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I have recently read many questions about doing a second PhD and (to my surprise) most people consider it a bad move. Also - it looks like some universities (for example Berkeley) even have formal policies against it.

I am now finishing two master degrees in Computer Science. My university is #1 in Poland, however in rankings such as QS or THE it's only around the 500-600 range (very low compared to my target).

I planned to apply for a PhD to a top 100 university in the world, and if I failed, then I would first do a PhD in my university and then - empowered with experience, a degree and papers - apply again for another PhD in a top 100 school. If I failed again, then I would do more papers and try again and again and again until success. This way I could "upgrade" my PhD.

This was before I found that there is formal policy against it (in USA, because in Poland no one seems to have any problem with it).

Now I am wondering what my options are. What can I do to maximize my chances of getting into a top 100 university from my position?

One may ask why I would even want to "upgrade" my PhD - I assume that getting a PhD from a widely recognized university will considerably improve my possibilities for working with the best people in the field.

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    Another option is to do a post-doc instead of a second PhD. – MBaz May 24 '18 at 0:55
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    I would not recommend placing a lot of weight on rankings as to a large extent they are pretty much meaningless. The simplest issue being the focus on research while many European Universities exist to teach instead of researching. Research takes place at research institutes - which incidentally feature rather prominently in the Nature ranking based on institution. Then an institution that publishes a lot may be good for publishing and worse for teaching - and vice versa. A lack of publication/research output does not indicate bad teaching. – DetlevCM May 24 '18 at 6:31
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    This would be similar to doing K-12 over again. By the time you're in high school, you're a much better learner than you were in 1st grade. You'd waste 13 years doing what could be done in 6 months. – B. Goddard May 24 '18 at 10:30
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    You assumed that having a phd would improve your chances of getting into a phd program. I don't think that's true, personally, I'd find very weird, especially if they are in closely related fields... – Fábio Dias May 24 '18 at 12:33
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    By the time you get the first one you don't need the supervision for a second one. Just get on with your career. – J... May 24 '18 at 14:10
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To make a good PhD degree, you do not have to be in the top 100 universities in the world. The high tier journals accepts papers and acknowledges valuable research contributions from all over the world.

Develop the skills you have acquired in your masters, get a highly motivated and experienced supervisor who is interested in your area/you are interested in his, seek good opportunities and move on. You may be surprised to receive invitations for research collaboration from top academics when the quality of your work is unparalleled.

As regards having more than one PhD degree, how many professors with the highest h-index in their fields, have more than one PhD? And there are many 'scholars' who did not finish from the top 100. Besides, there would also be other aspects of life that would require your time after the PhD. So it is essential think and decide well.

  • 3
    Great answer. It can also be helpful to round yourself out by doing outreach and working on your English and your teaching skills. – aparente001 May 24 '18 at 1:09
  • All of this is true in theory, but in practice the power of famous names and labels is hard to overemphasize. University name and supervisor name are one of the first filters people apply when considering whether to invite you for a job interview, accept your invitation to collaborate, etc. Coming from nowhere makes it hard to even get your door in the foot (though once you are there, your chances improve). Even at journals, inependent research shows that big names get you more favourable reviews. Moreover, the reseearch enbvironment tends to be richer and more up to date in top institutions. – Richard Hardy May 27 '18 at 14:45
  • A student's exceptional research can be judged and appreciated by experts from far and near. Even for the names and labels, in some cases, some of their papers do not get that much citation, since inclining the hearts of the people to cite their research is not in their hands. There are also several excellent academics who are outside the perimeter of the top 100. For anyone who can make it to the big names and labels, then that is fine, so as long as their experience, knowledge and training reflects in the output quality of the students research work. – Abdulhameed May 27 '18 at 16:06
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I considered the second PhD after I graduated with one from Ukraine. Boy am I glad I didn't "upgrade" it!

The problem with the second PhD is that most of it will teach you the things you already know and, given its length, it is most certainly a waste of time. By the time you graduate with the first PhD, you will be about 30. By the time you get your second PhD, you will be about 35. Your employment prospects at 35 without work experience will be questionable no matter how many PhDs you have. Not to mention family considerations.

Another problem is that even top PhDs programs are highly bureaucratic and not very economically efficient compared to post-docs and other employment opportunities so your stipend, if you get any, will be shoe money in a top-100 university town.

By the time you are done even with your first PhD, the expectations of you will be much higher than now. "Getting into top..." will not be good enough anymore. More likely you will be expected to "create the top", or even tougher "create the only" to get a high salary, recognition, or profit.

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    "shoe money"? I can infer the meaning, but I've never heard this expression. – Azor Ahai May 24 '18 at 16:32
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    @AzorAhai: I'd never heard it either. Some Googling suggests the following origin of the term: "People used to actually have a hollowed out heel in their shoes that they stashed money into, in case of emergency or mugging. A savings without the bank." In this context, I assume Arthur means that it'll a pretty small amount of money (at least compared to his expenses). – V2Blast May 24 '18 at 20:35
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You shouldn't focus too much on university ranking, but focus more on the quality of your advisor.

In the end, your publications are what really matters. If you have great publications at A and A* conferences, nobody cares about the ranking of your university. Has the advisor published at high-quality conferences and can teach you how to write a paper that gets accepted there? Does he have the travel budget to send you there if you get a paper accepted? Will you have enough time to work on your research or will you be busy teaching all the time?

Even in the top 100, don't expect that all departments are great. Most universities have some professors, that are doing great work and are well respected within their community.

At the same time: If you have very good general computer science knowledge, even without any papers, I don't think you will have problems finding a PhD position at a Top100 in western Europe. (UK, Germany, Sweden, France, Norway, etc.)

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My PhD is from a 600-700 school, and my postdoc and first research scientist positions were both in top-10 institutions. I work alongside many people from lesser-known schools, but alongside none with two PhDs.

My point here: another degree is not the only, or the most common, way to climb.

Buuuut... My time in these institutions has really tempered my belief the "the best work" is done here. The reward structure at "the top" encourages flashy work, and discourages both acknowledging mistakes and collaborating with the most qualified people. Some good work is done, certainly, but is it not as big a difference as I had hoped.

I am now considering a couple TT positions, and finding one with strong colleagues in a 500-600 school more appealing than one with a weaker group at a top 50 school.

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    I agree. My phd is from a 350-350th University. My first postdoc was at a top 3 university. It's important to see a PhD as the beginning of your journey, not the end. My advice: 1) Take every opportunity that comes your way and do your best with it. 2) Learns the skills (not necessarily knowledge) that is sought after in your field. I agree also that the quality outside the top 100 can easily rival the big institutions. – Nathan Thomas May 24 '18 at 14:25
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If you want to get into a better PhD program, the usual thing to do is to do a masters or work in a research lab and try to publish some papers. Doing multiple PhDs is not a reasonable approach.

Ultimately, you need to figure out what aspect of your application needs improvement and then work on that. Do you need more coursework to build the right background? Do you need research experience? Do you need better recommendation letters?

I would also emphasize that university rankings should be viewed with healthy skepticism. It matters more what you do and who your advisor/supervisor is. You should be able to judge the quality of a PhD without resorting to crude measures like the University's ranking.

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I don't know that the top 100 is that impenetrable first of all, at least to the point that you'd need publications to even get in even near the end of the list. Things like test scores and recommendations will counter your prior school ranking. Work on getting those in place.

A much better option (than a "first doctorate" which I'd also advise against) would be work experience. You can get a job as a research assistant at a university (doing essentially the same research as a grad student). Given that you have a Master's degree in the subject (er two of them) you would presumably be able to work fairly independently as well, if you found the right fit. And now you have star recommendation #1 when you move to the next step. I know multiple people who followed this path.

In computer science you can also go directly into industry. The lines of such applied fields are quite blurred these days between industry and research. You could find a job doing cutting-edge work in the area of your research interest, and even present at conferences. If it's a large company they may fund your studies.

Generally in technical areas, (a few years of) industry experience is viewed highly in grad school admissions. While a prior doctorate would look strange. Imagine a job where the requirement is only an undergraduate degree, yet you have a person with a PhD applying. It looks like the person is discounting all their additional training and skills.

  • I have 8 years of commercial experience as software engineer, but why would university even care about it? I thought that they care only about papers. – spam May 24 '18 at 22:55
  • @spam papers are not generally expected of applicants to grad school. Though research experience is extremely valuable to have. Industry experience is valued for multiple reasons. The most obvious being that your adviser gets a highly skilled student that can help advance the adviser's research agenda greatly. – A Simple Algorithm May 25 '18 at 2:54
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Your advisor and their contributions to your field of work is much more important than the ranking of your school. Having a good advisor and a good relationship with them is key to being successful at the graduate level (which you probably already know). When potential employers or future collaborators investigate you prior to hiring/collaborating, they will look for the quality of your work, quality of your advisor's work, and the advisor's standing in the field. A good/great researcher can work at a good/ok school.

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I have done 2 PhDs, and had very good reasons for that. But lets say it was very intense, as I had spend about 3 years for each for very reasons listed in answers above - to still be young enough in the end to get good employment chances. The second time around was extremely hard in the end, when you have to deal with bureaucratic hell, exams, job hunting and finalizing thesis all over again... the second time. So its possible and doable, but I personally recommend thinking very hard how necessary is it for your career. And also how would you answer question on why did you need two PhDs, as it will be the first one you would receive in every single job interview.

  • Honest answer is: I want two PhDs because I simply like to learn and also I perceive PhD as accomplishment and that's what I would say on interview. I am currently doing 2 master degrees while working full-time. I already have 8 years or commercial experience. I am sure that I could do two PhDs while still working full-time too. – spam May 24 '18 at 22:53
  • Your reasoning is very valid, and of course its doable and everything. Just think it all over very hard. Also consider, that having 2 PhD might make you overqualified for some jobs. And good luck in any case! – AgarAgar May 25 '18 at 8:06
  • @spam I don't think one can do a PhD on the side and work full time. As a PhD student you are absolutely expected to work full time on your PhD. Which in many cases that goes well above a 'normal' 40h work week... It's not like studying for a degree! You will be doing research. It's a very hard job. – user2705196 May 25 '18 at 20:25
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    @spam you don't need to accumulate PhDs just because you "like to learn". I've spent around 40 years learning continuously learning "new stuff" while working in industry, and I don't have even one PhD. The numerical methods that I now use in day-to-day work (writing software for engineering analysis applications) didn't even exist (and weren't considered worth researching, since "everybody" knew they were nice in theory but wouldn't work in practice) when I started my career. Typically I spend 5 - 10 hours a week reading papers in academic journals to keep up with the state of the art! – alephzero May 27 '18 at 9:26
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Famously George Dantzig's (known for the Simplex algorithm) mathematics PhD was even in the "wrong" discipline (statistical theory) since he had mistaken a list of currently unsolved problems at the blackboard with homework when arriving late at class, handed in only two of the three after the imagined deadline while hoping he'd at least get partial credit, getting a PhD instead.

It did not actually harm his career even though the PhD was not even in the direction he was actively pursuing.

A PhD is a milestone. It's much more important to your career what you do active research in. A double PhD in the same area would be a sign that you are not even interested in active research.

protected by Alexandros May 27 '18 at 20:30

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