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Encyclopedia > Doctoral degree

A doctorate is an academic degree of the highest level. Traditionally, the award of a doctorate implies recognition of the candidate as an equal by the university faculty under which he or she has studied. There are essentially three types of doctorates: research, first-professional (USA only), and honorary. Research doctorates are nearly always awarded in recognition of academic research that is of a publishable standard (even if not actually published) and represents at least a modest contribution to human knowledge. It is usually assessed by submission and defense of a doctoral thesis or dissertation, though in some cases a coherent body of published literature can be accepted instead. Honorary doctorates are awarded for a substantial contribution to a field but this need not be academic in character. In the UK, Australia, and some other Commonwealth countries, a distinction is made among research doctorates into junior doctorates (generally awarded after a course of 3-5 years postgraduate research and study and submission of a thesis), and higher doctorates -- awarded on the basis of ~10 years outstanding research, judged through examination of publications. These higher doctorates are also used as honorary doctorates, but those awarded on the basis of academic research are non-honorary.

The title of Doctor is used both by and of those holding research doctorates or some professional (usually medical) degrees, but according to convention is not used by or of those holding honorary doctorates. Additionally, in the United States while a person with a research doctorate would use the title "Doctor" in an academic or research/development setting, and in publication, he would generally not use the title if working in a corporate setting. In some countries the term "doctor" may by used as a title of respect even if the person being addressed has no doctoral degree, e.g. holders of a bachelor's degree (medical doctors, lawyers, physical therapists, nutritionists, dentists, etc.) in Portuguese-speaking countries.


General information

USA only: First-professional doctoral degrees are first degrees in a given field and include: Chiropractic, Dentistry, Law, Medicine, Optometry, Osteopathy, Pharmacy, Podiatry, Psychology and Veterinary medicine. There are many others. First-professional doctoral degrees such as the M.D. and J.D. do not require completion of a thesis/dissertation or publication of a coherent body of literature. The normal minimum term for a first-professional doctorate can be as little as 4 years past secondary education. These "first-professional" doctoral degrees therefore lack the status of the research doctorates. Actual practice within the field requires that the degree holder become licensed by the appropriate body (an organization not affiliated with the schools granting the degrees) and registration can require a certain amount of work experience.

The most common type of research doctorate is a Ph.D. (Philosophiĉ Doctor or Doctor of Philosophy), though there are many other designations, listed below. Some British universities, including York, Oxford and Sussex refer to the Ph.D. degree as the D.Phil..

Minimum periods for research doctorates vary considerably: In the UK and USA the minimum time for completing a Ph.D. is usually 3 years from time of enrollment (which usually takes place after the award of a bachelor's or master's degree). Although completions within this period are possible, most candidates take considerably longer.

Although the Ph.D. is almost universally accepted as the standard qualification for an academic career, it is a relatively new invention. 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 becoming rare, and are usually only awarded as Honorary degrees. In France, the higher doctorate (doctorat d'État) was suppressed and replaced for academic recruitment purposes by the much lighter "habilitation to direct theses".

Types of doctorates

Research oriented doctorates

While the Ph.D. is the most common doctoral degree, and even often (mis)understood to be synonymous with the term "doctorate", the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) recognize numerous doctoral degrees as equivalent, and do not discriminate between them:

  • Doctor of Arts (D.A.)
  • Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch.)
  • Doctor of Applied Science (D.A.S.)
  • Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A.)
  • Doctor of Chemistry (D.Chem.)
  • Doctor of Criminal Justice (D.C.J.)
  • Doctor of Comparative/Civil Law (D.C.L.)
  • Doctor of Computer Science (D.C.S.)
  • Doctor of Criminology (D.Crim.)
  • Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
  • Doctor of Environmental Design (D.E.D.)
  • Doctor of Engineering (D.Eng.)
  • Doctor of Environment (D.Env.)
  • Doctor of Engineering Science (D.E.Sc./Sc.D.E.)
  • Doctor of Forestry (D.F.)
  • Doctor of Fine Arts (D.F.A.)
  • Doctor of Geological Science (D.G.S.)
  • Doctor of Hebrew Literature/Letters (D.H.L.)
  • Doctor of Health and Safety (D.H.S.)
  • Doctor of Hebrew Studies (D.H.S.)
  • Doctor of Industrial Technology (D.I.T.)
  • Doctor of Information Technology (D.I.T.)
  • Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.)
  • Doctor of Library Science (D.L.S.)
  • Doctor of Music (D.M.)
  • Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A., A.Mus.D.)
  • Doctor of Musical Education (D.M.E.)
  • Doctor of Ministry (D.Min./D.M.)
  • Doctor of Modern Languages (D.M.L.)
  • Doctor of Music Ministry (D.M.M.)
  • Doctor of Medical Science (D.M.Sc.)
  • Doctor of Nursing Science (D.N.Sc.)
  • Doctor of Public Administration (D.P.A.)
  • Doctor of Physical Education (D.P.E.)
  • Doctor of Public Health (D.P.H.)
  • Doctor of Professional Studies (D.P.S.)
  • Doctor of Design (Dr.DES.)
  • Doctor of Religious Education (D.R.E.)
  • Doctor of Recreation (D.Rec./D.R.)
  • Doctor of Science (D.Sc./Sc.D.)
  • Doctor of Science in Dentistry (D.Sc.D.)
  • Doctor of Science and Hygiene (D.Sc.H.)
  • Doctor of Science in Veterinary Medicine (D.Sc.V.M.)
  • Doctor of Sacred Music (D.S.M.)
  • Doctor of Social Science (D.S.Sc.)
  • Doctor of Social Work (D.S.W.)
  • Doctor of Canon Law (J.C.D.)
  • Doctor of the Science of Law (L.Sc.D.)
  • Doctor of Rehabilitation (Rh.D.)
  • Doctor of Sacred Theology (S.T.D.)
  • Doctor of Theology (Th.D.)

Higher Doctorates in the United Kingdom

The notion of doctorates that are higher than the Ph.D. is one that is rare in the United States, but more established in the U.K., these include:

  • D.D. (Divinitatis Doctor or Doctor of Divinity)
  • LL.D. (Legum Doctor or Doctor of Laws)
  • D.C.L. (Doctor of Civil Law)
  • D.Sc. (Scientiĉ Doctor or Doctor of Science)
  • D.Litt. (Literarum Doctor or Doctor of Letters)
  • D.Mus. (Musicĉ Doctor or Doctor of Music)
  • D.Tech. (Doctor of Technology)
  • D.Univ. (Doctor of the University - usually honorary)
  • D.M. (Medicinĉ Doctor or Doctor of Medicine)

Higher Doctores in Denmark

In Denmark there are five levels of degrees: Bachelor's, Master's, "magisterkonferens" (similar to an MPhil in the United Kingdom system; a degree by research, higher than a Master's but lower than a Ph.D.), Ph.D., and finally Dr., which is the higher doctorate.

  • dr.med. Medicine
  • dr.jur. Law
  • dr.theol. Theology
  • dr.phil. Philosophy (humanities)
  • dr.scient. Science (natural sciences)
  • dr.techn. Technology

First-Degree (or First-professional) Doctorates

Related topics

  Results from FactBites:
Doctoral Degrees (2741 words)
A student obtaining the master's degree at the University must submit to the dean of the Graduate School written permission from the department head or division dean to be eligible to work toward the doctoral degree.
Each candidate for a doctoral degree must apply for the degree through the Office of the Graduate School no later than the registration period of the semester or the first term of the summer session in which requirements for the degree are to be completed.
The doctor of philosophy degree is regarded as a research degree and is granted on the basis of scholarly proficiency, distinctive achievement in a special field, and capacity for independent, original investigation.
Doctoral Degrees, Graduate Catalog 2006–2007 @ the Mizzou Graduate School (3162 words)
Doctoral candidates who passed their comprehensive examinations between the beginning of the fall semester 1994 through summer session 2000 will have no more than five years after passing the comprehensive examination to complete the doctoral degree.
The doctoral program committee shall be composed of a minimum of four members of the MU graduate faculty and will include at least three members from the student's doctoral degree program and an outside member from a different MU program.
To be admitted, the student must have attained the degree of master of arts with a major in education, a degree of master of education, or the quantitative and qualitative equivalent of one of these degrees from an accredited college or university.
  More results at FactBites »



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