I have often seen academics and science communicators who are positioned as subject matter experts in a field or topic but haven't been directly involved with doing research since their Ph.D. or postdoctoral training years ago. Or they had their training in some other topic in the field ages ago.

Does the ability to read and assimilate information from a paper (irrespective of having practical training) enough to be called an expert? Or is it necessary to be an active researcher in the subject to be an expert?

For clarifying my question:

  • I have an undergrad, Master's and a Ph.D. degree in materials science with a focus in aerospace materials but am now reading papers on battery and solar cells (which are completely unrelated topics in materials science). Can I be called an expert in battery and solar cells if I have read current research papers, got some theoretical understanding and can have a constructive discussion on the topic? I can distinguish between a good research and a poor one. But don't have practical experience or research output in the topics.
  • 2
    I think this is off topic as asking for opinions, so won't answer, but usually "expert status" is "conferred" by the acclaim of others. It is "recognized", often for various, possibly obscure, reasons. It normally requires some visibility in some community, however.
    – Buffy
    Jan 21 at 13:47
  • 3
    "What defines if a researcher is an expert in a field/topic or not?" What or who defines of your neighbour is a nice guy or a jerk? If a musician is a great artist or only produces trash? If your local carpenter does good work due to their extensive experience, or can't distinguish a table from a chair despite being a carpenter for 20 years? There is no "official certificate" of being an "expert". Who considers whom to be an expert for this or that depends strongly on the context, the social setting, etc. So I don't think your question can be answered unless you make it much more specific. Jan 21 at 13:47
  • @Buffy Jochen Glueck, I have added some clarification to the question.
    – Axiomicity
    Jan 21 at 14:23
  • I think the answer of Maarten Buis would be my answer (not answer) also. You likely have "some" expertise. But would a recognized expert call you an expert? Not so likely, but possible. Still, it asks for opinion, as there is no "definition".
    – Buffy
    Jan 21 at 14:49

1 Answer 1


A person is an expert if someone calls her or him a expert. It could even be that someone declares herself or himself an expert. Be careful when doing so: it works surprisingly often for a general audience, but at the same time makes you look silly within that field.

In short, expert is not a protected title, so it could mean anything.

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