When I was younger, I sometimes thought whether you can you get multiple PhDs. For example, can a rocket scientist have a PhD in Chemistry and Math. Now, after being a Professor for a while, I do know it is possible. Absolutely, people get multiple PhDs. Having multiple PhDs is uncommon, but people do to get multiple doctorates. I have run across people who have done it on occasion. Please watch this video if you want to see me in person talk about people getting multiple PhDs. I provide a lot more background and personal notes than in this blog post.

Why Do People Get Multiple PhDs?

Generally, there are three reasons for the multiple PhDs:
  1. People get a second or a third PhD (a third is extremely uncommon) if they are  upgrading their research skill-set. Sometimes people upgrade with an additional PhD within their previous area of research. The PhD they have is from another geographic location that is unrecognized in another geographic location. For example, this generally happens when someone immigrates to another country, and for some reason, the PhD is just not recognized in the new country.
    1. Upgrading a research skill-set is also common if someone is interested in a particular topic and they want to dig deeper into that topic. For example, let’s say that you are studying human behavior, but you realize that you need to understand set theory to better explain the human behavior in a more elegant fashion. Getting another PhD might be an excellent way to expedite your development of a research program in that area that combines set theory and human behavior.
  2. People get an PhD if they are transferring to a new area of research. When they transfer to a new area of research, they need to get extra skills in the new area. For example, say a person has a PhD in the Humanities, but they slowly realized that their research interests lie Mathematics. They will pursue the Mathematics PhD to get a better understanding of Mathematics, and so they can read and publish within Mathematics journals. In Business Administration, Law, Medicine, and another other professional program, many people transfer to these new areas from other tangential areas. For example, engineers or scientists sometimes move into business, and become Business School professors by getting a PhD in Business Administration or a similar degree (i.e., a PhD in Industrial Organization in Economics).

Why Don’t More People Get Multiple PhDs?

Brutal honesty? Getting a PhD is generally a tough process. Sure, I have heard some people say that they had a lot of fun during a PhD, but I am going to call them out on that. If the PhD was easy, then more people would want to do one over again a second and third time. It is just extremely uncommon for find people with multiple PhDs because there are significant costs (both in time and finances) associated with pursuing the degree. The closest thing where people may repeat a PhD, and it is somewhat common, is a Post-Doctorate. A post-doctorate is a paid (or non-paid) position where you extend your research program. You might work on additional papers, or continue to make your current research better. Basically, you are just extending the time you have before you get a tenure-track university position.

Does The First PhD Improve Your Chances Of Getting Into The Second PhD Program?

Personally, I think that getting into the second PhD program is a matter of framing your first PhD.  People read a lot into what you did or did not say. Anything that is unusual gets more scrutiny than the usual. If you frame the first PhD as a loss, or as a complete waste of time, then I really don’t think you will have good chances of getting into the second PhD program. People are going to believe that you will be not satisfied with the second PhD either. You would be surprised, but some people (not many) do just collect degrees for the sake of collecting degrees. This happens a bit more with Masters degrees, though. If you frame the first PhD as a matter of discovery, and that you found your passion in the topics covered in the 2nd PhD, you will have a considerable easier time convincing people about why you are going for another. Really, this is what your 2nd PhD should be in the first place. It should be about discovery and your passion for the new research area, and the 2nd PhD just accelerates this discovery process. If you are interested in doing a PhD in Business, you have to read the following resources that I created for you.
  1. This blog post is an in-depth look into doing the GRE or the GMAT, and which one you should choose to do.
  2. This blog post is about tips for writing your statement of purpose. I really do think these tips work, and they are not what you see elsewhere.
  3. This blog post is about the advantages and disadvantages of getting a PhD (in Business, of course). You should read this post if you are on the fence about doing a PhD and need additional information.

Do You Need The Multiple Doctorate Degrees?

Before you pursue another doctorate, you should really think about whether you need the other doctorate. Some people just start doing research in the new area, and slowly gravitate to that new area. You would be surprised how much you can learn on your own. Melissa Schilling, for example, has done research in both the study of strategy and Alzheimer’s. You might save yourself a lot of hassle, just by picking up some journal articles and learning about the new area.

Are Multiple PhDs Recommended?

Doing multiple PhDs is really just a personal choice. You already know that the first PhD was rather challenging, so doing a second one might go quicker given that you have this information. Most often, I believe that people that stay within similar domains appear to do their 2nd PhD quicker than those that go to another domain. Of course, this is just a qualitative gut-feeling, but I suspect this is true. Eggers and Song’s paper shows that this may be the case for entrepreneurs, so I suspect it is also true for 2nd time around PhD students. However, in the end, all of these really just depends on your abilities to get the second PhD done. What predicts PhD success? I really, really think it has little to do with intelligence, privilege, or natural endowments.  Rather, it is all about your passion to get it done, and your passion to do work. If you love work, than the 2nd PhD makes sense. Some people just have grit to do the PhD, and those that want to do a doctorate for a 2nd time are just curious, and they see the value in education.

An Aside About the R3ciprocity.com Project.

Before I go, I wanted to let you know that this is part of my r3ciprocity.com project. There were so many people that helped me out to get my PhD, and to allow me to become a professor, I wanted to create something that I could pay the favor forward. I am building a sharing economy proofreading website so you can get feedback on your work (it’s a work in progress, so please be OK with errors in this blog post. 🙂 ). I have also created a pretty extensive catalog of questions and stories on YouTube. You ought to check it out, so you can find out more about me as a person.

A Couple Of Bonus Videos.

I wanted to leave you with a few more videos that I think are worth watching. One is about whether doing a PhD is worth your time. I personally think it is, but I truly have to wrestle with this question. It was not clear to me, but I was in the ‘trenches’ and did not see the immediate value of my PhD. Now, a few years later, I really see the value in getting a PhD. However, the reason why is not what most people think. Personally, I think it is the knowledge you gain, and the opportunities you see when you have a PhD that is truly something you cannot get without it. My last video is about whether getting multiple Master’s Degrees is better than getting a PhD. It turns out that this is a rather common question because many scientists and engineers will get a Master’s Degree in their field and then decide to get either a PhD or an MBA. I kinda did both – I did my PhD in Business Administration. A PhD is a research degree, but I am able to combine my love for research and business. Anyway, you should watch this video if you want to learn about getting a PhD, or getting multiple Masters. I also have a blog post that goes much more into detail about multiple Master’s, and I think will be quite helpful for you.

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David Maslach

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