I am a tenured professor in the field of education (learning sciences). I have been employed at my current university for six years now. Most of my research has been done in classrooms, researching the effects of instructional strategies on student achievement.

As I have been out in many different schools in different cultures and countries, I started to develop a new interest in the effect of physical environment on the behavior of students. Later I found out that the field is called environmental psychology and I am just so intrigued by the idea that school architecture and interior design can have impact on behaviors of students.

It has been about a year since I first started to feel passionate about the field. Now I am searching for graduate programs in the field. But giving up my current status and starting a new life as a graduate student requires a lot of courage. I have not heard of any professor who went for a second PhD degree in a different field. I don’t even know if they will let me in the program. I do feel like I can give up my current career for my passion in the new field.

Lots of people change their career during their lifetime. I have seen classroom teachers as old as fifty go back to university for a PhD. Why can’t a professor go back to school to change his/her field? But I guess I am afraid people will think I am crazy or that I might regret this later in my life. I am 40 years old, and I feel like perhaps this is my last chance for a field change. I would appreciate honest advice from other professionals in academia.

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    What you're doing now does not sound too different from what you would like to do. Don't you have the freedom to steer your research in that direction? Doing a second PhD is basically always a bad idea.
    – Niko
    Jul 29, 2017 at 10:25
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    Just hire a PhD student and make him pursue your passion. And then try to be a great adviser.
    – polfosol
    Jul 29, 2017 at 13:18
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    PhD is not a cooking license or so. It is a proof that you are able to do research yourself. So just go, and start study the new field you are interested in, do research, apply for grants etc
    – Greg
    Jul 29, 2017 at 14:52
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    @polfosol make him pursue your passion — I think you mean "Hire a PhD student who shares your passion and let them help you pursue it."
    – JeffE
    Jul 29, 2017 at 18:52
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    You're a tenured professor - you have all the latitude in the world to explore your ideas. You want to do something new? Do it! You're past the part of your life where you need other people to give you a rubber stamp and a gold star. Read some papers, make some contacts, write a proposal, go find some grant money, and get to work.
    – J...
    Jul 29, 2017 at 21:07

6 Answers 6


Tenure means you are set for life. If you have this kind of thoughts, you may not like the way you are set. A tenured professor has a lot of autonomy (especially in US). They have a lot of freedom in choosing their research. Among the things you can do as a tenured professor is switching fields. I'd advise trying to do that rather than get a PhD.

As a professor, people already know you are an experienced researcher and/or teacher, so it would be more likely for them to want to start collaborating with you. Plus, you have access to resources unavailable to graduate students.

What I would do:

  1. Use my contacts (or go to conferences, write emails, whatever) to get in touch with an environmental psychologist.
  2. Visit your new contact and sketch a work plan. Then see how you can find funding for what you plan to do together. You could also be a visiting professor for a while there and start working on a project you find interesting.
  3. Apply for a grant with your friend and if you get it
  4. Hire a postdoc. You can learn a lot by working with the postdoc.

I would add 5. live happily ever after as an environmental psychologist.

I would not do a PhD again if I were you, especially if it meant quitting my tenured job. Your family might not take it very well if you suddenly decide to forfeit your status as a tenured faculty. I think this will complicate things for you so much that it will offset all the advantages of learning the subject in graduate school.

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    Tenure does not mean you are "set for life." It means you are protected from being fired too easily.
    – Kimball
    Jul 29, 2017 at 23:58
  • "Your family might not take it very well if you suddenly decide to forfeit your status as a tenured faculty" - unless the OP has a family that relies on them financially (a significant pay cut could cause issues if not planned accordingly), I see no relevancy to this sentence. One should not allow family sentiment prevent them from following their passion, even it if means taking a position that is technically a demotion. Aug 3, 2017 at 14:35

The two fields are very close together. (Both are essentially different types of applied psychology.) There isn't really even a point in going back to school for this. Just learn the stuff and practice it. Once you have a Ph.D. in one field you can practice others. Even ones that are more different like biology and physics.

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    Good point about PhD in one area and work in a very different one. The biophysics faculty of my wife (formally, a biology section) was 90% hard core PhD physicists (including all the senior staff and the head)
    – WoJ
    Jul 30, 2017 at 12:22

The other answers advising you not start over but rather refocus elsewhere, leveraging your tenure to allow you to move into a new research area are excellent.

There are a good number of fellowship/training programs that are specifically designed for experienced faculty to do exactly this. While they are might not be directly relevant to your specific situation, two that come to mind are NIH Research Career Development and Humboldt Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers. As you move along in your career opportunities to explore new areas diminish, and programs like these are designed to address that.


There is no need quitting your present job. You can take a few online courses for free on internet if you feel that you are lacking background:


Then just follow advice that was already given to you.

However if EdD is what you have and it's not enough for your chosen field then it's a whole new game.


I was in a similar position to your a few years ago, except that I'm about 20 years older than you. I also work in education (teaching and doing research in instructional design). I had developed an interest in applied/professional ethics, and wanted to pursue this. Here is what I did: I pursued and online masters degree from a prestigious mainstream university in the United Kingdom (I live in the United States) - Russell Group university in if you know the UK ranking system. I did the master's in order to get a good solid grounding in the field. I did not feel the need to do a dissertation and get a PhD.

As other commentators have said, I would strongly advise you to consider alternatives to resigning your position. I was able to complete the master's in about 3 years, practically nobody in my department even knew about it (I kept it to myself). Now that I've completed it, I'm beginning to write and also teach one course. Good luck.


Are you a tenured professor in a primarily research university or do you have a huge teaching load? If you are at a research university and then you have freedom to steer your research career. Just hire a good PhD student or a postdoc as others have suggested and you can learn together. Go to conferences in the field, etc., etc. Since you have tenure you know how research works.

On the other hand if you have a huge teaching load and are not able to find to do your current research, let alone enter a completely new area, then you are certainly in a very tricky situation. But then you have to be realistic and ask yourself if a second PhD will land you in a better situation than your current one?

Also, as others have pointed out, a lot depends on where your tenure is (which country), which university you are at, and if you are happy with your environment there. Are you hoping to pursue a second PhD in a highly ranked university in the US? These details are not clear in your question.

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