I don't care much for being rich. I don't mind a modest life if I can just do research in the field I love.

Thus I am curious to know if it is possible to make a living just by studying. (Suppose I could hypothetically get funding for every Master or PhD program). Is there an age limit or a limit to the number of PhD degrees that I could get? Are there any other reasons that prevent this?

  • 7
    if you "hypothetically" could get funding, yes. but that is a huge if, a completely unrealistic hypothesis.
    – henning
    Jun 29, 2015 at 22:05
  • 10
    I wonder if you make the same mistake I made when I was young, I thought that studying and doing research was the same thing. You can make a living doing research, studying not so much. Jun 30, 2015 at 8:04
  • 3
    @henning Even with funding, a university is fairly unlikely to admit somebody to study a second PhD and it would be hard to find an advisor. For a third PhD, it would be virtually impossible. Jun 30, 2015 at 9:04
  • 1
    Or you can live on welfare...on a recent trip to the UK it also appears that it is effectively possible to go to school constantly and live off of government loans without needing to ever repay them, and with forgiveness after 10 years. Just talking to a few family members who'd been through the UK system, I wasn't able to find out how this loophole was closed. Perhaps there is a class of perpetual students in the UK.
    – yters
    Jun 30, 2015 at 23:26
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    @DavidRicherby, not quite sure how it works, but my understanding is an acquaintance is working on her second degree in midwifery using government loans, after already getting a first degree in linguistics.
    – yters
    Jul 1, 2015 at 17:53

3 Answers 3


Why would you want to get multiple PhD degrees when the first one is all you need to do research for life? Much of the point of the degree is a certification of your ability to do independent research. After you've done that, you can get a job where you do research all day long! Many people get a professor's job where there are other duties, but plenty of people get jobs doing just research at government labs or non-teaching academic departments (like me!).

  • 6
    No, not at all. We write grant proposals to government agencies which fund research like NSF and NIH. We use that money to pay salaries of researchers to do the proposed projects.
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 29, 2015 at 22:38
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    when the first one is all you need to do research for life? — In fact, you don't even need the first one.
    – JeffE
    Jun 30, 2015 at 0:41
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    @JeffE, yeah, but it increases the odds in most fields somewhat.
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 30, 2015 at 1:11
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    @Bill Barth If you don't mind me asking, what field is your PhD in and what kind of research are you doing right now? People always say it is not worth doing PhD unless you want to stay at university.
    – OutFall
    Jun 30, 2015 at 16:27
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    @N0ir, I finished my PhD in Aerospace Engineering at UT Austin in 2004. I work for TACC also at UT. I have a managerial and research role leading a group of ~20 PhDs supporting our HPC user community and doing research. Clearly many jobs in the US have a PhD as a requirement and aren't in academia: pharma industry research, national labs, computer industry research, etc.
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 30, 2015 at 16:57

Another point is that many PhD programs (in the U.S., for sure) will not admit people who already have a PhD, no matter that it was/is in a different topic, etc., with or without funding.

And, these days, in the U.S., funding for graduate study in many subjects is shrinking, for many reasons. While it is illegal to discriminate based on age in the U.S., I think most PhD programs gauge their own success significantly by how well their graduates do in the academic (or other) professional spheres, and effectively promising to not participate would most likely kill chances of funding... Certainly does not help.

That is, in general consonance with the other answers, getting a PhD is just an initial step toward being an independent scholar (if not necessarily a commodified "researcher" in the grant-getting sense, etc). These programs are aimed at people who are intellectually/technically slightly immature (whatever their chronological age), and who do some sort of apprenticeship. If you think about it that way, an itinerant endless-apprentice is not what people want, because they want to have apprentices become "journeymen", in the archaic but useful sense.

  • 2
    independent scholar vs. commodified researcher -- that is an interesting distinction.
    – henning
    Jun 29, 2015 at 23:17
  • @henning, "Independent scholar"? Whatever is an "independent scholar" all about? What do they do?
    – Pacerier
    Jul 1, 2015 at 13:28
  • @Pacerier, "independent" in the sense of not being an "intellectually dependent" student/apprentice to a more experienced person. No implication was intended about "financial independence". Jul 1, 2015 at 14:20
  • @paulgarrett, Ic, so the distinction is not between "independent scholar" vs. "commodified researcher" because one could be both.
    – Pacerier
    Jul 2, 2015 at 7:42
  • @Pacerier, yes, once could have become "independent" of one's thesis advisor, and do genuine research, without necessarily having written grant proposals and gotten federal funding (thinking about the U.S.) Jul 2, 2015 at 11:58

Is there a limit of age in studing? Is there a limit of numbers of PhD that I could get?

No, but realistically there is a limit for how many years / PhDs you will find funding agencies and advisors who put up with you. Funding agencies / universities do not give out stipends just for fun - once it becomes obvious that you are really just studying everything without ever taking the next career step, nobody will be particularly thrilled to invest time, energy, and money into teaching you something that you actually don't plan to ever put to use.

  • 1
    I'm not saying that I'm not interested in use what I lear, or doing it just for fun, but more like improving my knodledge by working doing researches. I wouldn't like to study in some thesis that I know it will never be usefull. Thanks for the answer!, when you put like this, sounds more obvious, sorry, maybe my problem is thinking that just in school someone can improve his knodledge... Jun 29, 2015 at 22:30

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