A person claims to have earned a PhD from Harvard University, but is offering no credible proof. How can I verify their claim?

  • 28
    Why do you need proof? Aug 26 '16 at 12:56
  • 17
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not related to academia Aug 26 '16 at 13:18
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    @user3209815 I strongly disagree: this question is about verifying a claimed academic credential. It doesn't matter that it's a roommate asking, rather than a PI considering an academic hire.
    – jakebeal
    Aug 26 '16 at 14:21
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    I heavily edited the question to remove the backstory and just keep the meat of what's being asked. I agree with @jakebeal that this is a perfectly valid question, as this could be asked by anyone doing a hire, looking into a collaboration, or simply trying to learn how to prove their own attendance without providing a diploma.
    – eykanal
    Aug 26 '16 at 16:38
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Harvard has a page on their website dedicated to this exact question, and the answer turns out to be simply "contact the specific school and request verification of the degree."

To speak to the general case, just call the university registrar and ask how they go about verifying degrees. This is a very common scenario and they will almost certainly have a process in place for it.

  • 13
    This is the right way to verify a real degree, but it won't conclusively disprove a fraudulent claim. For example, the person can claim he received a degree under a different name, which he is unwilling to reveal (for any number of possible reasons: hiding from a threatening stalker, participating in the witness protection program, sex reassignment surgery, etc.). For job applications, this is good enough, since it's the job applicant's burden to provide enough information to verify the degree, not the employer's burden to disprove it, but in other cases it can leave a sliver of doubt. Aug 26 '16 at 16:48
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    then the hiring party can elect to not hire. if someone claims to have a credential, they must allow that claim to be verified. if they say "I, (current name), have a PhD from (some college) in Harvard University, awarded in (some year)" and Harvard says "No one with that name exists in our recorded degrees awarded from that school and year." then the applicant has to accept that their claim is unverified until they provide sufficient information to verify. It is up to the applicant to reveal sufficient information to verify the claim. Aug 26 '16 at 19:36
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    @robertbristow-johnson: I completely agree for hiring situations, which is certainly the most important case, but the question as stated is broader than job applications. (It's worth noting that before editing, it dealt with a roommate who claimed to have a Harvard Ph.D. without providing any evidence. That's the sort of situation where someone might say "I do too have a Harvard Ph.D., but my previous name is none of your business," and even though you don't for a minute believe them you can't conclusively rule it out without hiring a private detective to track down their life history.) Aug 26 '16 at 19:53
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    Everybody's favorite topic of conversation is "themselves". You can usually figure out in a few minutes whether someone is a good or a bad liar when talking about themselves - the simplest way is just to remember any vague or evasive answers, and steer the discussion back to asking the same question again, after the interviewee has had time to forget what his/her first answer was. There's nothing very original in that strategy - every police officer is taught how to do it! Of course in some (non-academic) jobs being a good liar can be a positive attribute, but being a bad one never is.
    – alephzero
    Aug 27 '16 at 0:25
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    @alephzero: How do you tell if they're a good liar with that technique? If they were then you wouldn't be able to tell they were lying...
    – user541686
    Aug 27 '16 at 18:30

If he got his PhD after 1970, then his dissertation should be available through proquest. Go here enter the name and see if anything comes up.

  • 23
    Not true anymore. Many people embargo their dissertation or opt out, so not being in pro quest is no longer diagnostic.
    – RoboKaren
    Aug 26 '16 at 16:27
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    @RoboKaren: That's a good point. But typical embargoes are 2 years or less, so might not apply here. I also think (a little googling backed it up, but I could easily be wrong) that embargoes only hide the content, not the metadata (author, title, school, year). Aug 26 '16 at 16:50
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    For people curious about the trend RoboKaren mentioned, here's an article on PhD embargo rates at Harvard. Aug 26 '16 at 18:53
  • From the article that @Noah Snyder mentioned: "As a result, as a search in ProQuest reveals, an unprecedented number of dissertations (almost one in three) produced at Harvard in 2012 and 2013 are embargoed. These dissertations are now secret and the authors can decide how long to keep them so."
    – RoboKaren
    Aug 26 '16 at 22:27

Research universities tend to archive their PhD dissertations and list them in the online library catalogue. The institution named in the question does that.

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