I read the biography of a French-born scientist-turned-entrepreneur Philippe Kahn. It says that Philippe Kahn received the “French equivalent of a Ph.D. certified by the French Academy of Sciences”.

I discovered an article about Kahn which says that he earned the equivalent of a doctorate, but not the degree. In yet another article, I read that he holds an agregation de mathematiques, and this is the French equivalent of a doctorate. I am rather baffled at all this, since Wikipedia clearly indicates that agregation has nothing to do with the equivalent of a doctorate. Can you explain what Kahn's biographers mean by “the French equivalent of a Ph.D.”? And if this is the degree then why should it be certified by the academy? So far I have come to conclusion that by the equivalent they mean the D.E.A. degree

  • 1
    Is this question about Khan's biography specifically or about the French education system at the relevant time?
    – quid
    Aug 15, 2017 at 11:22
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    After reading about Kahn, I became interested in French educational system as well. Aug 15, 2017 at 11:55
  • Victor Wortman's article about Kahn says that after completing masters program in Nice, Philippe Kahn studied to get the equivalent of a doctorate, but not the degree, because to get the doctorate would require more years to get. Maybe I should edit my question to add this info too? Aug 15, 2017 at 11:59
  • Could you add link to Victor Wortman's article? I can't find the one you're referring to.
    – JeffE
    Aug 15, 2017 at 12:37
  • I have a PDF copy of that article. Can I attach it to comment? I got it some time ago at web.archive.org Aug 15, 2017 at 12:50

1 Answer 1


According to a 1985 biography in PC Magazine:

During his college days, Kahn played saxophone in Paris jazz clubs while earning an Agrégation de mathématique, equivalent to a Ph.D. in math.

Another 1985 PC Magazine biography states:

Kahn, who received the French equivalent of a Ph.D. in mathematics from the French Academy of Sciences, taught mathematics at the university level in Nice and Grenoble before coming to the United States.

Both Wikipedia and Kahn's LinkedIn page state only that he received a master's degree in mathematics from Université Nice Sophia Antipolis in 1975. This is not the equivalent of a Ph.D., and Sophia Antipolis is nowhere near Paris.

The agrégation de mathématiques is a competitive civil service exam used to recruit high school and university mathematics teachers. While the exam is extremely rigorous, and agrégés are qualified to teach at universities, the agrégation is not a research degree. French doctorates underwent a major reform in 1974 and again in 1984, but I believe the closest French equivalent of a Ph.D that Kahn could have earned in the late 1970s was the Doctorat du 3ème cycle.

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    Yes, I think that's the only possible explanation. Aug 15, 2017 at 12:59
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    I also know of top french researchers who didn't enrolled in any doctoral course but are in fact doctors and directors of research. I was told this is (was?) possible in light of an initial exception made for M. Curie. Obviously the people I know did demonstrate their scientific research competence in a non classical parcour.
    – Alchimista
    Aug 15, 2017 at 22:16
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    @Alchimista: You may want to add a comment, or maybe even an answer, to this question: Has anyone, based on great performance, ever been awarded a higher degree than the one they enrolled for? Aug 16, 2017 at 5:34
  • @O. R. Mapper. Unfortunately I don't know details. I am just sure about it as I worked in a group lead by one of those scientist but I am not willing to ask her(him). S(he) has not university curriculum at all. I also think that in my country - in principle!!! - an university could appoint a professorship on the sole basis of achievements. I said in principle, and in this case I am not sure.
    – Alchimista
    Aug 16, 2017 at 13:52
  • But yes, I can add a comment..
    – Alchimista
    Aug 16, 2017 at 13:55

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