Hello dear academic community,

I am having a lot of confusion regarding what it is that determines your PhD field. As far as I know, PhD is an academic title awarded mainly in the humanities, and the way I understand it a person who writes a dissertation on Literature and some who writes one on History, will both be “PhD”. My question comes from the fact that I was offered a PhD research position in a project that takes place in the Faculty of Linguistics at a university. This is an interdisciplinary research project which encompasses Linguistics but also the Social Sciences such as Geography and Anthropology. The project director is a Linguist, and she offered me the PhD position in her department, however I do not have any formation in Linguistics, but rather in Sociology and Anthropology. My research proposal would therefore relate to language and its social and political dimensions, and it would be written from an anthropological perspective, since I feel I am completely unable to make any kind of linguistic analysis. Now, when people ask me in which field I would be doing my PhD, I kind of do not know how to answer. What determines your PhD field? Is it the department? The supervisor’s research field? Or the topic? I usually say it would be in Anthropology since I am planning an anthropological project. However, I do not know if this makes any sense at all. Does it make sense that I write an anthropological dissertation in a Linguistics department? Would that make me a PhD in Anthropology?

I hope someone can help me.

  • 4
    "PhD is an academic title awarded mainly in the humanities" errr no, PhDs exist in the sciences too. In fact, I can't think of a field in which a PhD degree doesn't exist. Jul 2, 2021 at 10:28
  • 5
    Does this answer your question? What is a PhD *in*?
    – Sursula
    Jul 2, 2021 at 12:19
  • @astronat MFAs are a terminal degree. Jul 2, 2021 at 20:46

2 Answers 2


Your PhD degree certificate itself will probably give the formal definition of your field. For example, mine says PhD in cosmology. But, if I was talking to someone who didn't know much about the different areas of physics, I might just say I did my PhD in physics. If I was talking to a cosmologist, I'd say I worked on dark energy, and specifically testing interacting dark energy models.

In your case, I think it's fine for you to tell people that you're working on an anthropology project in the linguistics department. I can't think of any context where it really matters one way or another the exact wording on your degree, or which department you did it in. If you're applying for an anthropology job, just make it clear that your thesis has an anthropology focus, despite your research being done in the linguistics department. In fact, to me this seems more interesting and will presumably open you up to far more different ideas and research opportunities than if you were working in a pure anthropology department.

  • interacting dark energy models --- I had to google this because originally I parsed this as "interacting dark-energy-models", which seemed to make sense only in some strange multiverse way that would be outside of anything we could do more than abstractly speculate about! Jul 2, 2021 at 13:44

It is highly dependent on location, but what it says on the certificate usually somewhat depends on what organisatorial sub-unit of the university is responsible for granting you the degree, usually that is either a faculty (e.g. humanities) or a department (e.g. linguistics). In general they will have some regulations that allow them to hand out degrees in a certain list of names. E.g. neither will be able to grant you a PhD in engineering.

But if it is up to the faculty of humanities, they might be able to hand you a PhD in anthropology even if you work for the department of linguistics. On the other hand, if it is up to that department, they might not be able to.

And in any case what it says on the certificate is mostly meaningless. If you continue in academic jobs, people will be more interested in your actual research and if you leave for something different, the precise nature of you PhD will no longer matter.

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