Is there perhaps a better way to say something like "a physicist with a Ph.D?" Is there an adjective that could come before physicist: "a ________ physicist?"

I was thinking "doctoral physicist" or "Ph.D physicist," but those don't seem quite right.

  • What context would you say that in? Are you being literary? Or what?
    – Lambie
    Dec 29, 2017 at 22:39
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    @tchrist: A PhD candidate writing a PhD thesis in a PhD program might disagree with you.
    – KarlG
    Dec 29, 2017 at 22:48
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    @KarlG Then he's unstudied in the English language. Those are all nouns. Period. They are not adjectives. They fail the predicate-adjective test: "PhD candidate = candidate is PhD" fails. They fail the comparative test: "This PhD program is more PhD than that other PhD program". Those are both ungrammatical BECAUSE THOSE ARE NOT ADJECTIVES. Not everything that premodifies the noun in a noun phrase is an adjective. This is just a noun used attributively.
    – tchrist
    Dec 29, 2017 at 22:51
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    I thought as much. A Ph.D-wielding or Ph.D-brandishing or Ph.D-flouting physicist, for attitude. Ah the beauty of English adjectives: noun plus verb + ing.
    – Lambie
    Dec 29, 2017 at 22:53
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    @tchrist (and whoever else may care...) Within the academy it is generally acceptable form to refer to someone as doctorally prepared, a relatively current expression which seems to avoid any ambiguities, and which admits a variety of doctoral degrees such as JD, EdD, etc as professionally terminal.
    – Rob_Ster
    Dec 29, 2017 at 23:23

2 Answers 2


'Postdoctoral' is the usual way to title someone with a PhD.

Postdoctoral Physicist - Radiotherapy Physics University of Oxford


The Ngram shows a steep rise of the use of the word from 1960 to the present.


Usage of "PhD physicist" is steadily increasing. Check out this N-Gram. An N-Gram, as opposed to a regular Google search, more accurately reflects elite usage, since only Google Books are searched. Use regular Google when you want to find out how many native speakers actually write "my husband and I's favorite."

PS.: As I suspected, there's a grand total of zero N-Gram hits for "doctoral physicist," so I suggest you discard that option.

  • PhD is not an adjective, and the request was for an adjective. Just how PhD is that scientist anyway? See!
    – tchrist
    Dec 29, 2017 at 22:52
  • Fine, but it functions as an adjective. A Harvard professor, A NASA astronomer, a cordon bleu chef...
    – KarlG
    Dec 29, 2017 at 23:01
  • A Ph.D student but not a Ph.D physicist, it ain't kosher. It's OK to use a noun adjectivally but it has to work, as it were.
    – Lambie
    Dec 29, 2017 at 23:09
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    +1 I wouldn't blink if someone said a Ph.D physicist; it is a common usage. If someone said "a doctoral physicist" I would have to guess if the person in question was a doctoral candidate or a Ph.D physicist (and what country the speaker came from.)
    – ab2
    Dec 29, 2017 at 23:34
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    OK, let's call it a noun used as a modifier then.
    – KarlG
    Dec 30, 2017 at 0:00

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