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Note: I am aware of this other post that covers why doing many PhDs in different subjects is not a good path. My question is different: can I do multiple PhDs in the same subject, or very similar subjects, rather than climbing the ladder?

I chose to do a PhD because I like to design and manufacture very novel microstructures for the betterment of the mankind. I did pretty good job. I will be graduating in a couple of months and I'm thinking what to do next.

  • I don't want to work in industry, because as I witnessed, you end up in endless "project meetings" with not much space for actual intellectual or laboratory work.

  • I thought it would be nice to do a postdoc, but as I read on the internet, it often involves supervising students, writing grant proposals and doing lots of bureaucracy, with very little actual research compared to a PhD student.

  • The worst possible ending is to steer my career towards becoming a professor, because as one of my befriended professors said "my job is 75% about workplace psychology". I hate dealing with people. "Please solve our quarrels for us, daddy professor, we are just a group of adults who need a nanny." I know from here that "exceptionally good" professors may be able to avoid this fate, but I know I'm not exceptionally good, just good.

So instead of those three paths, I think it would be good to do a second PhD in a very close field. This way I could still do meaningful work while using domain knowledge that I already have. That would get me much better research results, because I could skip "learning basics".

So is my idea viable? Is it a good idea to do two phds in a row in very close fields? I don't expect high salary. I just want to do interesting research and solve technical problems, and I don't want to go to a completely different domain.

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    You don't need to start another PhD to switch to a very close field. You are already "certified" to do research independently. Why would you want another such "certificate"? There is a wide range of how much actual research and how much overhead stuff a postdoc needs to do. There exist postdoc positions where you can do research almost exclusively.
    – user9482
    Jun 8, 2022 at 12:07
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    @Sursula-they- the answer you linked is already linked with a comment in my question.
    – user46147
    Jun 8, 2022 at 12:26
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    @user46147: In the fields I'm familiar with, they are the rule, not the exception. Online feedback for academia is like that for Yelp or a doctor: the 1% who had a bad experience belabor their 1 star rating; the 98% who had an ok or good experience move on w/o leaving a review. About supervising students...as your ability and understanding of a field expands, you are more efficient if you work as a team. The students you might supervise allow you to do more, not less research (assuming they are reasonably competent). Jun 8, 2022 at 12:50
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    @user46147 You can find such positions at my institute. ;) Unfortunately, you seem to be in a different field. However, keep in mind that a postdoc is supposed to be qualification for the next steps in your scientific career. Not being involved in management, grant proposals or supervision of PhD students at all wouldn't be optimal if you aim for an academic career. Any senior and permanent position will involve large parts of management and/or teaching. That's just the reality of academic life.
    – user9482
    Jun 8, 2022 at 14:25
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    This question does not seem like a duplicate of the linked question. I encourage people to read the question carefully before voting to close or downvoting. I attempted to edit the post to make it clearer; perhaps this will help.
    – cag51
    Jun 8, 2022 at 22:30

2 Answers 2

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Is it a good idea to do two phds in a row in very close fields?

To the title question: no. The article you linked already explains that the purpose of a PhD is to teach you how to do research. You now (should) know how to do research, so there is no reason to do another PhD. In practical terms, governments, universities, and advisors effectively subsidize PhD programs: for example, by funding a PhD student when it would be more efficient to hire an existing PhD. They do this because training a new generation of R&D leaders furthers the university's mission and the national interest. Now that you have already been trained, it does not make much sense to subsidize you again.

So instead of those three paths...

I think you are far too dismissive of these three paths.

  • you end up in endless 'project meetings' with not much space for actual intellectual or laboratory work -- industry is a very big place, I seriously doubt that every position is like this. Moreover, you are likely to find that your share of intellectual work increases as you gain seniority, since you'll spend more time thinking about the big ideas and less time doing tedious work.
  • as I read on the internet, it often involves supervising students, writing grant proposals and doing lots of bureaucracy, with very little actual research compared to a PhD student -- your mileage may vary, but post-docs usually do relatively little bureaucracy. There may be some supervision and grant proposals involved, but these also bring advantages: you can choose what you work on and outsource some of the less interesting work to students. Further, post-docs usually have some control over how they spend their time (more so than PhD students).
  • The worst possible ending is to ...[become] a professor, because as one of my befriended professors said "my job is 75% about workplace psychology". 75% is an exaggeration for sure. It is true that if you are running a large lab, you will need to secure funding and supervise your staff, which will cut into your other responsibilities. But not all professorships involve running large labs and supervising huge staffs.

I don't expect high salary. I just want to do interesting research and solve technical problems.

I recommend reconsidering all three of the above paths. All three present paths toward permanent, well-paid positions doing interesting research and solving technical problems. In particular, it sounds like you may want to consider permanent positions as a technician or (non-tenure track) staff scientist, or the analogous roles in a private company. Some of these paths will be more attractive than others: for example, if you want to stay in the exact same field and not become a supervisor nor a principal investigator, then many of the more lucrative positions may indeed be closed to you. But even the less-lucrative positions will be more secure and better paying than trying to remain a PhD student forever. Good luck.

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There are many positions in academia where one can maintain a research heavy lifestyle, without mentoring/teaching. One such position is a research track faculty member. Essentially you pay your salary by getting research grants. Another alternative is to get postdoctoral research fellowships (which is less stable, but I know of one person who lived like this for many years, just traveling the world and doing research). They don’t always require grant writing or mentoring students, that’s only for those who want to become professors later on.

Some academic bodies will offer pure research faculty positions (e.g. the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, the CNRS in France and non tutorial fellows in Oxford). These are more competitive and kinda niche but they exist.

Doing two PhDs in a row is probably not viable, if they’re in the same field. While it’s probably ok to do (like I’m not aware of any rule precluding you from doing it), I don’t know if you’d be able to find an advisor willing to take you. A good part of taking PhD students is to mentor and help them grow. How will that happen with you? You seem set in your research agenda, and already got a PhD. So to conclude- I would suggest the paths I offer above instead.

As a meta comment, quite frankly- I think you are missing a big part of what research is about. If you do not like to teach and collaborate, then you don’t like a significant part of the scientific endeavor.

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