How do you get a PhD in a field nobody else has a PhD in?

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Til about Dr David Clutton who’s the only person with PhD in Gin, however stupid that sounds.
How do you get a phd in a discipline where there’s no-one to grant you that phd? How was it done in the past?

In: Other

It’s actually not quite as hard as it sounds.

Typically, when you get a doctorate you are more of an expert in your specific field of study than your advisor is. Your advisor is less there to literally teach you your field, but more to teach you how to do research. Understandably you’d want an advisor in a field that is still closely related to your discipline, but they don’t have to be an expert in your hyperspecific discipline.

In Clutton’s case; he has a background in analytical chemistry, and if he were to do his PhD today he’d likely refer to it as a PhD in chemistry, specializing in gin flavor. But point being; his advisor (whoever they were) likely was a chemist of some variety, and thus more than capable of guiding them through their doctorate.

Ph.Ds are by their nature specialized, but they tend to group together into fields. Dr. Clutton calls it a “Ph.D in Gin” because it’s a simple phrase with some solid impact, but it’s more likely to really be a Ph.D in some sort of culinary field (Arts? History? I’m not really sure what the university that granted it would have been thinking) with a special concentration on gin. His Ph.D committee would included others who had specialized in winemaking, brewing and distilling, and so on: fields closely related to gin and potentially having a strong interest in gin, but not quite the same thing. These Ph.Ds judged his work to be their equal, even though his *very particular* field of study was a little different.

All PhDs are technically within a field where nobody else knows anything. That is sort of the definition of a PhD thesis paper. In order to earn a PhD degree you need to demonstrate that you are able to do your own base research and contribute to the common shared knowledge of humanity. So when David Clutton got his PhD in Gin he had to do some sort of research or experiments on gin himself and then publish those findings. He would get help from professors within related fields who would guide him and then the paper would be evaluated by other doctors within these similar fields. After getting his paper published and defended he would get his PhD.

Although there may not be any specific experts in the field, general experts can still evaluate the PhD candidate’s research. There may not be a PhD in Gin, but there are probably many experts on the history of alcohol. Or, if you are studying gin in 19th century England, there are many social historians of 19th century England. They don’t have the precise knowledge, but have a good enough idea.

Also, just about any scholar can read a dissertation and judge how scholarly it is. A large part of become a PhD is understanding the research process. An evaluator can examine your process and see if you are taking the right steps, using the proper precautions, examining things with various points of view, etc. A person may not know anything about gin, but they do know a good dissertation.

A PhD is formally granted by a faculty/department/school within a college or university. As such, it’s most generally labeled as “in” whatever field that faculty/department/school studies You may then have some leeway to specify what particular subfield you focused on, so someone who got their PhD from a History department could say something like “I have a PhD in American History” without much controversy. I suspect that Clutton is doing a more extreme form of this and got his degree from a conventional department (e.g. Chemistry) but refers to it as a “PhD in Gin” because that was his focus. It’s tough to say for sure, because it doesn’t seem like his CV is public information.

People *do* get PhDs in new fields, though they’re rarely the only person with that sort of PhD for long. This is a consequence of universities establishing new faculties/departments/schools to study emerging topics. For an obvious example, there were no Cinema Studies departments 150 years ago, and now there are many. They were started by gathering together professors in related fields and experts without PhDs. Once a new department is established, it can start granting PhDs in the field. The first person to earn such a PhD would be the unicorn you’re seeking.

A PhD diploma will list the university, college and usually the department, but not the specific field. Like “The faculty of the University of X college of arts and sciences awards a PhD to Joe Smith in the field of Chemistry” There’s nothing stopping the college from listing something like “Gin” on the diploma, but why would they?

And it’s common to describe your PhD in the specific field rather than just the name of the department. Like “Her PhD is in theoretical nuclear physics” but the diploma doesn’t say that.

To reiterate what others have said:

1) no one has a Ph.D. In Gin. That us a turn-of-phrase for advertising purposes. However there are many, many, many people with PhDs in chemistry, specializing in the research of the chemical compounds involved in scent & taste. No doubt hundreds of thousands across the globe. And some of those PhDs will have been earned doing research on gin & other spirits.

Here is just one random article you can look up:
“Analysis of gin essential oil mixtures by multidimensional and one-dimensional gas chromatography/mass spectrometry with spectral deconvolution”
Notice in the article there are 4 different authors, and i am sure at least one, if not all, have PhDs.

2) It is true that PhDs are all in areas that are at least partially unique. That is, by definition, the way getting PhDs works. One is doing unique research that has never been done before. BUT no one is doing completely unique research, meaning that no one has ever done anything related to the topic before. One’s research is only about maybe 1-10% completely unique. One works with an existing PhD already doing research, and your research will be very similar to theirs, with some slight variations to make what you are researching unique.

3) no matter how unique advertisers make a PhD sound, it is not in an entirely new discipline. We do already know a whole lot of science, and everything “new” is simply an extension of some discipline we have already been working on for many, many, many years. Be it biology, chemistry, physics, etc.

Look up this research that is already 84 years old:
Controlling Gin Flavor, published in the journal Industrial and Engineering Chemistry in 1937 (authors Willkie, Boruff, and Althausen).

4) where did this guy get his PhD? His LinkedIn profile only lists his grammar school??? Very suspicious. I would not be surprised if he just made it up. It was a lot easier to get away with that kind of BS years ago.

But to try to better answer your question, i would have to know exactly what his research was in. If it truly was in the chemical composition of gin, it would be a PhD in chemistry. Or if he was working on distilling gin, it may be chemistry or biology. If it was a more anthropological approach (who is drinking what kind of gin & where, or the cultural history of gin in society), it would be aPhD in Anthropology. There is also the possibility of Botany and Ethnobotany, Food Science, possibly Pharmacology (if his university had some kind of unusual arrangement with the areas of research of the existing PhDs).

In my old epidemiology department, there was a 60-year-old lady who failed the qualifying exam 6 times. Instead of asking her to leave, they created a new type of PhD that only she would have. I don’t know if she ever finished it, she was on her 10th year last I checked.

The quick answer is that your PhD work does not necessarily need to be marked by someone superior to you in that subject like a school test is – it will be checked and tested by people of equivalent (or better) in parallel subjects.

What they are doing is not marking the answers in a test as right or wrong, but checking your methodology and research to determine that the work you have done will be correct and relevant.
So they won’t be marking the result you get, they will be marking your workings.

So this means that if your field is a very specific branch of a subject, it can be marked by people in similar (but slightly different) parallel branches – people who will have gone through the same process themselves before with their own subjects.

There is also the question of exactly what it says on your doctorate – are you listed as a doctor of a very specific branch, or of the larger grouping? So is the person mentioned a doctor of gin, or a doctor of food sciences with a specialisation in gin?

The man has a bachelors degree in chemistry. He applied knowledge and techniques from this training to some focused research for a few years on how the various different botanicals used in gin production affect the taste, how it all works on a chemical level and how we can use the tools of analytical chemistry to pinpoint the different molecular components which give specific flavours to gin.

Thus, he has a PhD in a niche aspect of organic and analytical chemistry, as applied to gin production. His PhD research [was published in the Journal of Chromatography](https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0021967300911737), an analytical chemistry journal. Clutton would have completed his research in a chemistry lab and had it overseen by a supervisor who was a chemist (someone who specialised in liquid and gas chromatography by the looks of things).

Anybody with a PhD will have completed several years of independent research in a very niche subtopic of some wider, well established field.

Clutton markets himself as the only person with a PhD in gin in order to standout as a gin specialist and gin creator, which is his chosen career path. There are undoubtedly other people here and there who have done PhDs which involve gin or other spirits, or the chemistry of botanicals or flavourings in mixology or whatever, though probably not as comprehensively focused on gin as Clutton.