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A doctorate (from Latin docere, "to teach") or doctor's degree (from Latin doctor, "teacher") or doctoral degree, is an academic degree awarded by universities, derived from the ancient formalism licentia docendi ("licence to teach"). In most countries, it is a research degree that qualifies the holder to teach at university level in the degree's field, or to work in a specific profession. There are a number of doctoral degrees; the most common is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), which is awarded in many different fields, ranging from the humanities to scientific disciplines.

In the United States and some other countries, there are also some types of technical or professional degrees that include doctor in their name and are, in some of those countries, classified as doctorates.

In some countries like China and Japan, the word "doctorate" is practically indistinguishable from "PhD" in most contexts. In disciplines such as education, engineering and pharmacology where professional degrees EdD, EngD and PharmD are usually awarded in the western countries, a doctorate degree recipient is called a PhD regardless. Even though the name of the degree could be, literally, Doctorate of Science in Engineering or Doctorate in Biochemistry in its native language, it is not uncommon that the degree holder's title or diploma be officially translated into English as PhD in (that discipline). In these countries, the distinction between professional doctorates and PhDs is less significant.

Professional doctorates historically came about to meet the needs of practitioners in a variety of disciplines. However, the necessity of these degrees may vary greatly across disciplines, making their significance unclear.

Many universities also award honorary doctorates to individuals deemed worthy of special recognition, either for scholarly work or for other contributions to the university or to society.


Middle Ages

The term doctor derives from Latin, meaning "teacher" or "instructor". The doctorate (Latin: doctoratus) appeared in medieval Europe as a license to teach Latin (licentia docendi) at a university.[1] Its roots can be traced to the early church in which the term doctor referred to the Apostles, church fathers, and other Christian authorities who taught and interpreted the Bible.[1]

The right to grant a licentia docendi (i.e. the doctorate) was originally reserved to the Catholic church, which required the applicant to pass a test, to take an oath of allegiance and to pay a fee. The Third Council of the Lateran of 1179 guaranteed access—at that time largely free of charge—to all able applicants. Applicants were tested for aptitude.[2] This right remained a bone of contention between the church authorities and the universities, which were slowly distancing themselves from the Church. In 1213 the right was granted by the pope to the University of Paris, where it became a universal license to teach (licentia ubique docendi).[2] However, while the licentia continued to hold a higher prestige than the bachelor's degree (baccalaureus), the latter was ultimately reduced to an intermediate step to the master's degree (magister) and doctorate, both of which now became the accepted teaching qualifications.[2] According to Keith Allan Noble (1994), the first doctoral degree was awarded in medieval Paris around 1150 by the University of Paris.[3]

George Makdisi theorizes that the ijazah issued in early Islamic madrasahs was the origin of the doctorate later issued in medieval European universities.[4][5] Alfred Guillaume and Syed Farid al-Attas agree that there is a resemblance between the ijazah and the licentia docendi.[6] However, Toby Huff rejects Makdisi's theory.[7]

17th and 18th centuries

The doctorate of philosophy developed in Germany in the 17th century (likely c. 1652).[8] The term "philosophy" does not refer solely to the field or academic discipline of philosophy, but is used in a broader sense in accordance with its original Greek meaning, which is "love of wisdom". In most of Europe, all fields (history, philosophy, social sciences, mathematics, and natural philosophy/natural sciences)[9] were traditionally known as philosophy, and in Germany and elsewhere in Europe the basic faculty of liberal arts was known as the "faculty of philosophy". The doctorate of philosophy adheres to this historic convention, even though the degrees are not always for the study of philosophy. Chris Park explains that it was not until formal education and degree programs were standardized in the early 19th century that the doctorate of philosophy was reintroduced in Germany as a research degree,[10] abbreviated as Dr. phil. (similar to Ph.D. in Anglo-American countries). Germany, however, differentiated then in more detail between doctorates in philosophy and doctorates in the natural sciences, abbreviated as Dr. rer. nat., and also doctorates in the social/political sciences, abbreviated as Dr. rer. pol., similar to the other traditional doctorates in medicine (Dr. med.) and law (Dr. jur.).

University doctoral training was a form of apprenticeship to a guild. The traditional term of study before new teachers were admitted to the guild of "Masters of Arts" was seven years, matching the apprenticeship term for other occupations. Originally the terms "master" and "doctor" were synonymous, but over time the doctorate came to be regarded as a higher qualification than the master's degree.

University degrees, including doctorates, were originally restricted to men. The first women to be granted doctorates were Juliana Morell in 1608 at Lyons,[11] Elena Cornaro Piscopia in 1678 at the University of Padua, Laura Bassi in 1732 at Bologna University, Dorothea Erxleben in 1754 at Halle University and María Isidra de Guzmán y de la Cerda in 1785 at Complutense University, Madrid.[12]

Modern times

The use and meaning of the doctorate has changed over time, and is subject to regional variations. For instance, until the early 20th century few academic staff or professors in English-speaking universities held doctorates, except for very senior scholars and those in holy orders. After that time the German practice of requiring lecturers to have completed a research doctorate spread. Universities' shift to research-oriented education (based upon the scientific method, inquiry, and observation) increased the doctorate's importance. Today, a research doctorate (PhD) or its equivalent (as defined in the US by the NSF) is generally a prerequisite for an academic career, although many recipients do not work in academia.

Professional doctorates developed in the United States from the 19th century onward. The first professional doctorate to be offered in the United States was the M.D. at Kings College (now Columbia University) after the medical school's founding in 1767,[13] although this was not a professional doctorate in the modern American sense as it was awarded for further study after the qualifying Bachelor of Medicine (M.B.) rather than being a qualifying degree.[14] The MD became the standard first degree in medicine during the 19th century, but as a three-year undergraduate degree; it did not become established as a graduate degree until 1930. The MD, as the standard qualifying degree in medicine, gave that profession the ability (through the American Medical Association, established in 1847 for this purpose) to set and raise standards for entry into professional practice.[15][16]

The modern research degree, in the shape of the German-style Ph.D., was first awarded in the U.S. in 1861, at Yale University.[17] This differed from the MD in that the latter was, a vocational "professional degree" that trained students to apply or practice knowledge, rather than generate it, similar to other students in vocational schools or institutes. In the UK, research doctorates initially took the form of higher doctorates, first introduced at Durham University in 1882.[18] The PhD spread to the UK from the US via Canada, and was instituted at all British universities from 1917, with the first (titled a DPhil) being awarded at the University of Oxford.[19][20]

Following the MD, the next professional doctorate, the Juris Doctor (J.D.), was established by the University of Chicago in 1902. However it took a long time to be accepted, not replacing the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) until the 1960s, by which time the LLB was generally taken as a graduate degree. Notably, the curriculum for the JD and LLB were identical, with the degree being renamed as a doctorate, and it (like the MD) was not equivalent to the PhD, raising criticism that it was "not a 'true Doctorate'".[21][22] When professional doctorates were established in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they did not follow the US model but were instead set up as research degrees at the same level as PhDs but with some taught components and a professional concentration for the research work.[23]

The older-style doctorates, now usually called higher doctorates in the United Kingdom, take much longer to complete, since candidates must show themselves to be leading experts in their subjects. These doctorates are now less common in some countries and are often awarded honoris causa. The habilitation is still used for academic recruitment purposes in many countries within the EU, and involves either a new long thesis (a second book) or a portfolio of research publications. The habilitation (highest available degree) demonstrates independent and thorough research, experience in teaching and lecturing, and, more recently, the ability to generate supportive funding. The habilitation follows the research doctorate, and in Germany it can be a requirement for appointment as a Privatdozent or professor.


Since the Middle Ages, the number and types of doctorates awarded by universities has proliferated throughout the world. Practice varies from one country to another. While a doctorate usually entitles one to be addressed as "doctor", use of the title varies widely, depending on the type and the associated occupation.

Research doctorate

Research doctorates are awarded in recognition of academic research that is publishable, at least in principle, in a peer-reviewed academic journal. The best-known research degree title, in the English-speaking world, is Doctor of Philosophy (abbreviated Ph.D.,[24] PhD[25] or, at some British universities, DPhil[26][27][28]) awarded in many countries throughout the world. Other research doctorates include the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.[24] or EdD[25]), Doctor of Arts (D.A.[24]), Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.[24]), Doctor of Professional Studies/Professional Doctorate (ProfDoc or DProf),[25] Doctor of Public Health (Dr.P.H.[24]), Doctor of Social Science (D.S.Sc. or DSocSci[25]), Doctor of Management (D.M. or D.Mgt.), Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A.[24] or DBA[29]), the UK Doctor of Management (DMan),[30] various doctorates in engineering, such as the US Doctor of Engineering (D.Eng., D.E.Sc. or D.E.S.[24]) (also awarded in Japan and South Korea), the UK Engineering Doctorate (EngD),[31] the Dutch Professional Doctorate in Engineering (PDEng), the German engineering doctorate Doktoringenieur (Dr.-Ing.) the German natural science doctorate Doctor rerum naturalium (Dr. rer. nat.) and the economics and social science doctorate Doctor rerum politicarum (Dr. rer. pol.) The UK Doctor of Medicine (MD or MD (Res)) and Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) are research doctorates.[25] The Doctor of Theology (Th.D.,[24] D.Th. or ThD[25]), Doctor of Practical Theology (DPT)[25] and the Doctor of Sacred Theology (S.T.D.,[24] or D.S.Th.) are research doctorates in theology.[32]

Criteria for research doctorates vary, but typically require completion of a substantial body of original research, which may be presented as a single thesis or dissertation, or as a portfolio of shorter project reports (thesis by publication). The submitted dissertation is assessed by a committee of examiners, and is then typically defended by the candidate during an oral examination (viva in the UK and India) by the committee. Candidates may also be required to complete graduate-level courses in their field, as well as study research methodology.

Criteria for admission to doctoral programs varies. In the U.S. and the U.K., students may be admitted with a bachelor's degree, while elsewhere, e.g. in Finland, a master's degree is required. The time required to complete a research doctorate varies from three years, excluding undergraduate study, to six years or more.


Licentiate degrees vary widely in their meaning, and in a few countries are doctoral level qualifications. Sweden awards the licentiate degree as a two-year qualification at doctoral level and the doctoral degree (PhD) as a four-year qualification.[33] Sweden originally abolished the Licentiate in 1969 but reintroduced it in response to demands from business.[34] Finland also has a two-year doctoral level licentiate degree, similar to Sweden's.[35] Outside of Scandinavia, the licentiate is normally a lower level qualification. In Belgium, the licentiate was the basic university degree prior to the Bologna Process and was approximately equivalent to a bachelor's degree,[36][37] while in France and other countries it is the bachelor's-level qualification in the Bologna process.[38] In the Pontifical system, the Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) is equivalent to an advanced master's degree, or the post-master's coursework required in preparation for a doctorate (i.e. similar in level to the Swedish/Finnish licentiate degree), while other licences (such as the Licence in Canon Law) are at the level of master's degrees.[39]

Higher doctorate and post-doctoral degrees

A higher tier of research doctorates may be awarded on the basis of a formally submitted portfolio of published research of a particularly high standard. Examples include the Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) and Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) degrees found in the UK, Ireland and some Commonwealth countries, and the traditional doctorates in Scandinavia.

The École Saint-Thomas-d'Aquin of the Université catholique de Louvain, for instance, has offered the opportunity for students who had already earned a doctorate to earn the degree of Maître Agrégé (M.AGG.)(Magister Aggregatus).[40]

The habilitation teaching qualification (facultas docendi or "faculty to teach") under a university procedure with a thesis and an exam is commonly regarded as belonging to this category in Germany, Austria, France, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Poland, etc. The degree developed in Germany in the 19th century "when holding a doctorate seemed no longer sufficient to guarantee a proficient transfer of knowledge to the next generation."[41] The habilitation results in an award of a formal "Dr. habil." degree or the holder of the degree may add "habil." to their research doctorate such as "Dr. phil. habil." or "Dr. rer. nat. habil." In some European universities, especially in German-speaking countries, the degree is insufficient to have teaching duties without professor supervision (or to teach and supervise Ph.D. students independently) without an additional instructor/teaching certificate/license, such as Privatdozent. In many countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the degree gives the venia legendi, Latin for "permission for lecturing," or the ius docendi, "right of teaching" a specific academic subject at universities for a lifetime. The French academic system used to have a higher doctorate, called "State doctorate" (doctorat d'État), but it was superseded by the habilitation (Habilitation à diriger des recherches, "accreditation to supervise research", abbreviated HDR) in 1984.

Higher doctorates are often also awarded honoris causa when a university wishes to formally recognize an individual's achievements and contributions to a particular field.

Professional doctorate

Depending on the country, professional doctorates may either be research degrees at the same level as PhDs or professional degrees with little or no research content. Many professional doctorates are named "Doctor of [subject name] and abbreviated using the form "D[subject abbreviation]" or "[subject abbreviation]D",[25] or may use the more generic titles "Professional Doctorate", abbreviated "ProfDoc" or "DProf",[25] "Doctor of Professional Studies" (DPS) [42][43] or "Doctor of Professional Practice" (DPP).[44][45]

In the US, professional doctorates (formally "doctor's degree – professional practice" in government classifications) are defined by the US Department of Education's National Center for Educational Statistics as degrees that require a minimum of six years of university-level study (including any pre-professional bachelor's or associate degree) and meet the academic requirements for professional licensure in the discipline. The definition does not include a dissertation or study beyond master's level, in contrast to the definition for research doctorates ("doctor's degree – research/scholarship"), although individual programs may have different requirements.[46][47] There is also a category of "doctor's degree – other" for doctorates that do not fall into either the "professional practice" or "research/scholarship" categories.[48] All of these are considered doctoral degrees.[49]

In contrast to the US, many countries reserve the term "doctorate" for research degrees and if, as in Canada and Australia, professional degrees bear the name "Doctor of ...", etc., it is made clear that these are not doctorates. Examples of this include Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD), Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), and Juris Doctor (JD). For example, Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Doctor of Education (EdD) and Doctor of Social Science (DSS) qualify as full academic doctorates in Canada though they normally incorporate aspects of professional practice in addition to a full dissertation.[50][51] In the Philippines, the University of the Philippines Open University offers a Doctor of Communication (DCOMM) professional doctorate, designed to strengthen the capability of practitioners by bringing the academic rigors of research, critical analysis, intellectual advancement, and science skills into the profession of communication as it is practiced in knowledge industries such as the academe, R&D institutions, government and development-assistance agencies.[52]

In the UK and Ireland, all doctorates are third cycle qualifications in the Bologna Process, comparable to US research doctorates. Although all doctorates are research degrees, professional doctorates normally include taught components while the name PhD/DPhil is normally used for doctorates purely by thesis. Professional and practice-based doctorates such as the EdD, DClinPsy, MD, DHSc, DBA and EngD are full doctorates at the same level as the PhD in the national qualifications frameworks; they are not first professional degrees but are "often post-experience qualifications".[23][25][29][53] In 2009 there were 308 professional doctorate programs in the UK, up from 109 in 1998, with the most popular being the EdD (38 institutions), DBA (33), EngD/DEng (22), MD/DM (21), and DClinPsy/DClinPsych/ClinPsyD (17).[54] Similarly in Australia, the term "professional doctorate" is sometimes applied to the Scientiae Juridicae Doctor (SJD),[55][56] which, like the UK professional doctorates, is a research degree.[57][58]

Honorary doctorate

When a university wishes to formally recognize an individual's contributions to a particular field or philanthropic efforts, it may choose to grant a doctoral degree honoris causa ('for the sake of the honor'), waiving the usual requirements for granting the degree.[59][60] Some universities do not award honorary degrees, for example, Cornell University,[61] the University of Virginia,[62] the California Institute of Technology, Rice University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[63]

National variations


In Argentina the doctorate (doctorado)[64] is the highest academic degree. The intention is that candidates produce original contributions in their field knowledge within a frame of academic excellence.[65] A dissertation or thesis is prepared under the supervision of a tutor or director. It is reviewed by a Doctoral Committee composed of examiners external to the program and at least one examiner external to the institution. The degree is conferred after a successful dissertation defence.[66] Currently, there are approximately 2,151 postgraduate careers in the country, of which 14% were doctoral degrees.[65] Doctoral programs in Argentina are overseen by the National Commission for University Evaluation and Accreditation,[67] an agency in Argentina's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.[68]


Doctoral candidates are normally required to have a Master's degree in a related field. Exceptions are based on their individual academic merit. A second and a third foreign language are other common requirements, although the requirements regarding proficiency commonly are not strict. The admissions process varies by institution. Some require candidates to take tests while others base admissions on a research proposal application and interview only. In both instances however, a faculty member must agree prior to admission to supervise the applicant.

Requirements usually include satisfactory performance in advanced graduate courses, passing an oral qualifying exam and submitting a thesis that must represent an original and relevant contribution to existing knowledge. The thesis is examined in a final public oral exam administered by at least five faculty members, two of whom must be external. After completion, which normally consumes 4 years, the candidate is commonly awarded the degree of Doutor (Doctor) followed by the main area of specialization, e.g. Doutor em Direito (Doctor of Laws), Doutor em Ciências da Computação (Doctor of Computer Sciences), Doutor em Filosofia (Doctor of Philosophy), Doutor em Economia (Doctor of Economics), Doutor em Engenharia (Doctor of Engineering) or Doutor em Medicina (Doctor of Medicine). The generic title of Doutor em Ciências (Doctor of Sciences) is normally used to refer collectively to doctorates in the natural sciences (i.e. Physics, Chemistry, Biological and Life Sciences, etc.)

All graduate programs in Brazilian public universities are tuition-free (mandated by the Brazilian constitution). Some graduate students are additionally supported by institutional scholarships granted by federal government agencies like CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico) and CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento do Pessoal de Ensino Superior). Personal scholarships are provided by the various FAP's (Fundações de Amparo à Pesquisa) at the state level, especially FAPESP in the state of São Paulo, FAPERJ in the state of Rio de Janeiro and FAPEMIG in the state of Minas Gerais. Competition for graduate financial aid is intense and most scholarships support at most 2 years of Master's studies and 4 years of doctoral studies. The normal monthly stipend for doctoral students in Brazil is between 500 and 1000 USD.

A degree of Doutor usually enables an individual to apply for a junior faculty position equivalent to a US Assistant Professor. Progression to full professorship known as Professor Titular requires that the candidate be successful in a competitive public exam and normally takes additional years. In the federal university system, doctors who are admitted as junior faculty members may progress (usually by seniority) to the rank of Associate Professor then become eligible to take the competitive exam for vacant full professorships. In São Paulo state universities, Associate Professorships and subsequent eligibility to apply for a full professorship are conditioned on the qualification of Livre-docente and requires, in addition to a doctorate, a second thesis or cumulative portfolio of peer-reviewed publications, a public lecture before a panel of experts (including external members from other universities), and a written exam.

In recent years somme initiatives as jointly supervised doctorates (e.g. "cotutelles") have become increasingly common in the country, as part of the country's efforts to open its universities to international students.[69]


Denmark offers four levels of degrees: 1) a three-year bachelor's degree (e.g. Bachelor of Arts degree); 2) a five-year candidate's degree (e.g. Candidatus/Candidata Magisterii), generally compared to a master's degree; 3) a ph.d. degree, which replaced the licentiate in 1988; 4) a doctor's degree (e.g. Doctor Philosophiae), which is the higher doctorate. (A three-year extended research program, leading to the magister's degree was phased out to meet the international standards of the Bologna Process.)

For the Ph.D. degree, the candidate writes a thesis and defends it orally at a formal disputation. In the disputation, the candidate defends their thesis against three official opponents as well as opponents from the auditorium (ex auditorio).

For the higher doctorate, the candidate writes a major thesis and has to defend it orally in which the candidate (called præses) defends this thesis against two official opponents as well as opponents from the auditorium (ex auditorio).


In Egypt, the highest degree doctorate is awarded by Al-Azhar University est. 970, which grants ( العالمية Ālimiyya\ Habilitation).

The Medical doctorate (abbreviated as M.D.) is equivalent to the Ph.D. degree.[70] To earn an M.D. in a science specialty, one must have a master's degree (M.Sc.) (or two diplomas before the introduction of M.Sc. degree in Egypt) before applying. The M.D. degree involves courses in the field and defending a dissertation. It takes on average three to five years.

Many postgraduate medical and surgical specialties students earn a Doctorate. After finishing a 6-year medical school and one-year internship (house officer), physicians and surgeons earn the M.B. B.Ch. degree, which is equivalent to a US MD degree. They can then apply to earn a master's degree or a speciality diploma, then an MD degree in a specialty.

The Egyptian M.D. degree is written using the name of one's specialty. For example, M.D. (Geriatrics) means a doctorate in Geriatrics, which is equivalent to a Ph.D. in Geriatrics.


The Finnish requirement for the entrance into doctoral studies is a master's degree or equivalent. All universities have the right to award doctorates.[71] The ammattikorkeakoulu institutes (institutes of higher vocational education that are not universities but often called "Universities of Applied Sciences" in English) do not award doctoral or other academic degrees. The student must:

  • Demonstrate understanding of their field and its meaning, while preparing to use scientific or scholarly study in their field, creating new knowledge.

  • Obtain a good understanding of development, basic problems and research methods

  • Obtain such understanding of the general theory of science and letters and such knowledge of neighbouring research fields that they are able to follow the development of these fields.

The way to show that these general requirements have been met is:

  • Complete graduate coursework.

  • Demonstrate critical and independent thought

  • Prepare and publicly defend a dissertation (a monograph or a compilation thesis of peer-reviewed articles). In fine arts, the dissertation may be substituted by works and/or performances as accepted by the faculty.

Entrance to a doctoral program is available only for holders of a master's degree; there is no honors procedure for recruiting Bachelors. Entrance is not as controlled as in undergraduate studies, where a strict numerus clausus is applied. Usually, a prospective student discusses their plans with a professor. If the professor agrees to accept the student, the student applies for admission. The professor may recruit students to their group.[72] Formal acceptance does not imply funding. The student must obtain funding either by working in a research unit or through private scholarships. Funding is more available for natural and engineering sciences than in letters. Sometimes, normal work and research activity are combined.[73]

Prior to introduction of the Bologna process, Finland required at least 42 credit weeks (1,800 hours) of formal coursework. The requirement was removed in 2005, leaving the decision to individual universities, which may delegate the authority to faculties or individual professors. In Engineering and Science, required coursework varies between 40 and 70 ECTS.

The duration of graduate studies varies. It is possible to graduate three years after the master's degree, while much longer periods are not uncommon. The study ends with a dissertation, which must present substantial new scientific/scholarly knowledge. The dissertation can either be a monograph or it an edited collection of 3 to 7 journal articles. Students unable or unwilling to write a dissertation may qualify for a licentiate degree by completing the coursework requirement and writing a shorter thesis, usually summarizing one year of research.

When the dissertation is ready, the faculty names two expert pre-examiners with doctoral degrees from the outside the university. During the pre-examination process, the student may receive comments on the work and respond with modifications.[74] After the pre-examiners approve, the doctoral candidate applies the faculty for permission to print the thesis. When granting this permission, the faculty names the opponent for the thesis defence, who must also be an outside expert, with at least a doctorate. In all Finnish universities, long tradition requires that the printed dissertation hang on a cord by a public university noticeboard for at least ten days prior to for the dissertation defence.[75]

The doctoral dissertation takes place in public. The opponent and the candidate conduct a formal debate, usually wearing white tie, under the supervision of the thesis supervisor. Family, friends, colleagues and the members of the research community customarily attend the defence. After a formal entrance, the candidate begins with an approximately 20-minute popular lecture (lectio praecursoria), that is meant to introduce laymen to the thesis topic. The opponent follows with a short talk on the topic, after which the pair critically discuss the dissertation. The proceedings take two to three hours. At the end the opponent presents their final statement and reveals whether he/she will recommend that the faculty accept it. Any member of the public then has an opportunity to raise questions, although this is rare. Immediately after the defence, the supervisor, the opponent and the candidate drink coffee with the public. Usually, the attendees of the defence are given the printed dissertation.[76] In the evening, the passed candidate hosts a dinner (Finnish: karonkka) in honour of the opponent. Usually, the candidate invites their family, colleagues and collaborators.[77]

Doctoral graduates are often Doctors of Philosophy (filosofian tohtori), but many fields retain their traditional titles: Doctor of Medicine (lääketieteen tohtori), Doctor of Science in Technology (tekniikan tohtori), Doctor of Science in Arts (Art and Design), etc.

The doctorate is a formal requirement for a docenture or professor's position, although these in practice require postdoctoral research and further experience. Exceptions may be granted by the university governing board, but this is uncommon, and usually due to other work and expertise considered equivalent.



Before 1984 three research doctorates existed in France: the State doctorate (doctorat d'État, "DrE", the old doctorate introduced in 1808), the third cycle doctorate (Doctorat de troisième cycle, also called doctorate of specialty, Doctorat de spécialité, created in 1954 and shorter than the State doctorate) and the diploma of doctor-engineer (diplôme de docteur-ingénieur created in 1923), for technical research.

During the first half of the 20th century, following the submission of two theses (primary thesis, thèse principale, and secondary thesis, thèse complémentaire) to the Faculty of Letters (in France, "letters" is equivalent to "humanities") at the University of Paris, the doctoral candidate was awarded the Doctorat ès lettres. There was also the less prestigious "university doctorate" Doctorat d'université which could be received for the submission of a single thesis.

In the 1950s, the Doctorat ès lettres was renamed to Doctorat d'État.[78] In 1954 (for the sciences) and 1958 (for letters and human sciences), the less demanding Doctorat de troisième cycle degree was created on the model of the American Ph.D. with the purpose to lessen what had become an increasingly long period of time between the typical students' completion of their Diplôme d'études supérieures, roughly equivalent to a Master of Arts) and their Doctorat d'État.[78]

After 1984, only one type of doctoral degree remained: the "doctorate" (Doctorat). A special diploma was created called the "accreditation to supervise research" (Habilitation à diriger des recherches), a professional qualification to supervise doctoral work. (This diploma is similar in spirit to the older State doctorate, and the requirements for obtaining it are similar to those necessary to obtain tenure in other systems.) Before only professors or senior full researchers of similar rank were normally authorized to supervise a doctoral candidate's work.[79] Now habilitation is a prerequisite to the title of professor in university (Professeur des universités) and to the title of Research Director (Directeur de recherche) in national public research agency such as CNRS, INRIA, or INRA.


Today, the doctorate (doctorat) is a research-only degree. It is a national degree and its requirements are fixed by the minister of higher education and research. Only public institutions award the doctorate. It can be awarded in any field of study. The master's degree is a prerequisite. The normal duration is three years. The redaction of a comprehensive thesis constitutes the bulk of the doctoral work. While the length of the thesis varies according to the discipline, it is rarely less than 150 pages, and often substantially more. Some 15,000 new doctoral matriculations occur every year and ~10,000 doctorates are awarded.[80]

Doctoral candidates can apply for a three-year fellowship. The most well known is the Contrat Doctoral (4,000 granted every year with a gross salary of 1758 euros per months as of September 2016).

Since 2002 candidates follow in-service training, but there is no written examination for the doctorate. The candidate has to write a thesis that is read by two external reviewers. The head of the institution decides whether the candidate can defend the thesis, after considering the external reviews. The jury members are designated by the head of the institution. The candidate's supervisor and the external reviewers are generally jury members. The maximum number of jury members is 8. The defense generally lasts 45 minutes in scientific fields, followed by 1 – 2 and a half hours of questions from the jury or other doctors present. The defense and questions are public. The jury then deliberates in private and then declares the candidate admitted or "postponed". The latter is rare. New regulations were set in 2016 and do not award distinctions.

The title of doctor (docteur) can also be used by medical and pharmaceutical practitioners who hold a doctor's State diploma (diplôme d'État de docteur). The diploma is a first-degree.


Doctorate degrees in Germany are research doctorates and are awarded via a process called Promotion ("promotion"). The concept of a US-style professional doctorate as an entry-level professional qualification does not exist. However, in medicine, "doctoral" dissertations are often written alongside undergraduate study. The European Research Council decided in 2010 that those Dr. med. doctorates do not meet the international standards of a PhD research degree.[81][82] The duration of the doctorate depends on the field: a doctorate in medicine may take less than a full-time year to complete, other fields take two to six. Most doctorates are awarded with specific Latin designations for the field of research (except for engineering, where the designation is German) instead of a general degree for all fields (e.g., the Ph.D.). The most important degrees are:

  • Dr. rer. nat. (rerum naturalium; natural and formal sciences, i.e. physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, computer science and information technology, or psychology);

  • Dr. phil. (philosophiae; humanities such as philosophy, philology, history, and social sciences such as sociology, political science, or psychology as well);

  • Dr. iur. (iuris; law);

  • Dr. oec. (oeconomiae; economics);

  • Dr. rer. pol. (rerum politicarum; economics, business administration, political science);

  • Dr. theol. (theologiae; theology);

  • Dr. med. (medicinae; medicine);

  • Dr. med. dent. (medicinae dentariae; dentistry);

  • Dr. med. vet. (medicinae veterinariae; veterinary medicine);

  • Dr.-Ing. (engineering).

Over fifty such designations are available, many of them rare or no longer in use. For addressing, the degree is commonly written in front of the name in abbreviated form, e.g., Dr. rer. nat. Max Mustermann or Dr. Max Mustermann, dropping the designation entirely. However leaving out the designation is only allowed, when the doctorate degree is not an honorary doctorate, which has to be indicated by Dr. h.c. (from Latin honoris causa). Although the honorific does not become part of the name, holders can demand that the title appear in official documents. The title is not mandatory. The honorific is commonly used in formal letters. For holders of other titles, only the highest title is mentioned. Multiple holders of doctorate degrees can be addressed as Dres. (from Latin doctores). Professional doctorates obtained in other countries, not requiring a thesis or not being third cycle qualifications under the Bologna process, can only be used postnominally, e.g., "Max Mustermann, MD", and do not allow the use of the title Dr.[83]

In the German university system it is common to write two doctoral theses, the inaugural thesis (Inauguraldissertation), completing a course of study, and the habilitation thesis (Habilitationsschrift), which opens the road to a professorship.[84] Upon completion of the habilitation thesis, a Habilitation is awarded, which is indicated by appending habil. (habilitata/habilitatus) to the doctorate, e.g., Dr. rer. nat. habil. Max Mustermann. It is considered as an additional academic qualification rather than an academic degree formally. It qualifies the owner to teach at German universities (facultas docendi). The holder of a Habilitation receives the authorization to teach a certain subject (venia legendi). This has been the traditional prerequisite for attaining Privatdozent (PD) and employment as a full university Professor. With the introduction of Juniorprofessuren—around 2005—as an alternative track towards becoming a professor at universities (with tenure), Habilitation is no longer the only university career track.


In India, doctorates are offered by universities. Entry requirements include master's degree. Some universities consider undergraduate degrees in professional areas such as engineering, medicine or law as qualifications for pursuing doctorate level degrees. Entrance examinations are held for almost all programs. In most universities, coursework duration and thesis is 5–6 years. The most common doctoral degree is Ph.D.


Italy uses a three-level degree system. The first-level degree, called a "laurea" (Bachelor's degree), requires three years and a short thesis. The second-level degree, called a "laurea magistrale" (Master's degree), is obtained after two additional years, specializing in a branch of the field. This degree requires more advanced thesis work, usually involving academic research or an internship. The final degree is called a "dottorato di ricerca" (Ph.D.) and is obtained after three years of academic research on the subject and a thesis.

Alternatively, after obtaining the laurea or the laurea magistrale one can complete a "Master's" (first-level Master's after the laurea; second-level Master's after the laurea magistrale) of one or two years, usually including an internship. An Italian "Master's" is not the same as a master's degree; it is intended to be more focused on professional training and practical experience.

Regardless of the field of study, the title for Bachelors Graduate students is Dottore/Dottoressa (abbrev. Dott./Dott.ssa, or as Dr.), not to be confused with the title for the Ph.D., which is instead Dottore/Dottoressa di Ricerca. A laurea magistrale grants instead the title of Dottore/Dottoressa magistrale. Graduates in the fields of Education, Art and Music are also called Dr. Prof. (or simply Professore) or Maestro. Many professional titles, such as ingegnere (engineer) are awarded only upon passing a post-graduation examination (esame di stato), and registration in the relevant professional association.

The first institution in Italy to create a doctoral program (Ph.D.) was Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa in 1927 under the historic name "Diploma di Perfezionamento".[85][86] Further, the research doctorates or Ph.D. (Italian: Dottorato di ricerca) in Italy were introduced with law and Presidential Decree in 1980 (Law of February 21, 1980, No. 28 [147] and the Presidential Decree No. 382 of 11 July 1980 [148] ), referring to the reform of academic teaching, training and experimentation in organisation and teaching methods.[87][88]

Hence the Superior Graduate Schools in Italy (Grandes écoles)[89] (Italian: Scuola Superiore Universitaria),[90] also called Schools of Excellence (Italian: Scuole di Eccellenza)[89][91] such as Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa and Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies keep their historical "Diploma di Perfezionamento" Ph.D. title by law[86][92] and MIUR Decree [149] .[93][94]



Until the 1990s, most natural science and engineering doctorates in Japan were earned by industrial researchers in Japanese companies. These degrees were awarded by the employees' former university, usually after years of research in industrial laboratories. The only requirement is submission of a dissertation, along with articles published in well-known journals. This program is called ronbun hakase (論文博士). It produced the majority of engineering doctoral degrees from national universities. University-based doctoral programs called katei hakase (課程博士), are gradually replacing these degrees. By 1994, more doctoral engineering degrees were earned for research within university laboratories (53%) than industrial research laboratories (47%).[95] Since 1978, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) has provided tutorial and financial support for promising researchers in Asia and Africa. The program is called JSPS RONPAKU.[96]

Professional degree

The only professional doctorate in Japan is the Juris Doctor, known as Hōmu Hakushi (法務博士)[97] The program generally lasts two or three years. This curriculum is professionally oriented,[98] but unlike in the US the program does not provide education sufficient for a law license. All candidates for a bar license must pass the bar exam (Shihou shiken), attend the Legal Training and Research Institute and pass the practical exam (Nikai Shiken or Shihou Shushusei koushi).[99]

Netherlands and Flanders

The traditional academic system of the Netherlands provided basic academic diploma: propaedeuse and three academic degrees: kandidaat (the lowest degree), depending on gender doctorandus or doctoranda (drs.) (with equivalent degrees in engineering - ir. and law - mr.) and doctor (dr.). After successful completion of the first year of university, the student was awarded the propaedeutic diploma (not a degree). In some fields, this diploma was abolished in the 1980s. In physics and mathematics, the student could directly obtain a kandidaats (candidate) diploma in two years. The candidate diploma was all but abolished by 1989. It used to be attained after completion of the majority of courses of the academic study (usually after completion of course requirements of the third year in the program), after which the student was allowed to begin work on their doctorandus thesis. The successful completion of this thesis conveyed the doctoranda/us title, implying that the student's initial studies were finished. In addition to these 'general' degrees, specific titles equivalent to the doctorandus degree were awarded for law: meester (master) (mr.), and for engineering: ingenieur (engineer)(ir.). Following the Bologna protocol the Dutch adopted the Anglo-Saxon system of academic degrees. The old candidate's degree was revived to become the bachelor's degree and the doctorandus' (mr and ir degree) were replaced by master's degrees. Dutch university programmes tend to include advanced subject matter that e.g., at Harvard is taught in Ph.D.-courses (for instance advanced quantum mechanics or general relativity in a Dutch course for the master's degree in theoretical physics).

Students can only enroll in a doctorate system after completing a research university level master's degree; although dispensation can be granted on a case by case basis after scrutiny of the individual's portfolio. The most common way to conduct doctoral studies is to work as promovendus/assistant in opleiding (aio)/onderzoeker in opleiding (oio) (research assistant with additional courses and supervision), perform extensive research and write a dissertation consisting of published articles (over a period of four or more years, averaging about 5.5 to 6). Research can also be conducted without official research assistant status, for example through a business-sponsored research laboratory.

Every Ph.D. thesis has to be promoted by a full university professor who has the role of principal advisor. The promotor (professor) determines whether the thesis quality suffices and can be submitted to the committee of experts. A committee of experts in the field review the thesis. Failures at this stage are rare because supervisors withhold inadequate work. The supervisors and promotor lose prestige among their colleagues should they allow a substandard thesis to be submitted.

After reviewer approval, the candidate publishes the thesis (generally more than 100 copies) and sends it to colleagues, friends and family with an invitation to the public defense. The degree is awarded in a formal, public, defense session, in which the thesis is defended against critical questions of the "opposition" (the review committee). Failure during this session is possible, but rare. Before the defense there may or may not be a public presentation, lasting 10 minutes (e.g. Eindhoven University) to exactly half hour (e.g. Delft University). The actual defense lasts exactly the assigned time slot (45 minutes to 1 hour exactly depending on the University) after which the defense is stopped by the bedel who closes the process.

The doctor's title is the highest academic degree in the Netherlands. In research doctorates the degree is always Ph.D. with no distinction between disciplines. Three Dutch universities of technology (Eindhoven University of Technology, Delft University of Technology, and University of Twente) also award a (lower ranked) Professional Doctorate in Engineering (PDEng).

Although the title doctor is informally called Ph.D., legally no Ph.D. degree exists. All other university titles (B.Sc./B.Ba./LL.B./B.A. M.Sc./M.B.A./LL.M./M.A.) are protected by law, while Ph.D. is not. Any person thus can adopt the Ph.D. title, but not the doctor title, which is protected. Those who obtained a degree in a foreign country can only use the Dutch title drs. mr. ir. or dr. if approved by the Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs[100] though according to the opportunity principle, little effort monitors such frauds. Dutch doctors may use the letter D behind their name instead of the uncapitalized shortcut dr. before their name.[101]

Those who have multiple doctor (dr.) titles may use the title dr.mult.[101] Those who have received honoris causa doctorates may use dr.h.c. before their own name.[101]

In Belgium's Flemish Community the doctorandus title was only used by those who actually started their doctoral work. Doctorandus is still used as a synonym for a Ph.D. student. The licentiaat (licensee) title was in use for a regular graduate until the Bologna reform changed the licentiaat degree to the master's degree (the Bologna reform abolished the two-year kandidaat degree and introduced a three-year academic bachelor's degree instead).


In the Russian Empire the academic degree "doctor of the sciences" (doktor nauk) marked the highest academic degree that can be achieved by an examination. (The "doctor nauk" degree was introduced in Russia in 1819, abolished in 1917, and revived in the USSR in 1934.)[102] This system was generally adopted by the USSR/Russia and many post-Soviet countries. A lower degree, "candidate [doctor] of the sciences" (kandidat nauk; first introduced in the USSR on January 13, 1934, by a decision of the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR), is, roughly, the Russian equivalent to the research doctorate in other countries.


Doctoral degrees are regulated by Royal Decree (R.D. 778/1998),[103] Real Decreto (in Spanish). They are granted by the University on behalf of the King. Its Diploma has the force of a public document. The Ministry of Science keeps a National Registry of theses called TESEO.[104] According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), less than 5% of M.Sc. degree holders are admitted to Ph.D. programmes.

All doctoral programs are research-oriented. A minimum of 4 years of study is required, divided into 2 stages:

  • A 2-year (or longer) period of studies concludes with a public dissertation presented to a panel of 3 Professors. Upon approval from the university, the candidate receives a "Diploma de Estudios Avanzados" (part qualified doctor, equivalent to M.Sc.). From 2008 it is possible to substitute the former diploma by a recognized master program.

  • A 2-year (or longer) research period includes extensions for up to 10 years. The student must present a thesis describing a discovery or original contribution. If approved by their thesis director, the study is presented to a panel of 5 distinguished scholars. Any Doctor attending the public defense is allowed to challenge the candidate with questions. If approved, the candidate receives the doctorate. Four marks used to be granted: Unsatisfactory (Suspenso), Pass (Aprobado), Remarkable (Notable), "Cum laude" (Sobresaliente), and "Summa cum laude" (Sobresaliente Cum Laude). Those Doctors granted their degree "Summa Cum Laude" were allowed to apply for an "Extraordinary Award".

Since September 2012 and regulated by Royal Decree (R.D. 99/2011) (in Spanish),[105] three marks can be granted: Unsatisfactory (No apto), Pass (Apto) and "Cum laude" (Apto Cum Laude) as maximum mark. In the public defense the doctor is notified if the thesis has passed or not passed. The Apto Cum Laude mark is awarded after the public defense as the result of a private, anonymous vote. Votes are verified by the University. A unanimous vote of the reviewers nominates Doctors granted Apto Cum Laude for an "Extraordinary Award" (Premio Extraordinario de Doctorado).

In the same Royal Decree the initial 3-year study period was replaced by a Research master's degree (one or two years; Professional master's degrees do not grant direct access to Ph.D. Programs) that concludes with a public dissertation called "Trabajo de Fin de Máster" or "Proyecto de Fin de Máster". An approved project earns a master's degree that grants access to a Ph.D. program and initiates the period of research.

A doctorate is required in order to teach at the University.[106]

Only Ph.D. holders, Grandees and Dukes can sit and cover their heads in the presence of the King.[107]

From 1857, Complutense University was the only one in Spain authorised to confer the doctorate. This law remained in effect until 1954, when the University of Salamanca joined in commemoration of its septecentenary. In 1970, the right was extended to all Spanish universities.[108]

All doctorate holders are reciprocally recognised as equivalent in Germany and Spain (according to the "Bonn Agreement of November 14, 1994").[109]

United Kingdom

History of the UK doctorate

The doctorate has long existed in the UK as, originally, the second degree in divinity, law, medicine and music. But it was not until the late 19th century that the research doctorate, now known as the higher doctorate, was introduced. The first higher doctorate was the Doctor of Science at Durham University, introduced in 1882.[18] This was soon followed by other universities, including the University of Cambridge establishing its ScD in the same year, the University of London transforming its DSc from an advanced study course to a research degree in 1885, and the University of Oxford establishing its Doctor of Letters (DLitt) in 1900.[110][111]

The PhD was adopted in the UK following a joint decision in 1917 by British universities, although it took much longer for it to become established. Oxford became the first university to institute the new degree, although naming it the DPhil.[110] The PhD was often distinguished from the earlier higher doctorates by distinctive academic dress. At Cambridge, for example, PhDs wear a master's gown with scarlet facings rather than the full scarlet gown of the higher doctors, while the University of Wales gave PhDs crimson gowns rather than scarlet.[112] Professional doctorates were introduced in Britain in the 1980s and 1990s. The earliest professional doctorates were in the social sciences, including the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Doctor of Education (EdD) and Doctor of Clinical Psychology (DClinPsy).[113]

British doctorates today

Today, except for those awarded honoris causa, all doctorates granted by British universities are research doctorates, in that their main (and in many cases only) component is the submission of an extensive and substantial thesis or portfolio of original research, examined by an expert panel appointed by the university. UK doctorates are categorised as:[25]

Junior doctorates
  1. Subject specialist doctorates – normally PhD/DPhil; the most common form of doctorate
    • Integrated subject specialist doctorates – integrated PhDs including teaching at master's level
  2. Doctorates by publication – PhD by Published Works; only awarded infrequently
  3. Professional and practice-based (or practitioner) doctorates – e.g. EdD, ProfDoc/DProf, EngD, etc.; usually include taught elements and have a professional, rather than academic, orientation
Higher doctoratese.g. DD, LLD, DSc, DLitt; higher level than junior doctorates, usually awarded either for a substantial body of work over an extended period or as honorary degrees.

The Quality Assurance Agency states in the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies (which covers junior doctorates but not higher doctorates) that:[23]

Doctoral degrees are awarded to students who have demonstrated: the creation and interpretation of new knowledge, through original research or other advanced scholarship, of a quality to satisfy peer review, extend the forefront of the discipline, and merit publication a systematic acquisition and understanding of a substantial body of knowledge which is at the forefront of an academic discipline or area of professional practice the general ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the generation of new knowledge, applications or understanding at the forefront of the discipline, and to adjust the project design in the light of unforeseen problems a detailed understanding of applicable techniques for research and advanced academic enquiry

In the UK, the (junior) doctorate is a qualification awarded at FHEQ level 8/level 12 of the FQHEIS on the national qualifications frameworks.[23][25][114] The higher doctorates are stated to be "A higher level of award", which is not covered by the qualifications frameworks.[25]

Subject specialist doctorates

These are the most common doctorates in the UK and are normally awarded as PhDs. While the master/apprentice model was traditionally used for British PhDs, since 2003 courses have become more structured, with students taking courses in research skills and receiving training for professional and personal development. However, the assessment of the PhD remains based on the production of a thesis or equivalent and its defence at a viva voce oral examination, normally held in front of at least two examiners, one internal and one external.[25] Access to PhDs normally requires an upper second class or first class bachelor's degree, or a master's degree. Courses normally last three years, although it is common for students to be initially registered for MPhil degrees and then formally transferred onto the PhD after a year or two. Students who are not considered likely to complete a PhD may be offered the opportunity to complete an MPhil instead.[115]

Integrated doctorates, originally known as 'New Route PhDs', were introduced from 2000 onwards. These integrate teaching at master's level during the first one or two years of the degree, either alongside research or as a preliminary to starting research. These courses usually offer a master's-level exit degree after the taught courses are completed. While passing the taught elements is often required, examination of the final doctorate is still by thesis (or equivalent) alone.[25] The duration of integrated doctorates is a minimum of four years, with three years spent on the research component.[116]

In 2013, Research Councils UK issued a 'Statement of Expectations for Postgraduate Training', which lays out the expectations for training in PhDs funded by the research councils.[117] In the latest version (2016), issued together with Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and the British Heart Foundation, these include the provision of careers advice, in-depth advanced training in the subject area, provision of transferable skills, training in experimental design and statistics, training in good research conduct, and training for compliance with legal, ethical and professional frameworks. The statement also encourages peer-group development through cohort training and/or Graduate schools.[118]

Higher doctorates

Higher doctorates are awarded in recognition of a substantial body of original research undertaken over the course of many years. Typically the candidate submits a collection of previously published, peer-refereed work, which is reviewed by a committee of internal and external academics who decide whether the candidate deserves the doctorate. The higher doctorate is similar in some respects to the habilitation in some European countries. However, the purpose of the award is significantly different. While the habilitation formally determines whether an academic is suitably qualified to be a university professor, the higher doctorate does not qualify the holder for a position but rather recognises their contribution to research.[18]

Higher doctorates were defined by the UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) in 2013 as:[18]

an award that is at a level above the PhD (or equivalent professional doctorate in the discipline), and that is typically gained not through a defined programme of study but rather by submission of a substantial body of research-based work.

In terms of number of institutions offering the awards, the most common doctorates of this type in UKCGE surveys carried out in 2008 and 2013 were the Doctor of Science (DSc), Doctor of Letters (DLitt), Doctor of Law (LLD), Doctor of Music (DMus) and Doctor of Divinity (DD); in the 2008 survey the Doctor of Technology (DTech) tied with the DD.[18] The DSc was offered by all 49 responding institutions in 2008 and 15 out of 16 in 2013 and the DLitt by only one less in each case, while the DD was offered in 10 responding institutions in 2008 and 3 in 2013. In terms of number of higher doctorates awarded (not including honorary doctorates) the DSc was most popular, but the number of awards was very low: the responding institutions had averaged an award of at most one earned higher doctorate per year over the period 2003 - 2013.[18]

Honorary degrees

Most British universities award degrees honoris causa to recognise individuals who have made a substantial contribution to a particular field. Usually an appropriate higher doctorate is used in these circumstances, depending on the candidate's achievements. However, some universities differentiate between honorary and substantive doctorates, using the degree of Doctor of the University (D.Univ.) for these purposes, and reserve the higher doctorates for formal academic research.

United States

The structure of US doctoral programs is more formal and complex than some others. US research doctorates are awarded for successfully completing and defending independent research presented in the form of a dissertation, along with advanced study. Multiple professional degrees use the term "doctor" in their title, such as Juris Doctor and Doctor of Medicine, but these degrees do not always contain an independent research component or always require a dissertation and should not be confused with Ph.D./D.Phil./Ed.D./D.Ed. degrees or other research doctorates.[119] Law school graduates, although awarded the J.D. degree, are not normally addressed as "doctor". In legal studies the Ph.D. equivalent is the much rarer Doctor of Juridical Science.

Many universities offer Ph.D./D.Phil. followed by a professional doctorate or joint Ph.D./D.Phil. with the professional degree. Most often, Ph.D. work comes sequential to the professional degree, e.g., Ph.D./D.Phil. in law after a J.D. or equivalent[120][121][122][123] in physical therapy after DPT,[124][125] in pharmacy after Pharm.D.[126][127] Such professional degrees are referred to as an entry level doctorate program[128][129][130] and Ph.D. as a post-professional doctorate.[125]

Research degrees

The most common research doctorate is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D. or D.Phil.). This degree was first awarded in the U.S. at the 1861 Yale University commencement.[131] The University of Pennsylvania followed in 1871,[132] and Cornell (1872),[133] Harvard (1873),[134] Michigan (1876) [135] and Princeton (1879)[136] followed suit. Unlike the introduction of the professional doctorate M.D., considerable controversy and opposition followed the introduction of the Ph.D. into the U.S. educational system, lasting into the 1950s, as it was seen as an unnecessary artificial transplant from a foreign (Germany) educational system, which corrupted a system based on England's Oxbridge model.[137]

Ph.D.s and other research doctorates in the U.S. typically entail successful completion of pertinent classes, passing a comprehensive examination, and defending a dissertation.[138]

The median number of years for completion of US doctoral degrees is seven.[32] Doctoral applicants were previously required to have a master's degree, but many programs accept students immediately following undergraduate studies.[139][140] Many programs gauge the potential of a student applying to their program and grant a master's degree upon completion of the necessary Ph.D. course work. When so admitted, the student is expected to have mastered the material covered in the master's degree despite not holding one, though this tradition is under heavy criticism.[141] Finishing Ph.D. qualifying exams confers Ph.D. candidate status, allowing dissertation work to begin.

While not authoritative, the International Affairs Office of the U.S. Department of Education listed over 20 "frequently" awarded research doctorate titles identified by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in a 2008 document as representing degrees equivalent in research content to the Ph.D. at the time.[142] The 2008 version of the NSF list of research doctorates included in the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), contained 18 awards. The Doctor of Music and Doctor of Industrial Technology were removed in 2008, after the study evaluation identified that these were fully professional, rather than research-based, doctorates.[143] The current list (as of the 2016 SED, published in March 2018) contains the same 18 awards.[144]

Professional degrees

Many fields offer professional doctorates (or professional master's) such as pharmacy, medicine, public health, dentistry, optometry, psychology, speech-language pathology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, health science, advanced practice registered nurse, chiropractic, naturopathic medicine, law, architecture, education, teaching, business, management, and others that require such degrees for professional practice or licensure. Some of these degrees are also termed "first professional degrees," since they are the first field-specific master's or doctoral degrees.

A Doctor of Pharmacy is awarded as the professional degree in Pharmacy replacing a Bachelor's. It is the only professional pharmacy degree awarded in the US. Pharmacy programs vary in length between 4 years for matriculants with a B.S./B.A. to 6 years for others.

In the twenty-first century professional doctorates appeared in other fields, such as the Doctor of Audiology in 2007. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses were expected to completely transition to the Doctor of Nursing Practice by 2015, and physical therapists to the Doctor of Physical Therapy by 2020. Professional associations play a central role in this transformation amid criticisms on the lack of proper criteria to assure appropriate rigor. In many cases Masters level programs were relabeled as doctoral programs.[145]


A doctoral degree can be revoked or rescinded by the university that awarded it. Possible reasons include plagiarism, criminal or unethical activities of the author, or malfunction or manipulation of academic evaluation processes.[146]

See also

  • Compilation thesis

  • Habilitation thesis

  • Doctor (title)

  • Eurodoctorate

  • List of fields of doctoral studies


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