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abbreviation or noun

Definition of phd, examples of phd in a sentence.

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'PhD.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

New Latin philosophiae doctor

1839, in the meaning defined above

Dictionary Entries Near PhD

Cite this entry.

“PhD.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/PhD. Accessed 31 Mar. 2024.

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A Doctor of Philosophy or Doctorate

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More than 54,000 students earned doctoral degrees in 2016, the latest year for which figures are available, a 30 percent increase since 2000, according to the  National Science Foundation . A Ph.D., also called a doctorate, is a "Doctor of Philosophy" degree, which is a misleading moniker because most Ph.D. holders are not philosophers. The term for this increasingly popular degree derives from the original meaning of the word "philosophy," which comes from the ancient Greek word  philosophia , meaning "love of wisdom."

What Is a Ph.D.?

In that sense, the term "Ph.D." is accurate, because the degree has historically been a license to teach, but it also signifies that the holder is an "authority, in full command of (a given) subject right up to the boundaries of current knowledge, and able to extend them," says  FindAPhD , an online Ph.D. database. Earning a Ph.D. requires a hefty financial and time commitment— $35,000 to $60,000  and two to eight years—as well as research, creating a thesis or dissertation, and possibly some teaching duties.

Deciding to pursue a Ph.D. can represent a major life choice. Doctoral candidates require additional schooling after completing a master's program to earn their Ph.D.: They must complete additional coursework, pass comprehensive exams , and complete an independent dissertation in their field. Once completed, though, a doctoral degree—often called a "terminal degree"—can open doors for the Ph.D.holder, especially in academia but also in business.

Core Courses and Electives

To obtain a Ph.D., you need to take a group of core courses as well as electives, totaling about 60 to 62 "hours," which are roughly the equivalent of units at the bachelor's degree level. For example, Washington State University offers a  Ph.D. in crop science . Core courses, which make up about 18 hours, include such subjects as introduction to population genetics, plant transmission genetics, and plant breeding.

Additionally, the student must make up the remaining required hours through electives. The  Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health  offers a doctoral degree in Biological Sciences in Public Health. After core courses such as laboratory rotations, biological sciences seminars, and core principles of biostatistics and epidemiology, the Ph.D. candidate is required to take electives in related fields such as advanced respiratory physiology, advanced respiratory physiology, and ecological and epidemiological control of parasitic diseases. Degree-granting institutions across the board want to ensure that those who earn Ph.D.s have broad knowledge in their chosen field.

Thesis or Dissertation and Research

A Ph.D. also requires students to complete a large scholarly project known as a  dissertation , a research report—usually 60-plus pages—which signifies that they are able to make significant independent contributions to their chosen field of study. Students take on the project, also known as a  doctoral thesis , after completing the core and elective coursework and passing a  comprehensive examination . Through the dissertation, the student is expected to make a new and creative contribution to a field of study and to demonstrate her expertise.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, for example, a strong medical dissertation relies heavily on the creation of a specific hypothesis that can be either disproved or supported by data collected through independent student research. Further, it must also contain several key elements starting with an introduction to the problem statement, conceptual framework, and research question as well as references to literature already published on the topic. Students must show that the  dissertation  is relevant, provides new insight into the chosen field, and is a topic that they can research independently.

Financial Aid and Teaching

There are several ways to pay for a doctoral degree: scholarships, grants, fellowships, and government loans, as well as teaching.  GoGrad , a graduate school information website, provides such examples as the:

  • Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service Program, which provides full tuition and an annual stipend of $25,000 to $38,000.
  • National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, a three-year graduate fellowship that is designed to support doctoral students across 15 engineering disciplines
  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, a three-year program that provides an annual stipend of $34,000 and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees

As it does for bachelor's and master's degrees, the federal government also offers several  loan programs  to help students finance their Ph.D. studies. You generally apply for these loans by filling out the free application for federal student aid ( FAFSA ). Students planning to go into teaching after obtaining their doctoral degrees often also supplement their income by teaching undergraduate classes at the schools where they are studying. The University of California, Riverside, for example, offers a "teaching award"—essentially a stipend applied toward tuition costs—for Ph.D. candidates in English who teach undergraduate, beginning-level, English courses

Jobs and Opportunities for Ph.D. Holders

Education accounts for a large percentage doctoral awards, with elementary education, curriculum and instruction, educational leadership and administration, special education, and counselor education/ school counseling topping the list. Most universities in the United States require a Ph.D. for candidates who seek teaching positions, regardless of the department.

Many Ph.D. candidates seek the degree, however, to boost their current salaries. For example, a health, sports, and fitness educator at a community college would realize a bump in annual pay for obtaining a Ph.D. The same holds for educational administrators. Most such positions require only a master's degree, but obtaining a Ph.D. generally leads to an annual stipend that school districts add to the annual salary. That same health and fitness instructor at a community college could also move on from a teaching position and become a dean at a community college—a position that requires a Ph.D.—boosting his pay to  $120,000 to $160,000  a year or more.

So, the opportunities for a doctoral degree holder are wide and varied, but the cost and commitment required are significant. Most experts say you should know your future career plans before you make the commitment. If you know what you want to get out of the degree, then the years of required study and sleepless nights may well be worth the investment.

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What is a PhD?

As the highest degree level achievable at university, completing a PhD shows that you've made a meaningful new contribution to your chosen research field

PhDs at a glance

  • Involves three or four years of full-time study, or up to seven part time.
  • Typically undertaken after achieving a Masters degree.
  • Can either be funded or self-funded.
  • Assessed through a written thesis and oral exam.
  • Many Doctoral graduates choose to pursue an academic or research career.

What is the meaning of PhD?

The term PhD or Doctorate of Philosophy is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase 'philosophiae doctor'.

A PhD degree typically involves students independently conducting original and significant research in a specific field or subject, before producing a publication-worthy thesis.

While some Doctorates include taught components, PhD students are almost always assessed on the quality and originality of the argument presented in their independent research project.

How long is a PhD in the UK?

Full-time PhDs usually last for three or four years, while part-time PhDs can take up to six or seven. However, the thesis deadline can be extended by up to four years at the institution's discretion. Indeed, many students who enrol on three-year PhDs only finish their thesis in their fourth year.

While most PhD studentships begin in September or October, both funded and self-funded PhDs can be undertaken at any point during the year.

If you're planning on studying for a PhD abroad, take a look at our individual country profiles .

Do I need a Masters to do a PhD?

The majority of institutions require PhD candidates to possess a Masters degree , plus a Bachelors degree at 2:1 or above. However, some universities demand only the latter, while self-funded PhD students or those with significant professional experience may also be accepted with lower grades.

You may need to initially register for a one or two-year Master of Philosophy (MPhil) or Master of Research (MRes) degree rather than a PhD. If you make sufficient progress, you and your work will then be 'upgraded' to a PhD programme. If not, you may be able to graduate with a Masters degree.

If you need an MPhil or MRes before enrolling on your PhD, search Masters degrees .

What does a PhD involve?

A standard PhD degree is typically split into three stages. A three-year PhD may follow this pattern:

  • First year - You'll meet with your supervisor to discuss your research proposal and agree an action plan with deadlines. You'll then complete your literature review, in which you'll evaluate and critique existing works to inform the direction of your project and ensure that your research will be original.
  • Second year - Your focus will shift to gathering results and developing your thesis, and potentially begin writing chapters of your thesis. You may also present your results and ideas at academic conferences, gain teaching experience, collaborate with other students on similar projects, communicate the benefits of your research to the general public through workshops, lectures and presentations, or submit work for publication in an academic journal or book.
  • Third year - Primarily involves writing your thesis, though your research may still be in progress. After your supervisor gives their approval, you'll submit your thesis before undertaking a one to three-hour oral exam ( viva voce ) in which you'll discuss and defend your thesis in the presence of at least one internal and external examiner.

How do I find a PhD?

As a PhD is different to other degrees, you're committing to more than simply an advanced qualification. You've chosen to engage in a large-scale independent research project and so you'll need to take into account a range of factors that will drive your search.

A methodical approach to the process is required and you'll need to consider the subject you're interested in carrying out research in and the type of Doctorate you're looking for, making sure this is the right project for you. Only when you're fully prepared and have a good idea of your research proposal should you search for PhD opportunities .

What other types of Doctorate are there?

Alternative types of PhD include:

  • Higher Doctorate - These are usually granted on the recommendation of a committee of internal and external examiners, which assesses a portfolio of published, peer-reviewed research you've undertaken over the course of many years. This type of Doctorate is usually for those with several years of academic experience. Common award titles include the Doctor of Civil Law (DCL), Doctor of Divinity (DD), Doctor of Literature/Letters (DLit/DLitt/LitD/LittD), Doctor of Music (DMus/MusD), Doctor of Science (DS/SD/DSc/ScD) and Doctor of Law (LLD).
  • Integrated/New Route PhD - This four-year PhD course is offered by over 30 universities and involves taking a one-year MRes before studying a three-year PhD. It combines taught elements with independent research, allowing students to learn different methodologies while building their transferable skills.
  • Professional Doctorate - Geared towards students of vocational subjects such as medicine, education and engineering, professional Doctorates are focused on teaching and so normally involve smaller research projects and thesis component. They're often favoured by those aiming for a career outside of academia and are usually supported by employers.

How much does a PhD cost?

Tuition fees vary, but usually fall between £3,000 and £6,000 per year for UK students and those from the European Union (EU) with settled status. UK Research Councils pay universities £4,596 per year (from 2022/23) on behalf of each funded PhD student, so this gives a good indication of the average figure.

For EU students looking to pursue a Doctorate in 2022/23, you'll need to have gained settled or pre-settled status to be eligible for student finance - see PhD loans .

Non-EU students may pay considerably more for their tuition fees.

Despite this, many PhD students are now part or fully funded - scholarships and bursaries are widely available, and particular attention should be paid to Research Council grants .

PhD studentships and assistantships involving a mixture of research and teaching are also common, with scientific studentships usually paid at a higher rate.

How do I apply for a PhD?

Some students propose their own research area and apply for funding, while in some cases a supervisor may already have funding for a project and advertise it like a job. When making a PhD application, you'll typically be asked to submit:

  • an academic CV
  • your academic transcripts
  • two or three academic references
  • a personal statement
  • a research proposal.

International students without settled UK status looking to study certain courses in medicine, mathematics, engineering and material sciences are required to comply with the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) . This involves undergoing a security clearance process with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. International students may also have to prove their English proficiency.

What can I do next?

Your ability to critically analyse, display intellectual maturity, and research independently and honestly is highly valued within academia and the workplace.

Many students who undertake a PhD get an academic job or become an industry researcher, possibly following the PhD with postdoctoral study, then a fellowship or lectureship.

Other career options will depend on your study area.

Discover what a PhD degree can lead to at your PhD, what next?

Find out more

  • Consider your PhD options at 5 routes to getting a Doctorate .
  • Get help with choosing your PhD supervisor .
  • Explore funding postgraduate study .

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What Is a Doctorate Degree?

A doctorate is usually the most advanced degree someone can get in an academic discipline, higher education experts say.

What Is a Doctorate?

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It's unwise to apply to a doctoral program if you don't have a clear idea of how you might use a doctorate in your career.

In many academic disciplines, the most advanced degree one can earn is a doctorate. Doctorate degree-holders are typically regarded as authorities in their fields, and many note that a major reason for pursuing a doctorate is to increase professional credibility.

"If someone wants to be respected as an expert in their chosen field, and also wants to have a wider array of options in research, writing, publishing, teaching, administration, management, and/or private practice, a doctorate is most definitely worth considering," Don Martin, who has a Ph.D. in higher education administration , wrote in an email.

A doctoral degree is a graduate-level credential typically granted after multiple years of graduate school, with the time-to-degree varying depending on the type of doctoral program, experts say.

Earning a doctorate usually requires at least four years of effort and may entail eight years, depending on the complexity of a program's graduation requirements. It also typically requires a dissertation, a lengthy academic paper based on original research that must be vetted and approved by a panel of professors and later successfully defended before them for the doctorate to be granted.

Some jobs require a doctorate, such as certain college professor positions, says Eric Endlich, founder of Top College Consultants, an admissions consulting firm that helps neurodivergent students navigate undergraduate and graduate school admissions.

Endlich earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree, commonly known as a Ph.D., from Boston University in Massachusetts. He focused on psychology and notes that a doctoral degree is generally required to be a licensed psychologist.

"Since a Ph.D. is a research-focused degree, it can be advantageous to those seeking high-level research positions in scientific fields such as astrophysics or biotechnology," he says.

How Long it Takes to Get a Doctorate Degree

Martin, founder and CEO of Grad School Road Map, an organization that helps grad school applicants navigate the admissions process, says obtaining a doctorate is often a lengthy endeavor.

"Typically it can take between four and six years to complete any doctoral program," he says. "If comprehensive examinations and a dissertation are part of the graduation requirements, it may take a year or two longer. There is no standard amount of time – some students take seven to 10 years to finish."

Endlich says doctoral degree hopefuls should be aware that completing a dissertation may take a long time, especially if unexpected hurdles arise.

"My dissertation, for example, involved recruiting college students to complete questionnaires, and it took much longer than I anticipated to recruit enough subjects for my study," he says.

The standards for a dissertation, which include the proposal and research, are rigorous and usually involve a review and approval by a faculty committee, says Hala Madanat, vice president for research and innovation at San Diego State University in California.

"As part of dissertation requirements, some programs will require publication of the research in high-impact peer-reviewed journals," Madanat wrote in an email.

Types of Doctoral Degree Programs

According to professors and administrators of doctoral programs, there are two types of doctorates.

Doctor of Philosophy

A doctor of philosophy degree is designed to prepare people for research careers at a university or in industry, and teach students how to discover new knowledge within their academic discipline. Ph.D. degrees are offered in a wide range of academic subjects, including highly technical fields like biology , physics, math and engineering; social sciences like sociology and economics; and humanities disciplines like philosophy.

A Ph.D. is the most common degree type among tenure-track college and university faculty, who are typically expected to have a doctorate. But academia is not the only path for someone who pursues a Ph.D. It's common for individuals with biology doctorates to work as researchers in the pharmaceutical industry, and many government expert positions also require a Ph.D.

Professional or clinical doctorates

These are designed to give people the practical skills necessary to be influential leaders within a specific industry or employment setting, such as business, psychology , education or nursing . Examples of professional doctoral degrees include a Doctor of Business Administration degree, typically known as a DBA; a Doctor of Education degree, or Ed.D.; and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, or DNP.

A law degree, known as a juris doctor or J.D., as well as a Doctor of Medicine degree, or M.D., are also considered professional doctorates.

How to Get a Doctorate

Getting a doctorate is challenging. It ordinarily requires a series of rigorous classes in a field of study and then passage of a qualification exam in order to begin work on a dissertation, which is the final project.

Dissertations are difficult to write, says David Harpool, vice president of graduate and online programs at Newberry College in South Carolina. Some research indicates that only about half of doctoral students go on to finish their degree, and a main reason is that many never finish and successfully defend their dissertation

"Many of them are in programs that permit them to earn a master’s on the way to a doctorate," Harpool, who earned a Ph.D. from Saint Louis University in Missouri and a J.D. from the University of Missouri , wrote in an email. "The transition from mastering a discipline to creating new knowledge (or at least applying new knowledge in a different way), is difficult, even for outstanding students."

Learn about how M.D.-Ph.D. programs

There is a often a "huge shift in culture" at doctoral programs compared to undergraduate or master's level programs, says Angela Warfield, who earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa.

Doctoral professors and students have more of a collaborative relationship where they function as colleagues, she says. And there's pressure on each student to produce "significant and original research."

Many full-time doctoral students work for the school as researchers or teaching assistants throughout their program, so time management is crucial to avoid burnout. However, the dissertation "is by far the biggest battle," she says. The goal is to avoid an "ABD," she says, meaning "all but dissertation."

"In my writing group, we had two motivational slogans: 'ABD is not a degree,' and 'a good dissertation is a done dissertation,'" Warfield, now the principal consultant and founder of admissions consulting firm Compass Academics, wrote in an email.

How Are Doctorate Admissions Decisions Made?

Admissions standards for doctoral programs vary depending on the type of doctorate, experts say.

The quality of a candidate's research is a distinguishing factor in admissions decisions, Madanat says. Meanwhile, leaders of clinical and professional doctorate programs say that the quality of a prospective student's work experience matters most.

Doctoral programs typically expect students to have a strong undergraduate transcript , excellent letters of recommendation and, in some cases, high scores on the Graduate Record Examination , or GRE, Endlich says.

"The size of the programs may be relatively small, and universities need to be sure that applicants will be able to handle the demands of their programs," he says.

Because professional doctorates often require students to come up with effective solutions to systemic problems, eligibility for these doctorates is often restricted to applicants with extensive first-hand work experience with these problems, according to recipients of professional doctorates.

In contrast, it's common for Ph.D. students to begin their programs immediately after receiving an undergraduate degree. The admissions criteria at Ph.D. programs emphasize undergraduate grades, standardized test scores and research projects , and these programs don't necessarily require work experience.

Admissions decisions may also depend on available funding, says Madanat, who works with doctoral students to provide funding, workshops and faculty support to help their research.

Who Is a Good Fit for a Doctoral Program?

Doctoral degree hopefuls "should be interested in making a deep impact on their field, open-minded, eager to learn, curious, adaptable and self-motivated," Madanat says. "Doctoral programs are best suited for those whose goals are to transform and change the fields they are studying and want to make a difference in the way the world is."

Someone who loves to study a subject in great depth, can work alone or in teams, is highly motivated and wants to develop research skills may be a good candidate for a doctoral program, Endlich says.

Because of the tremendous effort and time investment involved in earning a doctorate, experts say it's foolish to apply to a doctoral program if it's unclear how you might use a doctorate in your career.

"The students are being trained with depth of knowledge in the discipline to prepare them for critical thinking beyond the current state of the field," Madanat says. "Students should consider the reasons that they are pursuing a doctoral degree and whether or not it aligns with their future professional goals, their family circumstances and finances."

Rachel D. Miller, a licensed marriage and family therapist who completed a Ph.D. degree in couples and family therapy at Adler University in Illinois in 2023, says pursuing a doctorate required her to make significant personal sacrifices because she had to take on large student loans and she needed to devote a lot of time and energy to her program. Miller says balancing work, home life and health issues with the demands of a Ph.D. program was difficult.

For some students, the financial component may be hard to overlook, Warfield notes.

"Student debt is no joke, and students pursuing graduate work are likely only compounding undergraduate debt," she says. "They need to really consider the payoff potential of the time and money sacrifice."

To offset costs, some programs are fully funded, waiving tuition and fees and providing an annual stipend. Some offer health insurance and other benefits. Students can also earn money by teaching at the university or through fellowships, but those adding more to their plate should possess strong time management skills, experts say.

"Graduate school, and higher education in general, can be brutal on your physical and mental health," Miller wrote in an email.

But Miller says the time and effort invested in her doctoral program paid off by allowing her to conduct meaningful research into the best way to provide therapy to children affected by high-conflict divorce and domestic violence. She now owns a therapy practice in Chicago.

Miller urges prospective doctoral students to reflect on whether getting a doctorate is necessary for them to achieve their dream job. "Really know yourself. Know your purpose for pursuing it, because that's what's going to help carry you through."

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What is a PhD?

Are you considering a phd degree we take a look at what a phd is, how long it takes and how you can go about getting one..

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What’s a PhD?

What does phd stand for, how long is a phd, how much does a phd cost, how to get a phd, can you do a phd without a master’s, is a phd worth it.

A PhD is the highest postgraduate-level qualification offered by universities in the UK. It’s for those who are looking to build on what they studied during their master’s degree, or for those currently working who wish to research a particular area within their field.

PhDs are research-based degrees. The student comes up with an original research question, often in collaboration with a university professor, and explores that topic in depth. At the end of the degree a final thesis is produced that could range from 40,000 to 120,000 words.

The number of students enrolling in PhD degrees is increasing year-on-year. From 2015/16 to 2019/20 enrolments increased by 2.9%, according to 2019/20 HESA data on student enrolments . This highlights the growing interest in and demand for the postgraduate qualification.

PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy. You’ll often find this abbreviated to just ‘Doctorate’ as a PhD falls under the umbrella of doctorate degrees.

They vary in length, based on what you decide to research and whether you choose to study part-time or full-time. Full-time PhD students often take three or four years, with part-time students taking up to seven. Some universities even offer deadline extensions of up to four years.

You can expect to pay anywhere from £3,000 to £6,000 per year. This applies to all UK and EU students, with other international students paying more. Most PhD students fund their degree through scholarships, bursaries, and grants. Many UK research organisations also offer studentships through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) , which can be another form of funding.

  • Bursaries and scholarships
  • Postgraduate funding

Having a strong interest in a particular subject is the first step to a PhD. You’ll either be applying for an already funded project being offered by a university, or you’ll be pitching your own research proposal. Admissions teams want to see your dedication and enthusiasm, so make sure you’re passionate about the subject first.

Universities tend to list available research projects and who’ll be supervising them on their website. Don’t hesitate to contact any professors you know that are doing research in an area you’re interested in. They may have a PhD position available they haven’t yet advertised.

When applying, you’ll need a:

  • Cover letter
  • Research proposal (if pitching an original research idea)
  • Reference (may be asked to provide three people, who know you in an academic setting or can comment on your research capability)

Use your application as a chance to really convey your passion for the subject. It’s important to expand on your interest, explain why you have that interest and cite examples of you pursuing this interest through past experiences. You’ll be studying for at least three to four years and the admissions teams will want to make sure you’ll be dedicated.

Yes, but this will depend on the course you’re applying for and what previous experience you have. Most PhD degrees will require you to have completed a master’s degree or equivalent, but exceptions can be made if you can demonstrate your capability. Universities want to see that you’re passionate, hard-working, and determined.

This is up to you and your career aspirations. Consider how important it is that you have a doctorate degree and what contribution it’ll make to your future.

Boost your employability

Many choose to do a PhD because it’ll increase their chances of employment. This’ll depend on what you want to study and what industry you want to work in, but doing so could increase your job prospects. Recent data from HESA on graduate activities by level of qualification found that 78.9% of doctorate students were employed upon graduating in the academic years 2017/18 to 2019/20. Only 3.4% were unemployed.

Helps you pursue an academic career

Many students use a PhD as a pathway into academia, progressing into full-time roles at a university or other higher education institution. This could be as a professor, researcher, or other role. PhD students are often employed by the university while they study, helping in lectures, labs, tutorials or as research assistants.

Make a significant contribution to your field

Doctorate degrees offer the opportunity to explore an original research question and advance your knowledge in your chosen field. It's a satisfying position to be in and comes with recognition from your peers. This could also open up a wealth of further research to be explored by either you or your peers.

Develop a range of transferrable skills

Through a doctorate degree you’ll learn a range of invaluable skills, transferrable beyond your studies. These can include:

  • Project management
  • Time management
  • Independence
  • Writing and presentation skills
  • Communication skills
  • Research skills
  • Teaching others

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What Is A PhD Student? A Definition

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What is a PhD student

All PhD students are conducting some sort of research and many of them will be also teaching and assisting in their departments. Very few PhDs are completed on a  part-time  basis, so most PhD students are studying on a full-time basis. PhD students have often been getting ready to embark on their doctoral studies  for a very long time. While many of them may have taken up paid research positions, but this is not always the case so searching for funding is an on going activity for some PhD students. 

Here we take a look at many of the factors that make up what a PhD student actually is...

They're quite mature...

PhD students are all mature students , as they have already completed undergraduate and postgraduate degrees already. Most PhD students will have done a masters in preparation for starting a PhD , this is often an MPhil or a Masters by Research . All of this previous study means that PhD students have strong study skills and have spent time building academic qualifications in the lead up to their PhD. Many students go straight through an undergraduate and masters level to a PhD, but many other students have already started working, and their PhD is a way to grow an already established career. 

Our PhD bursary winner & funding opportunity

Mohammad Abdollahi is a 35-year-old Iranian student studying a PhD in Operational Research at the University of Essex. He was delighted when he found out he’d been awarded a Postgrad Solutions Study Bursary worth £500. As an international student coming to the UK with his wife and two children, it has proved to be an invaluable funding resource as he explains. “It was good news and exciting – I was overwhelmed with joy!”

what is the definition of the phd

PhD students are always researching

PhDs are all research degrees and most students who are embarking on a PhD have already completed some form of research. The research comes in many forms, such as scientific, sociological, archaeological, medical or historical and this research guided by their PhD supervisor . This is one of the most important relationships during a PhD as it is their guidance that shapes a PhD student's thesis . 

Many PhD students are teaching

Many PhD students will supplement their income by teaching or working as assistants in their department or work at the university. In some institutions it is expected that PhD students will do this and in other universities it is an optional extra that is not required. Teaching responsibilities may include assisting with lectures or tutorials and helping with undergraduate supervision. 

They are mostly full-time students 

This can be one of the big attractions for some undergraduates when they see PhD students still living a student lifestyle. However, most PhD students would not think that their lifestyles are something to aim for and the academic work they need to do does take up most of their time. The vast majority of PhD students are full-time and  part-time PhD students  find it difficult to maintain their studies over the six to eight years it may take to complete their research. They are, however, often very passionate about their studies. 

Some of them are getting paid to study

PhD students select their topic for research in one of two ways. They might decide on their research topic and then find a PhD supervisor or they may apply for one of the many advertised research positions. Searching for a supervisor can be a difficult route, especially if you change institutions between your masters and your PhD. Using the network of contacts you have built up during your previous studies or career is the key to finding a supervisor. The advantage of the second route is that the funding for the research is already in place and the student will receive a stipend as well. 

PhD students do worry about funding

Getting funding in place is a major worry for a large proportion of PhD students and it is often the case that many students start their PhDs without full funding in place. This is often why students might start on a part-time basis. PhD funding can come from a huge range of sources including the  government , grants and scholarships and most students  begin their search  with their university department.

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This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee.  Read more about our editorial process.

Reviewed by Marc Booker, PhD, Vice Provost, Strategy

At a glance

  • MD is the abbreviation for Doctor of Medicine and PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy. These are two types of doctoral degrees in addition to professional doctorates. 
  • An MD is a doctoral degree for medical professionals, while a PhD is an academic degree focused on original research. Somewhat similar to a PhD are professional doctorates, which focus on applying practical research to problems in workplaces or communities.   
  • A professional or practice-based doctorate (EdD, DBA, etc.) can be medical, and others are for scholar-practitioners in disciplines like education, business or psychology.
  • University of Phoenix does not offer MD or PhD programs, but students can earn a doctorate in business, nursing, education or healthcare that allows them to build upon their industry expertise. Learn more about the differences between these degree programs and if one of the  five doctoral programs  at University of Phoenix is right for you !

What is a doctorate? Breaking down the three types

Some people might confuse an  MD (Doctor of Medicine)  with a  PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) , and vice versa. While both an MD and a PhD are prestigious degrees near the top of the  academic ladder , they each have a different meaning and come with very  different requirements .

Different still from both of those degrees are professional doctorates, which allow industry professionals to translate their education and experience into credibility and leadership through research. Professional doctorates have similar requirements to PhDs, such as a dissertation and residency, but focus on the application of research and professional growth over original research.

Upon graduation, those who have earned any of these three degrees can call themselves a “doctor,” but the path to a degree, the purpose behind it and its applications vary based on the choice. MD graduates want to work in medicine and healthcare. PhDs want to bring new knowledge and research to the world. A practice-based doctoral graduate wants to grow in their professional expertise. (If the last one sounds like you, University of Phoenix can help!)

Keep reading to learn more about these doctoral programs and which is right for you.

What does MD stand for?

MD is an abbreviation for Doctor of Medicine and identifies a  medical practitioner  who has completed undergraduate studies and four years of medical school. An MD program teaches medical students about the human body and diseases through a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on clinical labs.

Several  types of physicians  might have this degree, depending on their area of study. For example, medical practitioners with an MD degree might become a medical doctor and potentially specialize in dermatology, cardiovascular disease, family medicine, oncology, pediatrics, neurology or preventive medicine. As you can see, this degree  can lead to a variety of career paths , depending on which specialty interests you and what your medical education is.

Learn more about online doctoral degrees at University of Phoenix. 

How to earn an MD

Becoming a Doctor of Medicine  requires a significant investment of time and money, but the reward can be well worth it. Before medical school, you’ll need to  take the Medical College Admission Test  (MCAT ® ) and earn a passing score. You’ll also need to build a portfolio of coursework and experience to help you gain admittance to medical school.

Medical school typically takes students four years to complete. You’ll learn the latest techniques and approaches for patient assessment, diagnosis and treatment. Medical schools commonly provide a combination of classroom,  research and clinical experience . You’ll work alongside peers and healthcare professionals as you develop skills in general medicine.

You’ll choose a field to specialize in during your final year of medical school. Students have more than 120 options to choose from when specializing, including  primary care,   pediatrics, geriatrics, emergency medicine and family medicine .

After graduating, you’ll complete residency training to further develop skills in your specialty. Residency typically lasts three to seven years, depending on the field you’ve selected. During the residency portion of your education, you’ll treat patients under the supervision of more experienced physicians.

Even after you begin to practice as an MD,  the educational portion of your career never stops . As practices change, patient needs evolve and research continues, MDs benefit from ongoing education to stay current.

What does PhD stand for?

A PhD, or  Doctor of Philosophy , is a doctoral degree that recognizes graduates who have completed a full postsecondary program. Students can earn a PhD in more fields than philosophy. After completing the necessary coursework, original research and hands-on experience, you can earn a PhD in fields like science, the humanities and engineering.

Earning a PhD can help unlock a wide range of potential career opportunities. Computer engineers, research scientists, statisticians, healthcare administrators, professors, chemists and other careers commonly require a PhD degree, in addition to appropriate undergraduate study.

How to earn a PhD

Becoming a PhD is also a  serious commitment  that requires an investment of  time, money and energy .

Here is what’s typically required to become a PhD:

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree in your field
  • Complete a master’s degree in an appropriate field
  • Pass any program entrance exams
  • Fulfill coursework, research and hands-on lab requirements in your program
  • Finalize and defend your dissertation as a  doctoral candidate  (unless your program specifies otherwise)

It’s important to note that many PhD  programs have different requirements , prerequisites and parameters for students. Check with your preferred institution for a more detailed explanation of these requirements.

What is a professional doctorate?

While some professional or practice-based doctorate programs are medical,  others are designed for professionals in other fields . These programs are meant for  scholar-practitioners  in disciplines like education, business or psychology. One of the key differences between this degree and a PhD is the focus on applying research to a professional setting rather than conducting theoretical and research-focused studies. Often, programs are differentiated as academic versus professional.

Examples of doctoral degrees are Doctor of Education, Doctor of Nursing Practice and Doctor of Business Administration. Each of these programs focuses on a specific discipline and applying research in those areas to a professional setting.

How to earn a doctorate

While  practitioner doctoral programs  teach different skills, they all share common requirements. You’ll need to  complete a bachelor’s degree  in your field and sometimes a master’s degree, depending on program requirements.

After completing the necessary coursework and research, students also typically need to finish a supervised thesis and defend their dissertation or capstone project-specific coursework, research and hands-on labs alongside other students in the same field. However, this will depend on the specific program and its requirements.

What does the title “Dr.” really mean?

The term “doctor” or “Dr.” is commonly used today to describe a wide variety of occupations. Students who complete a doctoral degree can earn the title of “Dr.” even though they earned their credentials in a non-medical field like education or business management.

While a variety of professionals can earn a doctorate, the term is often still  reserved for medical practitioners . In conventional use,  doctors typically refer to medical physicians . However, it is appropriate to use “Dr.” if you graduated from any of the three programs discussed above.  

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what is the definition of the phd

What is doctoral candidacy?

Practitioner doctoral degree programs at university of phoenix.

While University of Phoenix (UOPX)  does not have  MD or PhD programs, it does offer several professional doctoral degrees that can be earned completely online. Students might choose the UOPX programs because classes are flexible and offered online, and because of the University’s unique “ Scholar-Practitioner-Leader model .”

If you are curious about a doctoral degree, the following programs are available at UOPX:

  • Doctor of Business Administration  — This doctorate can help you gain strategic vision and skills to position yourself as a business leader. It explores how to solve organizational problems, how to design and conduct research studies, how to introduce innovative business ideas to the industry and more.
  • Doctor of Management   — This doctorate equips you with critical thinking skills to find creative solutions to complex problems.
  • Doctor of Education  — This doctoral program prepares you to use analytical, critical and innovative thinking to improve performance and solve complex problems in education.
  • Doctor of Health Administration  — If you’re a health professional who is seeking greater responsibility in shaping the future of the health sector, this doctorate can help you meet the challenges inherent to today’s healthcare landscape, including economic fluctuations, burgeoning patient needs and industry-changing legislation.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice  — This doctorate is designed for working nurses who require a doctorate for advanced practice or nurses who desire their terminal degree. It does not prepare students for professional certification or state licensure as a nurse or as an advanced practice nurse.

These doctoral studies are only some of the many options for professionals who want to gain the  highest academic credentials  in their fields. Doctoral programs offer significant benefits to program graduates, including  newly developed skills , insight into field trends, hands-on research opportunities and  leadership capabilities .

Completing a doctoral program is also a strong indication to employers that you’re serious about your career and your field. With so many options for advanced study, these programs are available for most major fields. Even if you have already completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree in your discipline, a doctorate lends further credibility to your reputation and  can help prepare you for a leadership position .

Photo of Michael Feder

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Feder is a content marketing specialist at University of Phoenix, where he researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from healthcare to IT. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program and a New Jersey native!

Photo of blog author Michael Feder smiling.

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  • 12 March 2024

Bring PhD assessment into the twenty-first century

You have full access to this article via your institution.

A woman holding a cup and saucer stands in front of posters presenting medical research

Innovation in PhD education has not reached how doctoral degrees are assessed. Credit: Dan Dunkley/Science Photo Library

Research and teaching in today’s universities are unrecognizable compared with what they were in the early nineteenth century, when Germany and later France gave the world the modern research doctorate. And yet significant aspects of the process of acquiring and assessing a doctorate have remained remarkably constant. A minimum of three years of independent study mentored by a single individual culminates in the production of the doctoral thesis — often a magisterial, book-length piece of work that is assessed in an oral examination by a few senior academic researchers. In an age in which there is much research-informed innovation in teaching and learning, the assessment of the doctoral thesis represents a curious throwback that is seemingly impervious to meaningful reform.

But reform is needed. Some doctoral candidates perceive the current assessment system to lack transparency, and examiners report concerns of falling standards ( G. Houston A Study of the PhD Examination: Process, Attributes and Outcomes . PhD thesis, Oxford Univ.; 2018 ). Making the qualification more structured would help — and, equally importantly, would bring the assessment of PhD education in line with education across the board. PhD candidates with experience of modern assessment methods will become better researchers, wherever they work. Indeed, most will not be working in universities: the majority of PhD holders find employment outside academia.

what is the definition of the phd

Collection: Career resources for PhD students

It’s not that PhD training is completely stuck in the nineteenth century. Today’s doctoral candidates can choose from a range of pathways. Professional doctorates, often used in engineering, are jointly supervised by an employer and an academic, and are aimed at solving industry-based problems. Another innovation is PhD by publication, in which, instead of a final thesis on one or more research questions, the criterion for an award is a minimum number of papers published or accepted for publication. In some countries, doctoral students are increasingly being trained in cohorts, with the aim of providing a less isolating experience than that offered by the conventional supervisor–student relationship. PhD candidates are also encouraged to acquire transferable skills — for example, in data analysis, public engagement, project management or business, economics and finance. The value of such training would be even greater if these skills were to be formally assessed alongside a dissertation rather than seen as optional.

And yet, most PhDs are still assessed after the production of a final dissertation, according to a format that, at its core, has not changed for at least half a century, as speakers and delegates noted at an event in London last month on PhD assessment, organized by the Society for Research in Higher Educatio n. Innovations in assessment that are common at other levels of education are struggling to find their way into the conventional doctoral programme.

Take the concept of learning objectives. Intended to aid consistency, fairness and transparency, learning objectives are a summary of what a student is expected to know and how they will be assessed, and are given at the start of a course of study. Part of the ambition is also to help tutors to keep track of their students’ learning and take remedial action before it is too late.

what is the definition of the phd

PhD training is no longer fit for purpose — it needs reform now

Formative assessment is another practice that has yet to find its way into PhD assessment consistently. Here, a tutor evaluates a student’s progress at the mid-point of a course and gives feedback or guidance on what students need to do to improve ahead of their final, or summative, assessment. It is not that these methods are absent from modern PhDs; a conscientious supervisor will not leave candidates to sink or swim until the last day. But at many institutions, such approaches are not required of PhD supervisors.

Part of the difficulty is that PhD training is carried out in research departments by people who do not need to have teaching qualifications or awareness of innovations based on education research. Supervisors shouldn’t just be experts in their field, they should also know how best to convey that subject knowledge — along with knowledge of research methods — to their students.

It is probably not possible for universities to require all doctoral supervisors to have teaching qualifications. But there are smaller changes that can be made. At a minimum, doctoral supervisors should take the time to engage with the research that exists in the field of PhD education, and how it can apply to their interactions with students.

There can be no one-size-fits-all solution to improving how a PhD is assessed, because different subjects often have bespoke needs and practices ( P. Denicolo Qual. Assur. Educ. 11 , 84–91; 2003 ). But supervisors and representatives of individual subject communities must continue to discuss what is most appropriate for their disciplines.

All things considered, there is benefit to adopting a more structured approach to PhD assessment. It is high time that PhD education caught up with changes that are now mainstream at most other levels of education. That must start with a closer partnership between education researchers, PhD supervisors and organizers of doctoral-training programmes in universities. This partnership will benefit everyone — PhD supervisors and doctoral students coming into the research workforce, whether in universities or elsewhere.

Education and training in research has entered many secondary schools, along with undergraduate teaching, which is a good thing. In the spirit of mutual learning, research doctoral supervisors, too, will benefit by going back to school.

Nature 627 , 244 (2024)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-024-00718-0

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COMMENTS

  1. Doctor of Philosophy

    A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD, Ph.D., or DPhil; Latin: philosophiae doctor or doctor philosophiae) is the most common degree at the highest academic level, awarded following a course of study and research. The degree is abbreviated PhD and sometimes, especially in the U.S., as Ph.D. It is derived from the Latin Philosophiae Doctor, pronounced as three separate letters (/ p iː eɪ tʃ ˈ d iː ...

  2. PhD Definition & Meaning

    The meaning of PHD is the academic degree, title, or rank of doctor of philosophy; also : a person who has earned the academic degree of doctor of philosophy. How to use PhD in a sentence.

  3. What Does 'PhD' Stand For?

    A PhD is a terminal academic degree students typically pursue when they're interested in an academic or research career. A PhD is the highest possible academic degree a student can obtain. PhD stands for "Doctor of Philosophy," which refers to the immense knowledge a student gains when earning the degree. While you can actually get a PhD in ...

  4. Explained: What Is a PhD Degree?

    PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy. This is one of the highest level academic degrees that can be awarded. PhD is an abbreviation of the Latin term (Ph)ilosophiae (D)octor. Traditionally the term 'philosophy' does not refer to the subject but its original Greek meaning which roughly translates to 'lover of wisdom'.

  5. PhD

    PhD definition: 1. abbreviation for doctor of philosophy: the highest college or university degree, or someone who…. Learn more.

  6. What is a PhD?

    Definition of a PhD - A Doctor of Philosophy (commonly abbreviated to PhD, Ph.D or a DPhil) is a university research degree awarded from across a broad range of academic disciplines; in most countries, it is a terminal degree, i.e. the highest academic degree possible. PhDs differ from undergraduate and master's degrees in that PhDs are ...

  7. A Doctor of Philosophy or Doctorate

    A Ph.D., also called a doctorate, is a "Doctor of Philosophy" degree, which is a misleading moniker because most Ph.D. holders are not philosophers. The term for this increasingly popular degree derives from the original meaning of the word "philosophy," which comes from the ancient Greek word philosophia, meaning "love of wisdom."

  8. What Is a PhD?

    Learn more about whether earning a PhD could benefit your career. A Doctor of Philosophy, often known as a PhD, is a terminal degree —or the highest possible academic degree you can earn in a subject. While PhD programs (or doctorate programs) are often structured to take between four and five years, some graduate students may take longer as ...

  9. What is a PhD?

    PhD is short for Doctor of Philosophy. This is an academic or professional degree that, in most countries, qualifies the degree holder to teach their chosen subject at university level or to work in a specialized position in their chosen field. The word 'philosophy' comes from the Ancient Greek philosophia, literally translated as 'love ...

  10. The Definition of a PhD

    The Definition of a PhD. Extract from: How to get a PhD. (Open University Press) by Estelle Phillips & Derek Pugh. A bachelor's degree traditionally meant that the recipient had obtained a general education (specializing at this level is a relatively recent nineteenth-century development). A master's degree is a licence to practise.

  11. What is a PhD?

    A PhD, which is short for philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy in Latin), is the highest university degree that can be obtained. In a PhD, students spend 3-5 years writing a dissertation, which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge. A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher ...

  12. What is a PhD?

    What is the meaning of PhD? The term PhD or Doctorate of Philosophy is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase 'philosophiae doctor'. A PhD degree typically involves students independently conducting original and significant research in a specific field or subject, before producing a publication-worthy thesis. While some Doctorates include taught ...

  13. Is a PhD Degree for Me? This is What it Means

    First thing's first, let's define all the ins and outs of what a PhD means. PhD is an abbreviation for "Doctor of Philosophy.". A PhD is the ultimate academic degree you can earn in a field of choice. To earn a PhD, you must complete original research and evaluate a theory. More often than not, this includes data analysis.

  14. What Is a Doctorate or a Doctoral Degree?

    A doctoral degree is a graduate-level credential typically granted after multiple years of graduate school, with the time-to-degree varying depending on the type of doctoral program, experts say ...

  15. What is a PhD?

    A PhD is the highest postgraduate-level qualification offered by universities in the UK. It's for those who are looking to build on what they studied during their master's degree, or for those currently working who wish to research a particular area within their field. PhDs are research-based degrees. The student comes up with an original ...

  16. What is the Difference Between a PhD and a Doctorate?

    Doctorate, or doctoral, is an umbrella term for many degrees — PhD among them — at the height of the academic ladder. Doctorate degrees fall under two categories, and here is where the confusion often lies. The first category, Research (also referred to as Academic) includes, among others: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)**.

  17. What Is a Doctorate?

    Academic doctorate. An academic doctorate, often called a PhD (short for Doctor of Philosophy), is a research degree that typically requires completing a dissertation. Students enrolled in a PhD program may be interested in working in academia as a professor or conducting research in their field. However, a growing number of PhD students go on ...

  18. Doctorate

    A doctoral diploma awarded by the State University of New York at Buffalo. A doctorate (from Latin doctor, meaning "teacher") or doctoral degree is a postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities and some other educational institutions, derived from the ancient formalism licentia docendi ("licence to teach").. In most countries, a research degree qualifies the holder to teach at ...

  19. PhD

    PhD meaning: 1. abbreviation for doctor of philosophy: the highest college or university degree, or someone who…. Learn more.

  20. What is a PhD?

    A PhD is the entry qualification to the world of professional academia. The goal is to develop and then demonstrate the skills of a professional academic researcher. ... I really dislike this definition because I don't think there's any such thing as an independent researcher. Yes, you need to be able to make your own decisions and conduct ...

  21. What Is A PhD Student? A Definition

    PhD students are all mature students, as they have already completed undergraduate and postgraduate degrees already. Most PhD students will have done a masters in preparation for starting a PhD , this is often an MPhil or a Masters by Research. All of this previous study means that PhD students have strong study skills and have spent time ...

  22. Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. vs. Ed.S.: What's the Difference?

    Students might take classes in educational research, educational psychology, and learning theory. Focus: An Ed.D. focuses on education practice, while a Ph.D. focuses on research. Length: An Ed.D. usually takes three years, while a Ph.D. often requires 4-6 years.

  23. What Does PHD Mean?

    Abbreviated from the Latin term philosophiae doctor meaning "doctor of philosophy," the Ph.D is the highest degree in most fields, with the notable exceptions of medicine and law that have their own doctorates. The degree originated in 19th century Germany when the word "philosophy" had the much broader meaning of "love of wisdom.".

  24. MD vs. PhD vs. Professional Doctorate Comparison

    A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is a doctoral degree that recognizes graduates who have completed a full postsecondary program. Students can earn a PhD in more fields than philosophy. After completing the necessary coursework, original research and hands-on experience, you can earn a PhD in fields like science, the humanities and engineering.

  25. Bring PhD assessment into the twenty-first century

    PhD candidates are also encouraged to acquire transferable skills — for example, in data analysis, public engagement, project management or business, economics and finance.