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Uncertified Expert

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Daniel: All right, so what are the rules here?
Miyagi: Don't know. First time you, first time me.
Daniel: Well, I figured you knew about this stuff. I figured you went to these before. Oh great, I'm dead. I am dead. You told me you fought a lot.
Miyagi: For life, not for points.

A character regarded as an expert or veteran regularly does something or operates something that you're supposed to have training or some sort of official certification for, such as a license. He may even be a mentor training a pupil.

It gets revealed that he doesn't actually have the official qualification. He may have been Incompletely Trained, or decided to side-step the system. Or perhaps he was denied the opportunity to qualify, but was able to "fake it till you make it." In some cases he may have a Phony Degree as part of the deception.

Unlike with an Anti-Mentor, he's actually competent, and obviously doesn't need the training or testing he didn't get, either because of his natural talent or from having been Taught by Experience by the time this is revealed.

Compare Anti-Mentor, where the "expert" is faking it (or is just very bad at teaching,) and Obsolete Mentor, who did have the training but hasn't stayed up to date. Compare and contrast Back-Alley Doctor, in which being an uncertified expert (in medicine) makes one hard to practice it openly, unlike in this trope. See also I'm Not a Doctor, but I Play One on TV, when the only claimed certification is acting the role of a fictional expert.

Note: This trope only applies if the training or certification is expected within the context of the story, and its lack is a surprise or noted as unusual.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The eponymous Doctor Black Jack of Black Jack is a Super Doc who charges ludicrous fees for his services. A Running Gag is how other characters remark how he is an unlicensed doctor, and some plots are about how to make him get a license, which he always refuses. Then we find out why he refuses a medical license: he has a vendetta against the corrupt officials who caused the death of his mother and disfigured his face. The money he charges goes to fund his revenge schemes, and taking the Hippocratic Oath would prevent him from exacting his revenge.
  • Ryouma Takebayashi from By the Grace of the Gods is the world's premier expert on slimes, having artificially-induced new evolutions of slimes that not even the God of Creation, Gain, thought was possible; unlocking the secrets behind long-standing mysteries like how do slimes evolve into their variants (because of their diets) and how Big Slimes are formed (they're at least 100 slimes acting together as a single being) and why other Tamers can't go into a Monster Contract with them (they're attempting one spell when they need to do at least 100 individual spells at once); and created numerous revolutionary applications for them, founding a successful laundry business that advances the world's hygiene practices by lightyears. He has no formal training whatsoever; didn't realize that a Monster Tamer's Guild existed or could have provided him with knowledge, equipment, and fellow researchers until after most of his accomplishments; and spent all that time living alone in the woods with just his slimes. To really hammer the point in, said Guild only gives him the bare-minimum certification despite his groundbreaking accomplishments, as slimes are seen as a beginner's monster at best or a useless critter at worst, as it takes serious time, effort, and investment to see their true potential.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Comics' villain Doctor Doom attended college in upstate New York alongside Reed Richards. Doom's experiments in transdimensional shifting blew up his dorm room and got him expelled before he'd attained a degree. Nevertheless, Doom's raw intellect has transformed feudal Latveria into a showpiece of Europe. Further, Doom studied the arcane arts, seeking to free his gypsy witch mother's soul from the lower netherworld. He has accomplished this with help from Doctor Strange, who privately conceded that Doom is qualified to become a Sorceror Supreme, despite never having trained under a master mage.

    Films — Animated 
  • Fowler from Chicken Run is believed to have been a pilot in the RAF and serves as an advisor; it turns out he was really the squadron mascot. When questioned about this he is confused that anybody ever thought he was a pilot in the first place: he's a chicken, the RAF does not have chicken pilots! Despite this and in line with this trope, he manages to both help the chickens build a functional plane and successfully pilot it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Days of Thunder, pit chief Harry tries explaining to hotshot driver Cole about how he's driving inefficiently using technical terms. Cole tells Harry he doesn't understand any of what Harry has just told him. When Harry asks how Cole can drive race cars without understanding stuff like G forces or aerodynamics, Cole replies that he just started driving cars and was good at it, so he never learned any of the terms or science.
  • In The Matrix Revolutions, when Captain Mifune is dying and tells the kid that's been assisting him to pilot his mecha, the kid claims he never finished the training for it. Mifune replies that he never did either.
  • The Karate Kid (1984):
    • Miyagi, a former street-fighter and decorated World War II veteran, is dismissive of karate the sport's use of belt color to denote skill level, replying "canvas" when Daniel asks him what belt he is. When filling out entry forms for the karate tournament, when he's told of the requirement that entrants be brown belt or higher, he puts Daniel down as a black belt.
    • Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel his keys and tells him to drive his truck. When Daniel protests that he doesn't have a license, Miyagi replies "Me neither."
  • The King's Speech: Bertie always refers to Logue as "Doctor" (despite Logue trying to get him to call him "Lionel") until he learns that Logue isn't actually a doctor. He's furious at the deception, although Logue points out he never referred to himself as a doctor; he's just used to helping people with speech problems. Moreover, when he first started, there weren't any qualifications you could study for in that area.

  • The Positronic Man: When Andrew Martin arrives on Luna City, one of the colonies on the moon, he is shocked by prosthetologists calling him "Dr Martin", as (despite being the inventor of the field and foremost researcher and experimental subject) he only has an honorary degree (hundreds of them, but still). He requests that they simply call him "Andrew", as he is a robot, and despite their promises they occasionally lapse into calling him Dr Martin.
  • Discworld: In Raising Steam, the engineering genius who brings the first steam trains to Ankh-Morpork runs into bother when the Guild of Artificiers protest that he is self-taught and not a Guild member - so if he has never been apprenticed himself, how can he legally train others to build and maintain a railway system?
  • Harry Potter: Hagrid is a teacher at Hogwarts, but never actually graduated, and was expelled and had his wand broken. He's only teaching there due to Dumbledore's intervention. Later it's revealed that he was framed, and he has his good name restored along with his wand. His expertise in the subject — Care of Magical Creatures — comes from years of being the Hogwarts gamekeeper and his hobby of breeding and rearing dangerous beasts. Also, while he's excellent at his chosen subject, he starts off as a terrible teacher, in part because he doesn't seem to understand the danger his favorite animals have to children who don't have his monstrous size and strength. Over the course of Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, and Order of the Phoenix, we see Hagrid come into his own as a teacher and he has no shortage of lessons that his students find enjoyable, such as with Nifflers. If it weren't for Draco Malfoy's meddling, his first lesson would have been well-taught as well, but it destroyed his confidence.
  • The Heartstrikers: Marci Novalli was days away from graduating at the top of her class in Socratic Thaumaturgy when she was forced to go on the run because a crime lord killed her father and was coming after her. She remains one of the best mages in the world, with Amelia the Planeswalker begging her to come work for her, and by the end she is the first Merlin of the new age. Sir Myron, on the other hand, one of the first generation of mages who invented many of the theories that she learned, dismisses her as a college dropout for a course program he doesn't consider worthwhile anyway.
  • Rainbow Six: One of the team's pilots flies a Huey in spite of not being certified to fly one. When questioned, he answers with some exasperation that he has been flying Hueys since 'Nam, but the Army won't let anyone maintain certification on more than three helicopter types, and keeping the paperwork up-to-date on more modern birds was a better career move.
  • Sherlock Holmes: The criminal of The Dying Detective is stated by Holmes to be an expert in tropical diseases, not because he's a doctor, but because his plantations in southeast Asia put him in daily contact with them. This allows him to kill his victims with diseases the average London doctor (including Watson) has never heard of.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor is a genius scientist and seasoned adventurer, who can casually create Magic from Technology and regularly overshadows or outsmarts the smartest individuals of multiple different races. However, it's a recurring joke that they're considered very poorly qualified by Time Lord standards. Their companion and fellow Time Lady Romana reveals that they barely scraped through their exams on their second try, their former teacher Borusa considered them a lazy student who would never amount to much, and they openly admit to having failed the TARDIS piloting exam (some Expanded Universe material has since justified this by introducing ideas such as the Doctor getting new qualifications during their travels, even suggesting that they just never applied themselves academically as a form of rebellion when they were capable of getting the degrees if they had genuinely wanted to).
  • M*A*S*H episode "Dear Dad, Again". Captain Casey is the latest addition to the surgical staff at the 4077th, and he's a superb surgeon. However, it's discovered that he's actually a sergeant and not really a doctor. He admits that he's also passed himself off as a teacher, a lawyer and an engineer. He's just never had the patience to actually earn a formal degree in any of the fields.
  • Crossed with Obsolete Mentor in an episode of Scrubs. Dr. Townsend is a beloved, grandfatherly figure at the hospital, (which you might expect as he's being played by Dick Van Dyke) and even Mean Boss Dr. Kelso has a deep friendship with him. However, while Townsend is a legitimate doctor he has fallen way behind the times in terms of medical technique and has failed to become certified in or learn the new treatments that would be much more effective than the outdated ones he is still using. After using one of those outdated techniques almost causes a patient to die, Kelso and Townsend have a quiet confrontation and Kelso is reluctantly forced to let Townsend go from the hospital as a result.
    Kelso: Say, listen, um... nowadays it has become sort of hospital protocol to do modified Seldinger in a case like this. You do know how to do one of those, don't you?
    Townsend: [after a slight hesitation] Of course.
    Kelso: Because the patient in bed number 2 needs one. Mind doing it for me?
    Townsend: [getting defensive] What the hell is this all about?
    Kelso: I was just looking over your files and uh... your osteoporosis patients aren't on bisphosphonates, your diabetics aren't on ACE inhibitors... Doug, a lot of your treatments are pretty out of date.
  • Shed, The Medic from early episodes of The Expanse, faked his medical degree and got a job on the Canterbury just to get away from a drug dealer that he owed money to. However, while far from an expert, (and despite his treatments being the subject of much ridicule by the rest of the Canterbury's crew) he's apparently not completely hopeless as a medic, as he's able to save Alex's life during an emergency.
  • This is the entire premise of Suits, a man with a Photographic Memory is hired to work as a lawyer at one of the top firms in the country despite not having a degree and never going to law school. Despite his lack of qualifications, he's equal to the Harvard Law graduates staffing the film. In all fairness, Mike was set to graduate NYU at the top of his class and had passed the LCAT in preparation to go to law school, but he got caught up in a drug deal his friend was running and got expelled. He does eventually manage to join the bar by "reading the law", i.e. studying under a lawyer without going to law school himself.

  • Regina Spektor's "Older and Taller" is about an older person nearing retirement, who's hiring their own replacements, but the lyrics also clarify:
    All the lies on your resume,
    Have become the truth by now,
    And the things that you never did,
    Have become your youth, somehow,
    You know everything by now.

    Urban Legends 

  • Kiley Shefford of Ménage à 3 is a student of psychology who takes it upon herself in fits of enthusiastic overconfidence to act as a psychotherapist to other members of the cast — albeit sometimes quite effectively, thanks to her grasp of Hollywood Psych. Her lack of actual certification has on occasion been the basis of a joke.
  • Sammie from The Zombie Hunters had absolutely no background in medicine before becoming a medic in a post-Zombie Apocalypse world; she did it purely because in the wastelands where she was living doctors and medics were so rare they were valued highly by the community and guaranteed good treatment. Due to a lot of experience with people getting wounded, and studying old medical books, she eventually became a competent medic.
    Sammie: No one shoots the medic. You know doctor shit? You get treated like royalty out there. I caught onto this and faked it. ...I didn't know anything about doctor shit. I just put on a medic badge and did shit I saw on TV. Some of it worked, some of it didn't. Eventually I got kinda good at it.

    Real Life 
  • Louis Pasteur developed the rabies vaccine, but his lifesaving experiment (injecting a boy who'd been bitten by a rabid dog with the vaccine) could very well have gotten him arrested for practicing medicine without a license. Downplayed in that while he never did get a medical license, he wasn't exactly a random ignoramus either: he was a chemist and microbiologist who'd found a way to sterilize foods by briefly heating them to kill germs, and the procedure itself was conducted by licensed doctors who later defended his actions.
  • As noted above in Film, Lionel Logue, who helped George VI overcome his stutter, was not actually a trained or certified speech therapistnote . What he was was an amateur stage actor with a remarkable talent for doing voices and a commanding public speaking presence who earned a reputation as a teacher on the subject. He cut his teeth in speech therapy by volunteering to help shell-shocked WWI veterans overcome their PTSD-induced speech impediments, and became so good at it that he opened a practice.
  • Because of the nature of the martial arts he studied, Bruce Lee never had anything like a formal rank or certification. He also had no training in nutrition or exercise science. Regardless, he was considered a world-renowned expert in all of those fields.
  • It was common to lawyers in the early days of the United States to be admitted to practice law without a law degree, but they still had to study under another licensed attorney for a set number of years, and still had to pass the bar examination. However, the anarchist lawyer Lysander Spooner refused to do either, simply because he resented the idea of the organized bar having a monopoly over professional licensure. He did study under two lawyers, but for three years rather than the legally required five. He was no amateur, though; part of the reason why he didn't complete his term was because his mentors believed he was already ready to practice law and sympathized with his belief that he should be able to practice without state-imposed restrictions. Nowadays he's remembered as the first and most influential of American anarchist political theorists, and his writings on Constitutional jurisprudence (particularly with regards to slavery) heavily influenced the abolitionist Frederick Douglass.