July 23, 2011

Masters, Doctorates and Post-doctorates

In a previous post, I tried to make a clear distinction between the PhD and the non-PhD doctorates. However, since then I have realized from readers' feedback that i ought to have talked about the masters and post-doctorate programs as well. Thus i have called this post - masters, doctorates and post-doctorates.

Basically the masters degree, the doctorates and the post-doctorates are all postgraduate degrees and programs.

What is a masters degree?

In the United States, study beyond the undergraduate bachelors degree is referred to as 'graduate study', but in some other countries, it is referred to as 'post-graduate study.' A masters degree is an academic degree, usually awarded after some years of postgraduate study. Thus it can only be earned after completion of an undergraduate degree (BA or BS).

Typically it requires about 30 credits of coursework and takes one to two years of full time study beyond the bachelor's degree. In addition to coursework, it sometimes entails completing comprehensive exams and/or a thesis. Masters degrees are awarded in all fields, usually as MA (master of arts) or MS (master of science), although some fields have discipline-specific degrees, such as social work (MSW) and art (MFA).

Note that in the USA, the Master of Science degree is abbreviated 'MS', while in British Commonwealth countries, it is 'MSc'. Also, it is worth mentioning that a few individual universities label their degrees differently e.g. SM instead of MS or AM instead of MA, because that is the order of the words in Latin.

What is a doctorate degree?

A doctorate is the collective term for the final and highest (or "terminal") degree that can be awarded in any given field of study. Most traditional academic disciplines (e.g. history, chemistry, sociology, etc.) award a PhD as their highest degree.

However, a PhD is just one type of doctorate. Other doctorates include EdD (Doctor of Education), DPA (Doctor of Public Administration), DFA (Doctor of Fine Arts), and ThD (Doctor of Divinity).

The PhD is an academic degree awarded in academic disciplines, while the other doctorates are professional degrees awarded in professional disciplines. More on PhD and non-PhD doctorates.

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

What is a post-doctorate?

The Post-doctorate (also called Post-doc) is not a degree. It is a program of further study and research after earning a doctorate. They are found most often in the science fields.

In one succinct phrase, it is what a PhD holder goes through before they can become a professor.

A post-doctorate is where a PhD holder goes to work with a professor doing research and publishing papers, etc before they find a real job. It's like getting a job experience. It is NOT another degree.

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