You Want to Work in Europe

stylish professional woman working on a laptop outdoor with eiffel tower in the background

Outside of graduating from a top school, getting a PhD from a European institution is ideal if you want to work in Europe.

Europe is one of the major regions in the world for professional research, and there are a lot of great opportunities in a wide range of fields.

If you graduate in Europe, it makes recruitment easier for European firms and agencies.

They have less to worry about with visas and international policies.

Also, they can recruit you while you’re still on a European campus, which is typically a lot cheaper than recruiting from other continents.

On top of all of that, your degree is accredited according to European standards, and that can make a lot of regulatory issues easier to navigate. 

If you want to work in Europe, then getting your degree in Europe will grant you a leg up.

When Are U.S. PhDs Better? (2 Situations)

Group of students holding flag of USA on the university campus

European PhDs offer advantages for finding a job in Europe.

That makes sense.

Outside of that stipulation, which PhD is better?

I want to reiterate that the PhD programs in one region are not inherently superior to the other.

They’re largely learning and researching the same stuff in America and Europe.

But, each region has different networking opportunities and perks that come with studying there. 

Now, we’re going to look at the perks that come from studying in the U.S. instead of Europe (and to a lesser extent, these perks can extend to other schools in the Americas, most notably in Canada).

#1 When You Go to a Top School

female student on Stanford campus

This is as true in the United States as it is in Europe.

If you graduate from a top school, then you can work pretty much anywhere in the world.

The U.S. has its fair share of top schools too, including Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and dozens of others.

In fact, there are more top schools in the United States than all of Europe combined.

At least, that’s according to organizations that rate colleges professionally.

The point is, you can get a huge leg up by going to a top school in any region, and America is not short on opportunities in that regard.

#2 When You Want to Work Outside of Europe

the hustle and bustle of tokyo japan in the evening

More importantly, if you don’t go to a top school, the American PhD is worth more if you want to work outside of Europe.

It stands to reason that recruiting for European research is easy inside of Europe.

By that same token, you might assume that having an American PhD gives you a leg up for research in America, and that’s also true.

It’s cheaper to recruit.

It’s easier to navigate regulations, and you have a clearer idea of what the PhD really means.

Here’s the thing.

There is more professional research across all fields in the United States than all of Europe combined.

The U.S. remains the premier region in the whole world for professional research.

Tons of money is poured into research of all varieties, so if you want to work as a professional researcher, the U.S. is the best place to go (as far as having the largest number of opportunities).

But, there’s more to this story.

The U.S. and Europe are two of the huge research regions, but there’s a third: East Asia.

This includes China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and more.

Putting so many countries and people into a single region is a bit of a stretch.

It’s not like all of these countries all agree to the same set of rules for research.

But, there are trends that emerge across each of these countries and the research that they do, and here’s the bottom line.

They recruit much more heavily out of America than they do out of Europe.

Once again, having a domestic PhD gives you the best chance of landing a job, but East Asia recruits out of the United States much more heavily than out of Europe.

It’s a significant advantage if you want to do research in this vast region.

When you put all of that together, PhDs in America offer more advantages, and in this light, they are more respected than PhDs in Europe.

It doesn’t mean that American PhD programs or students are actually better at what they do than their European counterparts.

It means that the United States is the central hub for professional research, and that comes with perks that can add value to a PhD earned in this region.