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A famous person in my hometown claimed that she was awarded a "1.5 Ph.D. degree" by her thesis committee in a famous law school in London in the early 1980s (which was noted on her diploma, according to her memoir) -- is there really such a thing in academia?

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  • What exactly did she claim a "1.5 PhD degree" is? It's certainly not something I've (British, although a not born until a few years after this is claimed to have happend) ever heard of.
    – Chris H
    Jan 20, 2020 at 13:19
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    Without proof of seeing the diploma who can say.
    – Solar Mike
    Jan 20, 2020 at 13:30
  • According to the memoir, her committee member thought that her thesis was so good (a law student with a strong background on international trade) that they decided to award her a "1.5 PhD degree." Nevertheless, on the three different versions of her Ph.D. diplomas that she showed to the public (one should be real; the other two are replacements because she lost her certificate twice for unknown reasons), there was no such note about the "1.5 Ph.D. degree." Just wondering if anyone ever heard of such a thing.
    – ann
    Jan 20, 2020 at 14:38
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    Just this in Google books, for which the reviews say it's fake: books.google.com/books?id=IRwIvwEACAAJ&sitesec=reviews
    – shoover
    Jan 20, 2020 at 17:23
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    I assume we're talking about the Taiwan president's claim. Some discussion is provided here.
    – cag51
    Jan 21, 2020 at 4:26

2 Answers 2

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No. It is difficult to prove a negative, but the idea of a "1.5 PhD" seems far-fetched on its face. Negative search results on the internet coupled with the lack of answers here over the past six months further indicate that the answer is no.

Where did this crazy idea get started? Apparently, from some claims made by the President of Taiwan. As stated in this report by a faculty member at the University of North Carolina:

[President Tsai Ing-Wen] also claimed that the committee decided not just to award her a PhD in law in 1984, but also to add the remark “she has extraordinarily strong academic background in international trade” to her PhD diploma. She went on to say that the thesis committee lionized her work as “worthy of 1.5 PhD degrees.”

There was some controversy in 2019 about whether Dr. Tsai had earned a PhD at all (in fact, the linked report concludes in the negative). However, the London School of Economics confirmed that she was "correctly awarded a PhD in Law in 1984." The LSE did not mention anything about an "extra half PhD," nor is there any proof that the faculty added any remarks to her diploma (indeed, adding remarks to a diploma is not a typical practice).

I suspect that what happened is that her advisor made the remarks when introducing her at the defense, and she simply paraphrased and/or embellished those comments. Indeed, some commenters suggest that the introductions at public defenses tend to have "gushing praise," to the point where suggesting she deserves "merely" an extra half-PhD could be considered rather faint praise. I suspect this varies culturally; no one made such remarks at my defense or at others I attended (maybe we are just slackers...).

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    In my experience, introductions given by advisors to their students at public defenses can be quite gushing. If anything, saying a student "did the equivalent work of 1.5 PhDs!" in that context would be damning with faint praise; you'd expect them to at least have accomplished the value of 2 PhDs... (Not that it necessarily applies here, just noting that saying something like that isn't too out of the ordinary)
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 10, 2020 at 1:28
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    @BryanKrause I agree. To my experience, "1.5 PhDs" seems much closer to barely scraping through than to an exceptional student.
    – Thomas
    Sep 10, 2020 at 3:02
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    Both public thesis defences and introductory speeches by the advisor are something of a rarity in the UK. Sep 12, 2020 at 17:22
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No, generally speaking - not a thing.

However, in many ex-Soviet countries a post-PhD degree called Doctor of Sciences exist. This is not to be confused with German "Dr. ..." system which is equivalent to PhD. So in Russia, for PhD the requirement would be having just 2 publications (3 for social sciences) while for Doctor of Sciences it is 10 (15). There you have it, "PhD 2.0". On top of that, there are precedents of PhD dissertations being so good a Doctor of Sciences degree was awarded for them instead even though other formal requirements were not met. So there is some far-fetched existing base for that (well, probably not particularly that very) claim, after all.

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  • In Germany there is also such a "beyond" PhD degree.
    – Buffy
    Sep 27, 2021 at 19:40
  • See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Buffy
    Sep 27, 2021 at 19:57
  • @Buffy yep, I just wanted to point out how naming gets confusing when doctorate elsewhere and doctorate in ex-USSR mean two different things. In the latter case, a PhD equivalent does not even have "doctor" in its name...
    – Lodinn
    Sep 27, 2021 at 20:03

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