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I am starting a PhD in computer science, and have noticed that a number of classmates will write on LinkedIn or their academic websites that they are getting a "PhD in Machine Learning" or "PhD in Artificial Intelligence" and so on. Is this common/acceptable to write "PhD in [Area of Interest/Expertise]" instead of your home department?

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    Common/acceptable to who? It appears common within your class, but how much wider are you interested? Also, if you have reason for believing that it might possibly not be acceptable then it may be worth saying. – Ian_Fin Sep 28 '16 at 13:00
  • @Ian_Fin, an ideal answer will note if this is audience-dependent and factor that in if needed. – gwg Sep 28 '16 at 14:57
  • Given the range of possible audiences, and consequently the number of considerations potentially requiring factored in, does this not make the question rather broad? Perhaps a more focused question would be something like "Is it accurate to describe myself as getting a PhD in Machine Learning specifically, rather than just a PhD in Computer Science?" – Ian_Fin Sep 28 '16 at 15:01
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I believe it makes sense. The PhD education is a very narrow education which will give you very specific knowledge regarding a specific aspect of a research area. Therefore, it makes completely sense to be a bit more specific rather than general. PhD in computer science sounds very broad and not much descriptive.

  • The problem is that the OP's classmates are not PhD yet. I think it would be fine if they say "PhD student in AI". – scaaahu Sep 28 '16 at 13:23
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    Well, i agree with you. I was focusing more on the research area rather than on the title. For me is obvious that if you are still pursuing it you can not use it officially. – Alessio Sep 29 '16 at 7:22
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This should not be a problem. These people are providing additional information about what they are studying; nobody is going to be confused and think that they are studying under the auspices of a "department of machine learning," or whatever.

Whether people do this is cultural, and it depends on both the field and institution involved. Personally, I would not phrase things precisely this way on my c.v. However, technically, my Ph.D. degree is not "in" anything at all; no field was noted on my diploma or at my commencement ceremony. Depending on context, I might say that my degree was in "mathematics," "applied mathematics," or "mathematical physics." Which I would use would depend on my audience and what information I was trying to convey.

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It sounds fine to me too. FWIW, I usually phrase it as two separate statements: I'm getting a PhD. My research/thesis topic is..."

Not only are you clarifying what your field of expertise is, you're also preventing misunderstandings. I study artificial life, but I'm in what's called the "Faculty of Engineering", and for all I know that's what will be listed on my diploma. I certainly wouldn't want people to think I was capable of building a bridge!

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