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Doctor of Philosophy

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Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., an abbreviation for the Latin "Philosophiæ Doctor" or alternatively "Doctor philosophiæ", D.Phil. (originally from the Greek Διδάκτωρ Φιλοσοφίας, meaning "Teacher of Philosophy"), is a doctoral degree granted at the completion of extensive academic work in a particular field of study. Although originally granted exclusively for work in philosophy, today Ph.D.s are awarded in nearly all fields of the sciences and humanities.

In some fields, such as some specific branches of physics, a doctoral degree is practically essential for employment. In some sciences, a newly-graduated doctoral student is unlikely to find work as a tenure-track professor or lecturer and must undertake one or more postdoctorate positions.

History of the Ph.D.

The Ph.D. was originally a degree granted by a university to learned individuals who had achieved the approval of their peers and who had demonstrated a long and productive career in the field of philosophy. The appellation of "Doctor" (from Latin: doceo, docere: to teach) was usually awarded only when the individual was in middle age. It indicated a life dedicated to learning, to knowledge, and to the spread of knowledge.

The degree was popularised in the 19th century at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin as a degree to be granted to someone who had undertaken original research in the sciences or humanities. From there it spread to the United States, arriving at Yale University in 1861, and then to the United Kingdom in 1921. This displaced the existing Doctor of Philosophy degree in some Universities; for instance, the D.Phil. (higher doctorate in the faculty of philosophy) at the University of St Andrews was discontinued and replaced with the Ph.D. (research doctorate). However, some UK universities such as Oxford, Buckingham and Sussex retain the D.Phil. abbreviation for their research degrees, as do universities in New Zealand.



Admission to a Ph.D. programme within Australia requires the prospective student to have completed a Bachelor Degree with an Honours component. In most disciplines, Honours involves an extra year of study including a large research component in addition to coursework. To obtain a Ph.D. position, students must usually gain a First Class Honours, but may sometimes be admitted with a high Second Class Honours (known as a 2A).


In Australia, Ph.D. students are quite often offered a scholarship to study their Ph.D. The most common of these is the Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) scholarship, which provides a living stipend to students of approximately AU$19,000 a year (tax free). Most universities also offer a similar scholarship that matches the APA amount, but is funded by the university. In recent years, with the tightening of research funding in Australia, these scholarships have become increasingly harder to obtain. In addition to the more common APA and University scholarships, Australian students also have other sources of funding in their Ph.D. These could include, but are not limited to, scholarships offered by schools, research centres and commercial enterprise. For the latter, the amount is determined between the university and the organisation, but is quite often set at the APA (Industry) rate, roughly AU$7,000 more than the usual APA rate. Australian students are often also able to tutor undergraduate classes (much like a teaching assistant in the USA) to generate income. An Australian Ph.D. scholarship is paid for a duration of 3 years, while a 6 month extension is usually possible upon citing delays out of the control of the student. Completion of a Ph.D is results dependent, and often students are unable to finsh during the tenure of the scholarship.



Admission to a Ph.D. programme at a Canadian university normally requires completion of a Master's degree in a related field, with sufficiently high grades (usually at least a B+ average, though this requirement may be substantially higher in some schools, departments, faculties or fields), and proven research ability. In exceptional cases, a student may progress directly from an Honours Bachelor's degree directly to a Ph.D.. The student must usually submit an application package including a research proposal, letters of reference, transcripts, and a sample of the student's writing.

At English-speaking universities, students may also be required to demonstrate English-language ability, usually via an acceptable score on a standard examination. Depending on the field, the student may also be required to demonstrate ability in one or more additional language(s). Prospective students applying to French-speaking universities may also have to demonstrate at least some English-language ability.


While some students work outside the university (or at student jobs within the university), in some programmes students are advised (or must agree) not to devote more than twelve hours per week to activities outside of their studies.

At some Canadian universities, most Ph.D. students receive an award equivalent to the tuition amount for the first four years (this is sometimes called a tuition deferral). Other sources of funding include teaching assistantships and research assistantships; at least some experience as a teaching assistant is encouraged in many programmes. Additionally, some programmes require all Ph.D. candidates to teach a class or classes, which may be done under the supervision of regular faculty.

Besides these sources of funding, there are also various scholarships, bursaries and awards available.

Requirements for completion

In general, the first two years of study are devoted to completion of coursework and the comprehensive examinations. At this stage, the student is known as a "Ph.D. student." It is usually expected that the student will have completed most of his or her required coursework by the end of this stage, and is usually required that by the end of thirty-six months after the first registration, the student will have successfully completed the comprehensive exams.

Upon successful completion of the comprehensive exams, the student becomes known as a "Ph.D. candidate." From this stage on, the bulk of the student's time will be devoted to his or her own research, culminating in the completion of a Ph.D. "thesis," or "dissertation." The final requirement is for a public thesis defence.

At most Canadian universities, the minimum amount of time needed to complete a Ph.D. is two years, and the maximum is six.

United Kingdom


Admission to a Ph.D. programme within the UK generally requires the prospective student to have completed a Bachelor's Degree, either with First Class Honours or Upper Second Class Honours (known as a 2.1).


In the U.K., funding for Ph.D. students is often provided by government-funded Research Councils. The funding takes the form of a tax-free bursary of around GBP12,000 per year for three years, whether or not the degree continues for longer. Research Council funding is typically allocated to an academic department which then allocate it to students. In order to ensure that students receiving such funding use it appropriately, funding is provided to departments on the basis that future funding may be reduced should students fail to complete their degree within a given timescale. This means that departments have a strong incentive to ensure that funding is allocated only to students who are likely to finish the degree. Students at British universities may also take part in tutoring, work as research assistants, or (occasionally) deliver lectures, either to supplement existing funding or as a sole means of funding.

United States


Admission to Ph.D. programmes in the United States is highly competitive. At minimum, applicants are typically required to have a Bachelors Degree in a relevant field, reasonably high grades and a satisfactory performance on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Although specific requirements vary, programmes at well-regarded research-orientated universities usually require significantly more of their applicants.

Master's degree "in passing"

As applicants to Ph.D. programmes are not required to have Master's Degrees, many programmes award a M.A. or M.S. degree "in passing," meaning that they are awarded based on previously-completed work, but are not "terminal" degrees in that the recipient is expected to continue his or her education toward the Ph.D. Students who receive such Master's Degrees are usually required to complete a certain amount of coursework and a master's thesis.


Depending on the specific field of study, completion of a Ph.D. programme usually takes between four and eight years after the bachelor's degree; those students who begin a Ph.D. programme with a Master's Degree may complete their Ph.D. a year or two sooner.[1] As Ph.D. programmes typically lack the formal structure of undergraduate education, there are significant individual differences in the time taken to complete the degree. Many US universities have set a 10-year limit for students in Ph.D. programmes.


Doctoral students are usually discouraged from engaging in external employment during the course of their graduate training. As a result, Ph.D. students at American universities typically receive a tuition waiver and some form of annual stipend. The source and amount of funding varies from field to field, and university to university. Many American graduate students work as teaching assistants or research assistants while they are doctoral students, or obtain grants or fellowships from government research agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Many Ivy League and other well-endowed universities provide funding for the entire duration of the course, or for most of it.

Comparative value

A Ph.D. does not confer commensurate advantage in every sphere. For example, many commercial organizations regard a professional Master's degree, such as an MBA, or professional designation, such as CPA, as the highest level of education that is desirable. Traditional views of the value of academic study in commerce are changing

but skepticism about the commercial value of a Ph.D. prevails. Some departments in medical schools may offer research Ph.D. degrees although only an M.D., not a Ph.D.,  is required to practice medicine.


Within the USA, the value of a Ph.D. degree is often the topic of scholarly debate and criticism, given its almost exclusive concern with research and publication and the alleged neglect of numerous other faculty responsibilities that include teaching, collegial evaluation, collective and individual curricular planning, etc [citation needed]. Solutions have been met with varying degrees of success. In the 1960s, the prestigious Carnegie Foundation helped promote and establish the Doctor of Arts degree as an alternative to the Ph.D. The D.A. degree, with its focus on content specialty, curriculum design, and pedagogy, was designed to help prepare expert teachers in various fields. Its well-defined disciplinary focus makes it different from the Ed.D. (Doctor of Education) while still embracing the Ed.D.'s concern for issues in education. The D.A. continues to be offered in many universities across the United States and in other countries[citation needed], though a few D.A. programs have since been converted to the Ph.D. model. Still, the D.A. has many steadfast supporters. Other solutions include a re-thinking of the Ph.D. in order to address its perceived shortcomings. William Henry Bragg, the noted physicist, was famously known to have said, "whatever you do, don't do a Ph.D.".[citation needed]

In reality, however, almost all the top research and development jobs (at least in technical areas such as physics, mathematics, materials, engineering, numerical analysis, etc.) in high ranking universities and increasingly investment banks hiring for financial modelling (Quant roles) and industry require a Ph.D. It is unlikely that someone will head their own research group in the defense or private research sectors unless they possess a Ph.D. [citation needed]. Furthermore a Ph.D. is a good way to make the transition from a masters project or undergraduate study to full scale research.


While the Ph.D. is the most common doctoral degree in the United States, it is often misunderstood to be synonymous with the term "doctorate". The U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation recognize numerous doctoral degrees as "equivalent", and do not discriminate between them (e.g., Doctor of Arts (D.A.), Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.), Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), Doctor of Theology (Th.D.). List of equivalent doctorates

In the United Kingdom and other countries of the world, Ph.D.s are distinguishable from the higher doctorates that outrank them, such as (D.Litt.) Doctor of Letters or (D.Sc.) Doctor of Science, which are issued by a committee on the basis of a long record of research and publication. They are also distinct from professional doctorates such as those conferred in medicine, education, engineering and jurisprudence -- M.D., Ed.D., Eng.D., and D.Jur. (also known as J.D.). In most universities, professional doctorates involve coursework or a much smaller research component, so the Ph.D. is therefore understood formally to outrank them.

In German speaking countries, most Eastern European countries, the former Soviet Union, most parts of Africa, Asia, and many countries in Latin America the corresponding degree is simply called "Doctor" and is distinguished by subject area with a Latin suffix (e.g. "" — doctor medicinæ — which is not equal to a M.D., "Dr.rer.nat — doctor rerum naturalium (Doctor of Science) —, "Dr. phil." — doctor philosophiæ, etc.)

See also

  • Doctorate A general term describing a set of degrees equivalent to the Ph.D.
  • Terminal degree The highest degree awarded in a field, usually a Ph.D.
  • Graduate student A student pursuing education past the bachelor's degree, such as a Ph.D.
  • C.Phil. Also ABD. Unofficial term for graduate student who has completed all Ph.D. coursework, but has yet to defend dissertation.
  • Dottorato di ricerca Italian equivalent of Ph.D.
  • Kandidat Degree awarded by USSR and post-Soviet states
  • Piled Higher and Deeper, a webcomic which satirizes the life of graduate students earning a Ph.D.


  • Estelle M Phillips and Derek.S. Pugh How to Get a Ph.D.: A Handbook for Students and Their Supervisors ISBN 033520550X,
  • MacGillivray, Alex; Potts, Gareth; Raymond, Polly. Secrets of Their Success (London: New Economics Foundation, 2002)
  1. includeonly>"Research Doctorate Programmes", US Department of Education, Retrieved 6/18/06.

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