Short version: Will putting a second PhD (by prior published work) on my CV cause more confusion than it is worth?

For the past decade I have built a strong academic career in a discipline that, objectively, is not what is listed on my PhD (think something along the lines of PhD in Classics but having an international research reputation in Contemporary Security Studies). I'm gainfully employed in a department associated with my chosen discipline, hold grants, supervise PhDs, etc etc. However unless you go deep into the gory details of my research focus, where everything becomes clear and logical, my PhD honestly doesn't make sense. Technically, I don't have the minimum qualification needed to be admitted to the master's programmes that I teach on.

I have the option of getting a "PhD by prior publication" in my real discipline from a top research university that I am not currently working at, but have a formal relationship with. It would cost nothing, and they have agreed I have prima face case for it and we are just finalising the details. I like the idea of resolving this confusion in my past, and (because the only step up for me is full Prof) I think that having it on hand will calm any promotion fears in the future.

Assuming the admin goes through, my CV would essentially be:

  1. PhD1 201x
  2. Progressive research career, grants, etc 201x–present
  3. PhD2 2022

I'm going to take the qualification...I mean, free PhD, no extra work needed! Who could say no? But I have the option just to quietly tuck it away until I need it for something specific such as proving I'm a real X-ologist for promotion.

So my question is, will this cause more confusion than it is worth on my CV, in the context of say, grant applications?

My sub questions are: Will it make it seem unclear what I was doing with my time? Does it have a negative connotation? Does anyone have any experience with how something like this would be evaluated in such a context? How do you feel about academics omitting qualifications from their CV?

  • 2
    Perhaps I should admit that I always thought getting two PhDs was pretty strange and I still don't quite understand why people would choose to research and write two PhDs. Perhaps I fear I'd be labeled one of those people who I don't understand, rather than who I am, someone who was doing that work anyway. I keep joking to my partner that people would need to call me the German Dr. Dr., but then I'm horrified... Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 13:44
  • 3
    Doing a second PhD program is weird, getting the second one by the body of work is a fairly reasonable thing. You put it best: "free PhD, no extra work needed!".
    – Lodinn
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 15:50
  • 1
    You could almost think of the second one as an honorary doctorate, recognising work in that discipline (it's not quite that, I realise). Such a thing is usually considered even more prestigious since you didn't set out to get it. Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 1:04

2 Answers 2


Sure, it would cause some confusion, but it sounds like your current situation already causes confusion, so arguably the inclusion of the second PhD, if done in a sensible way (e.g. putting an asterisk next to it and adding a short explanatory footnote) has the potential to lessen the confusion.

In addition to that, what do you care if it causes confusion? I assume listing a Nobel Prize on one’s CV also has a bit of a shocking effect when encountered by an unsuspecting reader. As @Buffy said, there’s definitely a “wow” effect associated with seeing a second PhD (even if it might be accompanied by a bit of a “huh?”).

In short, I don’t like giving people advice of the form “do this”. But in general a path that consists of stating the full truth about yourself, especially one that is quite flattering, seems preferable to one involving obfuscation.

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    I...honestly don't know why it didn't occur to me to put an explanatory footnote on the CV in contexts where I thought it might be needed. Thank you for this!! Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 14:39

From a US perspective I don't see how not listing a second degree is any advantage at all. Even if you aren't working in an interdisciplinary, field, having studied widely and deeply (both) is a good thing.

Unless there is some local issue, I'd list both, but I might divide up the CV so that it isn't so chronological. Degrees separated from work experience, perhaps.

I think the reaction of most would/should be "Wow!", not "Huh?"

In a mid career situation there shouldn't be any ethical issue either way, though, and omissions of accomplishments are unlikely to have ethical issues in any case.

  • No local issue, just I've never seen something like this before on any CV I've evaluated anywhere despite, as you say, being mid-career. I didn't set out to "do" a second PhD in another topic, it just happened around me. I don't know what it would label me as. I suppose I'm assuming I'd say "Huh?" not "Wow" if I was evaluating but it is certainly good to hear that isn't the default reaction! Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 13:37
  • Germany, and I assume other places in Europe have the idea of a Higher Order Doctorate, earned after an ordinary one, and, IIRC, mostly for published work, though in the same field. Not the same, exactly.
    – Buffy
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 13:41
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    Yes the habilitation. I was thinking maybe I could blag this off as a habilitation equivalent to the Germans :) It might allow them to tick that box if I was seriously thinking of moving there for a professorship which isn't impossible. But I see that as sort of a "tuck away" use. Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 13:47
  • @GrotesqueSI trying to pass off the second PhD as a Habilitation would potentially land you in a world of trouble.
    – TimRias
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 11:55
  • "I think the reaction of most would/should be "Wow!", not "Huh?" I can definitely see people reacting with "Huh?" if they're of the train of thought that a PhD just demonstrates that you're capable of independent research. Why waste time getting a second one?
    – nick012000
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 12:52

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