July 24, 2008

PhD and Doctorate degrees

What is the difference between PhD and doctorate degrees?

This is a question I have often come across time and time again, especially from younger upcoming students. A lot of people get really confused over this, so I will try, as best I can, to differentiate between the different types of doctorates there are.

Now, answering this question may be made simpler by asking another question: "What is the difference between a car and a Mercedes?" The simple difference is that all Mercedes are cars, but NOT all cars are Mercedes. Did that make any sense? You could have cars that are Toyota, Volkwagen, Audi, Peugeot, Mazda, and so on.

On the same note, all PhDs are doctorates, but NOT all doctorates are PhDs. In other words, bearing our earlier paragraph in mind, it is as good as saying there are PhD doctorates and non-PhD doctorates. Is this fact clearer to you now?

PhD, DPhil, Doctor of Philosophy
A University of Oxford Doctor of Philosophy in full academic dress (credit).

PhD simply means - "Doctor of Philosophy" - but is just an academic convention because you can be a Doctor of Philosophy in Physics, or a Doctor of Philosophy in Geology, or a Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy. Got that? It is the preferred degree to get a tenure-track faculty job in a particular field at most universities.

The Doctorates
'Traditional' PhDs -
academic degree
Non-PhD doctorates -
professional degrees
The PhD is an academic degree. Several professional schools offer doctorates that are NOT PhD. These doctorates differ from the traditional PhD because they are professional degrees, and not academic degrees.

These would include doctorates in Medicine (MD), Veterinary Medicine (DVM), Dental Science (DDS or DMD), Law (JD), Education (EdD or DEd), Divinity (DD) and business (DBA).

The PhD is the highest achievable academic degree in any academic discipline. On the other hand, the non-PhD doctorates are professional degrees (rather than the more traditional academic degrees) awarded in professional disciplines.

People with PhD usually end up teaching the subjects they have a PhD in, in the university, while people with professional doctorates go on to practice their knowledge in that field, rather than teach the subject.

Related: Masters, Doctorates and Post-doctorates

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