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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 she or he studied.

There are three types of doctorates: research/terminal, (first) professional, 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 that represents at least a modest contribution to human knowledge. The research 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.

Professional doctorates are awarded in certain fields where most holders of the degree are not engaged primarily in scholarly research and academic activities, but, rather in a profession, such as law, medicine, music, or ministry.

Honorary doctorates are awarded for a substantial contribution to a field that need not be academic in character.

In the EU, UK, Australia, and some other Commonwealth countries, a distinction is made among research doctorates, as 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 many years of 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. However, some consider it permissible to use the title of doctor for an honorary degree within the institution that granted it.

In the past, in the United States a person with a research doctorate would use the title "doctor" in an academic or research/development setting, and in publication. However it is becoming more common to use the title if working in a corporate setting. This is the case in most continents. In some countries the term "doctor" may be used as a title of respect even if the person being addressed has no doctoral degree.

General information

In the United States, professional doctoral degrees are terminal degrees (also sometimes called "first professional" degrees) in certain given fields, and include: Chiropractic, Dentistry, Law, Medicine, Occupational Therapy, Optometry, Osteopathy, Pharmacy, Physical Therapy, Podiatry, Psychology and Veterinary medicine. There are many others. Although these degrees may be both the initial and terminal degree in their field, students seeking to enter degree programs for them must have already completed a Bachelors degree, usually in a related field. Under European Law, research doctorate holders from any EU country are recognised. The duration of a medical degree may vary between EU countries and may require the holder to take further examinations.

Terminal/professional doctoral degrees such as the M.D. and J.D. do not generally require completion of a thesis/dissertation, although some professional degree programs (such as many J.D. programs) require that the candidate perform original research and write a formal research paper. The minimum term for a terminal (professional) degree is 3 years past secondary education, the same minimum term required for a research doctorate. Terminal/professional doctoral degrees are not research doctorates, yet they do entitle their holders to pursue academic careers on a par with holders of academic degrees. Actual practice (and legal recognition) within the applicable professional field usually requires that the degree holder also become licenced by the appropriate body (an organization not affiliated with the schools granting the degrees); a certain amount of work experience is sometimes required for licensure. The titles from the first-professional doctoral degrees are not equivalent to the same title conferred in other countries. For example, outside the United States (and countries that mimic the North American medical educational system), the title of M.D.or D.M. may be only conferred as a research or a higher doctorate. This M.D or D.M. is in recognition of clinical or preclinical academic research many years after the original (professional or first) degree in medicine or veterinary medicine.

The most common type of research doctorate is a Ph.D. (Philosophiæ Doctor or Doctor of Philosophy), though there are many other designations, listed below. Some British universities, including 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 three years following the completion of a master's degree. Although completions within this period are possible, most candidates take considerably longer, anywhere from five to ten years. Students in the physical sciences typically have shorter completion times than students in the arts due to their better access to funding sources. In the USA, the research doctorate normally requires two to three years of coursework and a minimum of three years of research. Coursework is increasingly becoming an additional component in many research doctorates around the world.

Although the Ph.D. is almost universally accepted currently 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 is the doctorat d'État. The latter was replaced for academic recruitment purposes by the "habilitation to direct theses". The Habilitation is still used for academic recruitment purposes in many countries within the EU and is a research doctorate involving either a new long thesis (a second book) or a portfolio of research publications. The "Habilitation" is a qualification that demonstrates independent and thorough research ability, experience in teaching and lecturing, the potential to have a research group and, more recently, the ability to generate extra funding within the area of research. The "Habilitation" is regarded as a senior post-doctoral qualification, many years after the Ph.D. and is necessary for a Privatdozent position.

The Russian Federation's/USSR's standards of volume, depth and overall scale of dissertation is regarded as equivalent to a graduate student who has completed candidacyship in the United States. The doctorate standard in the Russian Federation actually requires much deeper, wider reseach.

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 among them:

Professional Doctorates (also called First Professional Degrees)

Higher Doctorates in the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Commonwealth

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., Ireland and Commonwealth nations, where universities may maintain a notional ranking of the seniority of different doctorates. Higher doctorates include:

The degree of Doctor of Engineering (D.Eng. or Eng.D.) usually indicates a qualification comparable to a Ph.D.

Doctorates in The Netherlands

The traditional academic system of The Netherlands provides four basic academic diplomas and degrees: propaedeuse, candidate, doctorandus (drs.), engineer (ir.) and doctor (dr.). After successful completion of the first year of University, the student is awarded the propaedeutic diploma. The candidate degree is usually attained after three years of academic study, after which the student is allowed to begin work on his doctorandus' thesis. The successful completion of this thesis allows one to use the doctorandus title, attainment of which means one's initial studies are finished. Those who choose to, and are allowed to, perform extensive research and write a doctoral dissertation (usually over the course of four years). Upon completion, a doctor's degree is awarded. This is the highest academic degree one can attain. In addition to these 'general' degrees, a number of specific titles for certain subjects are available, each of which is equivalent to the doctorandus degree: for law: meester ('master') (mr.), and for engineering: ingenieur ('engineer')(ir.).

The last few years, the Dutch have incorporated the Anglo-Saxon system of academic degrees into their own. The candidate's degree is replaced by the bachelor's degree, the doctorandus' by the master's.

Higher Doctorates in Denmark

In Denmark there are five levels of degrees: Bachelor's, Candidate's (may be compared to Master), Magister (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. polit. - Economics
  • dr. scient. - Science (natural sciences)
  • dr. techn. - Technology

These degrees (and in addition dr. ing.) were also used in Norway, which traditionally used the same system as Denmark. Besides dr. philos, which is awarded to people who don't follow an organized degree program, new candidates are no longer awarded these degrees, but are instead awarded a Ph.D. The new Ph.D. degree was introduced in the early 2000s. The Ph.D. in Norway is not a lower-level research doctorate.

The PhD is in Denmark known as the "lower doctorate" or the "small doctorate".

Doctorates in Germany

In Germany, all doctorates bear the same level of merit (there are no first-degree doctorates as medical doctors do not necessarily hold a doctorate, although it is much easier for medical students to earn the degree (it is completed in about one year within their course) than for those studying other disciplines (where the doctorate is a separate degree which takes 3, 5 or even more years). Apart from that, Germany uses different titles, which are written in front of the first name for addresses (within texts, the abbrevation "Dr." is common) and accompany person's name (unlike in German speaking Switzerland!). This is a list of the types of doctorates encountered most often. For each title the subject is indicated in which it is mostly awarded. (There are exceptions from this, depending on the rules and traditions of the degree-awarding university.)

Upon the completion of a second dissertation or Habilitationsschrift a senior doctorate (dr.habil.) is awarded. This senior doctorate is known as the Habilitation. The degree of 'Dr.habil.' or an equivalent professional experience is the necessary prerequisite for a position of Privatdozent or Professor

Doctorates in Slovakia

First-degree doctorates (also called "small doctorates", written before the name)

  • Doctor of medicine (Medicinæ universæ doctor - MUDr.)
  • Doctor of dental medicine (Medicinæ dentalis doctor - MDDr.)
  • Doctor of veterinary medicine (Medicinæ veterinariæ doctor - MVDr.)
  • Doctor of pharmacy (Pharmaciæ doctor - PharmDr.)
  • Doctor of philosophy (Philosophiæ doctor - PhDr.)
  • Doctor of natural sciences (Rerum naturalium doctor - RNDr.)
  • Doctor of laws (Juris utrisque doctor - JUDr.)
  • Doctor of paedeutics (Paedagogiæ doctor - PaedDr.)
  • Doctor of theology (Theologiæ doctor - ThDr.)
  • Doctor of social sciences (Rerum societarum doctor - RSDr., deprecated - used by communist regime)

Higher doctorates (also called "big doctorates", written after the name)

  • Candidate of sciences (Candidatus scientarum - CSc., now being replaced by common PhD.)
  • Doctor of sciences (Doctor scientarum - DrSc.)
  • Doctor of arts (Artes doctor - ArtD.)

Doctorates in Hungary

  • D.L.A. (Doctor Liberalium Artium (Doctor of Liberal Arts))

Doctorates in Portugal

  • Doutor (Doctor)

Note: In Portugal and in the African Countries of Portuguese Official Language it is common to use the title "Dr." (supposedly the abbreviation of "Doutor") in reference to people with "Licenciatura" degrees (a "Licenciatura" is something between a Bachelor and a Master Degree in most countries, and currently (Jan 2006) represents 4 or 5 years of graduate studies; except in the following Licenciaturas: Pharmaceutical Sciences, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and Dental Medicine, which are 6-year long and the degree is equivalent to DPharm, DM/MD, etc. After the Bologna Process reform takes place in Portugal, it will have 3 to 4 years and be equivalent to any Bachelor degree in the E.U. countries that adopt this process). Some professionals have, however, different titles. For example: "Eng." (Engenheiro, Engineer), "Arq." (Arquitecto, Architect). The term "Doctor" in Portugal is used for those with a PhD and, instead of the title "Dr.", use "Doutor" (the extended form) or "Professor Doutor" (because, usually, PhD's are university professors).

Doctorates in Finland

Finland requires 45 credits of courses and 5 or 7 journal articles for a doctorate degree.

See also

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