This is How Your Ph.D. Can Help You to Get a Project Management Professional Certification

Did you know that your PhD and postdoc project management (PM) experience can qualify you for the 4,500 hours needed to apply for the Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification?

Most PhDs and postdocs do not realize that they use projects management skills in working on projects, and they perform quite well even without any formal knowledge of project management. While working on projects, you probably noticed that each and every project is unique and has a different scope. Your team is composed of people with various temperaments and skills. Pressure and challenges differ. Thus, identifying and applying the ideal tool for each project leads to better results.

What is PMP Certification?

If you are interested in pursuing a career in project management, I would say it is worth getting a PMP Certification; although some project managers dispute the certification’s worth. For some jobs you need a certificate simply because the company requires certain project management framework, while for other jobs a certificate is not necessary at all. However, the PMP Certification may help you land a project management job or get a promotion. It can give you an edge over a candidate with similar skills but with no PMP certification.

When it comes to project management, PMP is the most widely recognized certification. There are other certifications, such as CAPM, PRINCE2, SAFe, ITIL and CSM/PSM. Some of these, i.e. ITIL, SAFe and CSM/PSM are specific for the IT industry, while PMP, CAMP and PRINCE2 are more applicable across industries. The Project Management Institute (PMI) is the institute that offers multiple types of certifications, including Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) and PMP. CAPM is a lite version of PMP and easier to obtain. PMP is the industry-recognized certification for project managers that signifies that you speak and understand the global language of project management. It connects you to a community of professionals, organizations and experts worldwide.

How to qualify for PMP Certification?

Just having a PhD will not qualify you for a PMP certification. You will need to check if you satisfy one of the requirements by quantifying the number of hours you have devoted to your PhD and/or postdoc project management experience. A PMP candidate must have a minimum of three years of unique non-overlapping professional project management experience, during which at least 4,500 hours were spent leading and directing projects. You should be able to assign the time spent on non-overlapping projects into five process groups: Initiation, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling and Closing.

You have to have experience in all of the process groups overall, but it is possible that you do not have experience in all groups in every individual project. For example, if you joined a project after it was initiated by someone else means, you score at 0% for initiation but may score more in other process groups. Conversely, you can register hours for initiation if you initiated a project but left before subsequent process groups. Make sure to only count the hours that are directly related to you as a project manager. For example, writing dissertation hours should not be included, but things like managing your own research project or leading a group of students, volunteering for non-profit organizations, inventory purchasing system, and communication with internal and external collaborators count.

After estimating the hours per process group for each individual project you have worked on, you will end up with a total number of project hours. PMP assumes that you work on only one project at a time (non-overlapping), and that a working day is eight hours. The template table below may assist you with counting the hours. Once you have completed quantifying your work experience for all your  projects, you should be able to figure out if you satisfy this requirement to take the PMP examination. The PMP certification, therefore, assesses your knowledge in the five process groups during your application for certification, and then makes you learn more processes during exam preparation.

When you apply to sit for the exam, be aware you have to validate that you performed the role of project manager by showing exactly what work you did in each process group and how many hours you have dedicated to it. In your application you should also provide project descriptions consisting of the following: one-sentence project objective, project deliverables summarized by process groups, and one-sentence project outcome. The descriptions should be between 300-550 words. It is recommended to use PMI language to describe inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs (ITTOs). Overall, you should demonstrate that you have led and directed cross-functional teams to deliver a project within the constraints of schedule, budget and scope, applied a suitable approach to managing the project to fulfill requirements and deliverables, and performed these duties under general supervision, but were responsible for all aspects of the project. An example of project deliverables could be your publication, patent, or data used for industrial application.

Make sure you can provide supporting documentation to PMI in case of an audit. Audits are theoretically at random. You should send your PM hours spreadsheet to past supervisors who can confirm in advance that they agree with it. Any conflicts or disagreements in this regard should be resolved before you submit your PMP application. Note that your supervisor does not have to be the one to confirm your hours. It can be a senior colleague or professor from your committee. If audit happens, they can vouch for you as well. 

To satisfy the second requirement for PMP certification, you should take PMP lessons to fulfill the learning contact hours. At least 35 contact hours of formal project management education is necessary to qualify for the PMP.

How to finance you PMP Certification?

When looking to finance your education, ask your current employer if it is beneficial to have you PMP-certified or if they are willing to cover the costs especially if the company’s project management framework benefits from it. In this case, you can consider taking a more expensive but efficient four-day boot camp that provides you with great resources and concepts. When choosing a boot camp provider, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is the provider a PMI registered education provider (REP)?
  2. Does the provider issue mandatory 35-hour certificate?
  3. What is the total duration of the class, and how flexible is the schedule?
  4. What study aids (i.e. e-learning videos) are provided as part of the program?
  5. How good is the quality of the content?
  6. What is the price and refund policy?
  7. How is the student support provided after the class?

In case your current employer does not want to support your PMP training, I would advise you to gain these 35 hours as cheaply as possible by taking the course from one of the PMI-accredited providers with a license number. You may find those on, for example, Udemy, LinkedIn and These tutorials can still provide grounding in PM principles and prepare you for the exam for relatively low costs. The PMI yearly membership + PMP exam currently costs $ 534, while the exam alone costs $ 555 for non-PMI members. PMI membership also saves you money especially if you have to retake an exam. To maintain your PMP, you must earn 60 professional development units (PDUs) every three years.

The certification exam has 200 multiple-choice questions, and you have four hours to complete it. Out of these 200 questions, 25 questions are randomly placed pre-test/ dummy questions. The test is brutal, so make sure to take dozens of practice tests. A candidate will get three chances to take and pass the certification exam within the eligibility period after receiving eligibility ID. If, unfortunately, a candidate does not succeed in the third attempt, he/she will have to wait one year to retake the test.

What is the preparation strategy for PMP Certification?

The most effective results are achieved when you are well informed and prepared. Below is one prospective strategy for preparing for PMP in a systematic manner:

  1. Understand eligibility criteria and exam content
  2. Make a plan with clear deadlines targets
  3. Take 35-contact-hour training to gain PDUs
  4. Complete exam preparation guide
  5. Start taking practice tests
  6. Self-reflect and identify knowledge gaps, refer to preparation guide
  7. Repeat practice tests until you get 80% for 2+ tests

Cons and pros of taking PMP Certification

To conclude, think seriously about whether or not to go through the costly and time-consuming procedure of becoming a PMP-certified project manager. Remember, getting a PMP certificate or not depends on your career aspirations and the institution or industry you work for. If you work in construction, finance, government, or healthcare - industries with a lot of bureaucracy - having a certificate is a plus. In small companies, a certificate might be a hindrance, as your knowledge may not be suited to the type of projects they have. However, the PMP can definitely provide a significant advantage when it comes to salary and earning potential because this investment gives you deserved recognition for your professional expertise and experience, enriches your knowledge on skills, tools, and techniques used in effective project management, and enhances your marketability in the workplace

I hope that this article comes in handy when it is time for you to decide if you should or should not take the PMP certification. Good luck in your career!

By Natalia Vtyurina, PhD
CRS Young Scientist Committee