I've often read that having more than one PhD is badly seen. Is there a good reason for this? Good obviously means with some kind of evidence to back it up beyond plain and simple "personal experience" and opinion.

I've seen many comments about this matter, but often rely on a kind of judgment that sounds highly personal and by no means endowed with the academic objectity that I would expect.

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    I'm not sure I believe the premise of this question. There are several answers on this site suggesting it's not generally a good idea to pursue multiple PhDs, but that's different from suggesting that already having multiple PhDs is viewed badly. In any case, I think that among those earlier posts, this answer may come closest to addressing your question: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/17232/… Commented May 21, 2018 at 14:38
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    It's certainly not frowned upon in Hollywood! (sarcasm intended) Many times I've seen (in a movie, in a TV series show, etc.) a certain character's super-dooper scientific credentials established by mentioning the several Ph.D.'s he or she has. Commented May 21, 2018 at 18:02
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    Have you done any research on the topic?
    – Greg
    Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 6:38
  • "I've often read that having more than one PhD is badly seen" How many people with at least two PhDs have you seen? Such examples are really rare in my opinion. I personally only know two guys with two PhDs and they are quite successful in their careers after the second PhD. And they my personal heros.
    – taylor
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 18:30

10 Answers 10


I think your assertion really is an overgeneralization, but there are some negative points to pursuing more than one PhD.

It's the same concern as it would be for pouring an inordinate amount of resources into the wrong pursuit. It might indicate something about the recipients decision-making abilities, or "perpetual student syndrome".

That said, if that's what one needs to do to pursue the career one wants, that's what one needs to do.

Let's look at two distinct situations. A college junior starts thinking about her career path, and thinks"

I want a very specific, highly specialized pursuit. I believe that I will need two PhD's to establish my credibility and skill set for this path. I am setting out to get two PhD's, and have a good plan for doing so. I've already considered whether I can acquire the skills and knowledge by doing one PhD, and then endeavoring to cover the shortfall by some other means, and I don't think I can. I'm well aware that some of the skills I learn during one PhD will be redundant with what I learn in the second, but there's absolutely no way around it.

Contrast this with a senior, who doesn't manage to get a job, so enters graduate school -- gets one PhD, doesn't see the career prospects, then gets another PhD to fix things.

Clearly, the first situation is better (though, I'd argue, exceedingly rare, and often unnecessary). The second situation is much more problematic, likely more common than the first, and arguably, what some people tend to think the path was when told someone has two PhDs.

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    I'm having a really hard time identifying a career path that requires two formal PhD's, unless one discipline is in the humanities and the other is in a STEM field, and one decided to start with the non-STEM field.
    – aeismail
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 14:16
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    @aeismail -- yes, "exceedingly rare" Commented May 21, 2018 at 14:18
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    @aeismail Some people in philosophy of science do it that way. Massimo Pigliucci got first a PhD in biology, then philosophy (in his 40s or so).
    – M.S
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 16:35
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    I do not know of anybody in the first cohort, and have very hard times figuring the scenario. We seem to agree and have experience of the second instance. I do praise that kind of second PhD. That tells me of extreme passion for academic, of interdisciplinarità, of resilience and dedication in face of low pay and hard work. I know of one physicist retrained as economist and now professor.
    – famargar
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 19:34
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    @aeismail Maybe not exactly two PhDs, but MD + PhD is extremely common and JD + PhD is quite common too. Commented May 21, 2018 at 20:25

First of all, it’s not clear what you mean by “badly seen” and whether (or to what extent) your premise is correct. But to the extent that it is badly seen, I would argue that it has to do with efficient use of resources. If you think of your intellect as a resource, the general recipe for making the best use of this resource is:

  1. Spend a few years developing your intellect by getting an education. This doesn’t produce an immediate “output” but is an investment (quite a costly one in fact) in the future.
  2. Spend the remaining 30-40 years of your career working. What you produce during that time is the productive output that benefits you and the rest of society.

Most people who get a bachelor’s degree spend 3-4 years on stage 1. People who get a PhD invest another 4-5 years, and this is seen as justified (mostly!) thanks to the very specialized skills a PhD helps them acquire. However, when someone gets a second PhD they extend the unproductive period of stage 1 to a total of something like 12-15 years, taking away valuable productive time from stage 2. The added benefit in terms of specialized interdisciplinary knowledge that they acquire would in most cases not be enough to justify such a large investment. 99.99% of people simply do not need two PhDs to fulfill their potential in life. Even from the purely intellectual point of view of a person who is very curious and passionate about learning two subjects in depth, the first PhD already teaches them to be an independent researcher, which would enable them to get the knowledge they would pick up in the second PhD in a fraction of the time and effort that a formal PhD program typically requires.

Getting two PhDs might make practical sense for someone who decided on a drastic career change after their first PhD and want to go into a different profession where a PhD is a requirement.

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    True, but compare: a neurosurgeon spends up to 12 years (med school plus training) to be qualified, and nobody whines about the "nonproductive years spent." I think part of the problem is that PhDs nowadays require less work and a less rigorous thesis than a MA/MS did 50 years ago. Commented May 22, 2018 at 15:17
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    @CarlWitthoft it’s not clear to me what can be learned from this comparison. I don’t know anything about neurosurgery but I would think that during much of the 12 year period you are describing, neurosurgeon trainees are already highly qualified doctors and are engaged in productive activities (working at a hospital and treating patients). Perhaps that explains why “nobody whines” about them.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 15:31
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    @CarlWitthoft I take it to be a problem that many universities don't require a masters degree to enter a phd program. This has lowered the standards greatly.
    – M.S
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 10:58
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    I don't see what you mean by unproductive. Lots of PhD students publish their scientific research in journals. These PhD students make discoveries and some of them teach undergraduates. How is any of that unproductive?
    – xyz123
    Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 10:13
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    I spent 11 total years getting an AA (Community College), BEE, MS EE, PhD (EE with signal processing emphasis). That's a big percentage of one's life. Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 16:01

I think you misunderstand the purpose of a PhD.

A PhD does not establish you as an expert in a field. Rather, it is the minimum entry criteria for a career in research. The main focus of a PhD is actually preparing you for a career in research. The secondary focus is deepening your knowledge in a particular subject area.

While there are obvious exceptions to this, your research as a doctoral student is unlikely to have any lasting impact or even to be strongly related to the areas where you focus on after receiving your PhD.

In this context, there is very little to gain and much to lose from spending several years pursuing a second PhD. What you may gain is a deeper understanding of a second field. However, this will come at the expense of reverting to being a student and missing out on opportunities to build your career. You will also have to repeat a significant amount of effort that again is unlikely to be related to actual work once you move beyond being a student.

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    "it is the minimum entry criteria for a career in research" Then multiple PhD should be required to perform interdisciplinary research, since the person who has a PhD in a field, doesn't satisfy the minimum entry criteria for research in different topic.
    – M.S
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 10:56
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    @M.S It's not the minimum entry criteria to do research in a specific field, just the minimum entry criteria to do research in general. Think of a PhD more like a high school diploma for those wishing to do research. You need one to check a box on application forms, but having more than one wouldn't help you.
    – Eric
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 11:24
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    @M.S To clarify further, it's not that having a PhD in say biology immediately qualifies you to do research in astronomy, but you'll get there faster with better longer term results by following the traditional approach rather than starting over pursuing a second PhD in astronomy. That is, identify areas for joint research with your secondary field, do joint research with collaborators in that field and work gradually towards doing the multi-disciplinary research or doing research directly in your secondary field.
    – Eric
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 13:25
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    Getting a (second) doctorate is a practicable way to become an actual expert in a(nother) field. Who would give you the necessary time while they have to pay you like a professional scientist?
    – Karl
    Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 20:54
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    @Karl Unless you're getting a different kind of doctorate (MD, JD, PhD), there's no need to get a second doctoral degree to be an expert in another field. Generally, the person who gives you the time to do that is yourself: you spend your own time building up expertise by studying books and papers from the field, by doing interdisciplinary research, trying to publish papers in the new field, and so on.
    – Eric
    Commented Dec 21, 2020 at 23:15

I don't see the general problem with a second doctorate.

If you want to make a streamlined career into management or faculty, don't do it.

If you need (or want) to be settled in a permanent position by the age of 32 for financial reasons (family etc.), don't do it.

But if you have the means and guts, if you really still want the second one after you've defended the first, why not? You might lose points with a few brainless HR people who think the apt treatment for kinks in a CV is the same as for wrinkles in a shirt, ironing them out. But who cares? Such company is for the dogs anyway.

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    "f you want to make a streamlined carreer into management or faculty, don't do it. If you need (or want) to be settled in a permanent position by the age of 32 for financial reasons (family etc), don't do it." Why would any of those occur?
    – M.S
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 20:59
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    @M.S Very reasonable goals imho. No?
    – Karl
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 21:02

There are a few possible reasons what HR/Hiring mangagers would not like to see this.

  • If you follow a Phd and then a second Phd (before you obtain a permanent position, job or retire), it sounds a lot like you really want to go into research but something went wrong with your first Phd.

  • At the same time when you finish your second Phd, other applicants already have a few years of Job experience, while a second Phd more often than not doesn't add a big environment change

  • It may appear to some people that you lack focus.

  • Your hiring manager may lack self-esteem

  • You are supposed to be "too academic"

  • People may think you look down on other people


I will shortly complete a second PhD in a related, but distinct, field. In essence, the second study has been more akin to post doctoral work (but with an added degree) - I have had to undergo no training, my tutorials are virtually non-existent, and the resultant second thesis has already been accepted as a book. As with the first, I expect to complete with, at most, minor corrections. Both PhDs have been 100,000 words and both completed within 5 years (part-time) - thus 2.5FTE. Before the cynics comment - both have been/are being attained at universities ranked within the world top 100. I agree that there is a problem with people being non-productive for 10+ years - the answer is to work harder in the evenings and to ensure that PhDs are completed on time. Though hardwork, it does enable me to now more readily apply for inter-disciplinary work and the fields of employment have doubled.


I don't think it is frowned upon to have multiple PhDs.

However, it is definitely rare to meet a person who has multiple PhDs. Anecdotally, I would estimate that fewer than 1% of people with a PhD will have a second PhD.

I know of only one person from my social circle who has a second PhD:

Dr. Ye Lu received a PhD in operations research from MIT in 2009, a PhD in mathematics from the University of Notre Dame in 2006 and a Bachelor of Science degree in applied math from Tsinghua University in 2002.

In my opinion, it made sense for him to get a second PhD because it allowed him to get a tenure-track academic job in Operations Research, whereas it is much more difficult to get a tenure-track academic job in Mathematics.

In conclusion, it can make sense for you to get a second PhD, but it depends very much on the particulars of your own circumstances.

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    I'm guessing Dr Lu is chasing a 'brand name' on his/her CV. Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 0:16
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    @Prof.SantaClaus I disagree. Notice that his second PhD was in a related but different field of study. I think that the main benefit was that he could get an academic job in a field where getting an academic job was relatively easier. Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 2:08

I think it is frowned on as excessive investment and limited return. There is a ratio that Stephen Covey talks about (horrors a business book writer!) with the amount of effort spent in learning versus production. In a way, a Ph.D. is already a bit of an indulgence. Doing two of them sounds like you just like being in school all the time, versus being a PI.

In most fields, about 75% of the Ph.D. is research, not learning. So if you just wanted to LEARN many fields, you should pick up multiple masters or even multiple bachelors. Of course, you ought to be independently wealthy to allow that.

Doing multiple Ph.D.s feels a bit as if you are just collecting tickets without thinking of the meaning of them. I mean once I had DONE a Ph.D., I really felt like I didn't need the sheepskin to contribute. Or at least part way through, it "clicked" and I got it and was an independent researcher. I was a little older so it was easier for me (to draw on practical experience). But even the "straight out of bachelors" clicked by the end of the Ph.D. They could write their own papers, determine their own experiments, negotiate with vendors to buy apparatus, etc. etc. Doing two would make no sense, since you've already got the "I can figure it out" gene turned on in your codex.

P.s. I agree with the comment that says you don't indicate having read the responses already on this site to this issue. This is not a good trait...


A PhD is about learning how to do research correct? In a field that you are confident right(you have completed BSc and MSc)? But if during your first PhD you are seeing that your topic is interdisciplinary ( for instance clinical Psychology and cognitive Neuroscience) you want to learn how conduct research in a cognitive neuroscience for instance - you have no experience; why not? You would spend 4 years not only going deeper on your topic; you would lean how do research and acquire brand new set of skills.

You can have masters and BSc sure; it depends on the main purpose. You could collaborate with other in adjacent field. If you want to independently learn how to you it yourself and you have time, funding and possibly why not?


I agree with the comment @MarkMeckes -- the premise is not necessarily correct. For example, people can get a PhD in philosophy, and if they are a pastor or just interested in religion, get one in Theology. Such people may also get PhD's in original languages like Hebrew and Greek. None-the-less, there are certainly reasons not to get more than one PhD: Life is short, and a lot of dedication goes into getting even one Ph.D. For what it's worth: I have recurring dreams (maybe nightmares?) that I am trying to get my second PhD in EE. In the dream, what the motivation for obtaining the second PhD is itself unclear. I am revisiting campus, but my colleagues think it is a sign failure (in the dream). And I am always grateful when I wake up from that dream.

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    This answer/example would be stronger if it explained why a pastor would benefit from having multiple PhDs. I can certainly see why they would spend time studying/practicing theology and learning Hebrew/Greek to a very high level, but this does not require a PhD. If their religious position involved publishing academic research (as is sometimes the case), then one PhD might be required, but a PhD in religion or philosophy should be all they need to publish in any of the four subjects you listed.
    – cag51
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 16:22
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    In any case, I think you may have misinterpreted Mark's comment. I think the comment is pointing out that if Bob is a qualified candidate for a math professorship, they would not be at a disadvantage because they have a second PhD in art history.
    – cag51
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 16:24

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