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Is it possible to have a double PhD even if the university you are originally applying for doesn't focus on this category? A double PhD is not the same thing as two PhDs. For example, the medical school at the University of Groningen describes its double PhD program as follows:

A Double Degree (DD) PhD means that you will obtain your PhD degree from two different institutions, i.e. a double diploma, sometimes also referred to as a "dual award". A double degree (two diplomas, each of which issued by a single university) should not be confused with a "joint degree" (one diploma issued by multiple institutions).

I'm applying for a PhD position on a university and it does not have a explicit double PhD program (although I know there are some people on another field that held a double PhD from this same university). However, this double PhD degree would be very helpful to me considering my future plans.

From this, I was wondering: could I receive a double PhD if I find a second advisor from another university? Or the universities need to be associated upfront? In this case, if the university I'm apply on does not have an explicit double PhD program, it is possible (for legal issues of diploma printing) to just associate with another university?

My second question is: for an advisor, what is the advantages of having a part-time student? For last, the thesis needs to be approved for both universities... how this happens? I would have to present for both?

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    To clarify, a double PhD is not the same as two PhDs. See this meta question – StrongBad Nov 16 '16 at 23:50
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    I know of a person doing sort of a double PhD in Stockholm University and (MIT/Caltech/Harvard, don't remember which one), arranged by the supervisor, not a program from the institutions. Among other quirks, this means she doesn't qualify for travel funding from either university. – Davidmh Nov 17 '16 at 9:25
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First, a note for those who are not familiar with the terms. In general, double degree or joint degree are degrees awarded by two different universities within a student mobility agreement. They do not refer to the pursue of two independent degrees, as described in this question.

At the Master's level the tradition of double degrees is well established within the EU, and has been going on for more than twenty years, probably 30, since the establishment of the Erasmus programme. Currently, the major EU programme supporting joint degrees is the Erasmus Mundus. The Erasmus+ guide, p. 109, describes the framework of the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master degree. Of course, individual universities can set up joint degrees outside of this programme, especially when one of the partner universities is outside the EU.

At the PhD level things are much less established. As far as I know, the idea of a double PhD degree has emerged only in the last 3-4 years. Before, it was totally unheard of, at least in my country (Italy). Though students are usually encouraged -- and funded -- to spend a period abroad (typically from 6 months to 1 year), this is done within an agreement between two research groups, and not at the university level (though it should be approved by the PhD programme committee).

Usually, to obtain a double PhD degree a student should follow a shared path between two partnering universities. For instance, the two universities might agree that the student shall spend two consecutive years in one university under the supervision of X, and two other consecutive years in the second university under the supervision of Y; that the coursework should be divided equally between the two universities; that the student should defend their thesis in front of a joint committee (or in front of two committees separately); etc.

Since at the PhD level things are much less established with respect to the Master's, I will answer on the basis of my experience: I have a student who is pursuing a double PhD degree; one who initially asked me to do that; and I know a couple of other students from other advisors who are pursuing it.

None of the universities I know of have an explicit double-degree programme for PhDs. In fact, the double degree is usually proposed by a student who thinks, in this way, to strengthen their PhD or to facilitate the immigration in another country. This means that the double degree should be set up on a case-by-case basis, which usually brings about a bureaucratic nightmare, especially for the PhD schools and the advisors. This nightmare comes from the fact that different countries, even within the same region (e.g., EU), have different requirements for what concerns programme duration, funding, coursework, publications and assessment, and finding an agreement is quite complicated.

For instance, if the PhD in one country has a duration of 3 years, and it is funded for that period, who is going to pay for an additional year in a country where the "standard" PhD duration is of 4 years? If there is an ongoing collaboration between two groups it might not be that difficult to find the money, but it could be almost impossible to set up such an agreement out of the box.

As I said, in my experience, the double degree is usually proposed by a student who thinks to strengthen their PhD. I strongly disagree with this premise, and I usually discourage my students from such an idea. A double degree is not stronger than a single one done working hard and with a good publication record. Then, whether it can facilitate or not immigration to another country is questionable: I don't think that, to date, there is sufficient statistics to know this.

As for your last questions:

for an advisor, what is the advantages of having a part-time student?

There is an advantage if there is a collaboration between two groups, otherwise there is really no advantage.

For last, the thesis needs to be approved for both universities... how this happens? I would have to present for both?

These details are really decided on a case-by-case basis, and sometimes the outcome depends on whether one university wants to appear stronger than the other and impose its criteria.

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What you are asking is often called "sandwich PhD". It's a European thing, and all programs I know are funded by Erasmus Mundus (which also has a lot of sandwich Master programs).

From this, I was wondering: could I receive a double PhD if I find a second advisor from another university? Or the universities need to be associated upfront? In this case, if the university I'm apply on does not have an explicit double PhD program, it is possible (for legal issues of diploma printing) to just associate with another university?

When you submit a PhD thesis, you often have to state something like "this thesis has not been previously submitted for the award of a degree by this or any other university".

Therefore, in order to apply to this program, the two universities need to have an agreement before you can apply. Never assume that you can convince the administration of a university to have this agreement for you.

For last, the thesis needs to be approved for both universities... how this happens? I would have to present for both?

Yes. You need to be approved by the advisors from both universities, and need to submit the thesis to both universities. And this can be very awkward.

I know a person who were in this kind of program. He had worked for two years in the Netherlands, before coming to my university in the UK for the final year. However, the two advisors did not collaborate at all, and did not work on the same topic (although in the same field). During the time in the UK, he could not produce any paper in 1 year in a different topic, while still working with the supervisor in the Netherlands (this is unknown to the advisor in the UK).

After 3 years, the advisor in the Netherlands had 3 papers with him and thought he was good enough to graduate. The advisor in my department had no paper with him, and wanted him to work for another year without scholarship (the scholarship from Erasmus Mundus is fixed). In the end, he had no choice but to quit PhD.

  • Good explanation, except the observation that your limited exposure to Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate (EMJD) has left you with a negative overview of the program. I know many successful EMJD PhD graduates, who did well with both universities/professors. But what you encountered is somewhat common - but to a lesser severity. For instance, not any paper with the second professor, but still graduate on time. Or at least the second professor offers the grant for the student to continue the 4th year. Disclosure: I am an EMJD student myself, and also a program representative of EMJD. – Pradeeban Kathiravelu Dec 3 '16 at 11:31
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I have two peers who have such double PhDs in physics(one in experimental physics related to ALICE experiment and other related to nuclear theoretical physics). They have both "doubled" the PhD in France. They have worked formally with two supervisors, but in practice only with one of them. The double PhD had the advantage of training with the group in another country, and of course the funding came from both Universities, which doubled their salary. The only problem were the thesis evaluation system, since the standard was different in the two universities(in one of them the thesis is evaluated strictly by the number of publications and their impact, while in another the standard were related more to the advise of thesis committee).

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I think that the main question that you have to ask yourself is: what will I gain by doing a double PhD thesis. If, e.g., it will give you access to a (second) lab with unique assets, complementing your first lab, or provides you with a second supervisor who has complementary knowledge to your first one, then there might be some benefits.

It will certainly give you some extra headaches, since you will be the one dealing with two university bureaucracies, trying to align two (probably conflicting) sets of PhD regulations. (I am speaking from experience here, since I performed a double PhD thesis).

Now for your questions:

From this, I was wondering: could I receive a double PhD if I find a second advisor from another university?

Yes, but you will make need to make sure that both universities support the double degree.

Or the universities need to be associated upfront?

While it certainly would help, it is not a strict requirement. You need to make sure that both universities support the double degree, and you need to assert this at the very beginning of your PhD program. It is advisable to have a statement from both in writing.

In this case, if the university I'm apply on does not have an explicit double PhD program, it is possible (for legal issues of diploma printing) to just associate with another university?

While this certainly makes it more difficult, it might still be possible (unless they explicitly prohibit it in their regulations). You will need some agreement. Contact the supporting professor, who can direct you to the appropriate person(s) to talk to.

For an advisor, what is the advantages of having a part-time student?

It really depends. If there are some nice complementary properties to either the second lab or prof, then the first prof might benefit from this as well. Also for his/her network it might be beneficial.

For last, the thesis needs to be approved for both universities... how this happens? I would have to present for both?

The thesis needs to be approved by both universities. Personally, I presented only at one of them, and had the members of the committee of the other one attend (Actually I followed the protocol of the first university, while presenting at the second). Anyway, you will need to align with your supervisors on this matter.

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