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Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated Ph.D. or PhD for the Latin Philosophiæ Doctor, meaning "teacher of philosophy", (or, more rarely, D.Phil., for the equivalent Doctor Philosophiæ) is an advanced academic degree. In the English-speaking world it has become the most common denomination for a research doctorate and applies to graduates in a wide array of disciplines in the sciences and humanities. The Ph.D. has become a requirement for a career as a university professor or researcher in many fields. In addition to university setting research/professor positions, many Ph.D. graduates go on to careers in government departments, NGOs, or in the private sector.[1]

The detailed requirements for award of a Ph.D. vary throughout the world; however, there are a number of common factors. A candidate must submit a thesis or dissertation consisting of a suitable body of original academic research, which is in principle worthy of publication in a peer-refereed context.[2] In many countries a candidate must defend this work before a panel of expert examiners appointed by the university; in other countries, the dissertation is examined by a panel of expert examiners who stipulate whether the dissertation is in principle passable and the issues that need to be addressed before the dissertation can be passed. There is usually a prescribed minimum period of study (typically two to three years full time) which must take place before submission of the thesis (this requirement is usually waived for academic staff submitting a portfolio of peer-reviewed published work).

The candidate may also be required to successfully complete a certain number of additional advanced courses relevant to their area of specialization. In some countries (the US and Canada, for example), most of the universities require coursework for Ph.D. degrees. In many other countries (especially those, such as the UK, which have a greater degree of specialization at the undergraduate level) there is no such condition in general. It is not uncommon, however, for individual universities or departments to specify analogous requirements for students not already in possession of a master's degree. Universities in the non-English-speaking world have begun adopting similar standards to those of the Anglophone Ph.D. for their research doctorates (see, for example, Bologna Process).[3]

History of the Ph.D.

European universities in the Middle Ages generally placed all academic disciplines outside the professional fields of theology, medicine and law under the broad heading of "philosophy" (or "natural philosophy" when referring to science). The degree of Doctor of Philosophy was the doctorate, generally granted as honorary degrees to select and well-established scholars. According to Wellington, Bathmaker, Hung, MucCullough and Sikes (2005), the first Ph.D. was awarded in Paris in 1150, but not until the early nineteenth century did the term "Ph.D." acquire its modern meaning as the highest academic doctoral degree, thanks to university practice in Germany (as Wellington et al. explain, prior to the nineteenth century professional doctoral degrees could only be awarded in theology-Th.D., law-J.D., or medicine-M.D.). In 1861, Yale University adopted the German practice (first introduced in the 19th century at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin) of granting the degree to younger students who had completed a prescribed course of graduate study and successfully defended a thesis/dissertation containing original research in science or in the humanities.[4]

From the United States the degree spread to Canada in 1900, and then to the United Kingdom in 1917.[5] This displaced the existing Doctor of Philosophy degree in some Universities; for instance, the D.Phil. (higher doctoratein the faculty of philosophy) at the University of St Andrews was discontinued and replaced with the Ph.D. (research doctorate). Oxford retained the D.Phil. abbreviation for their research degrees. Some newer UK universities - Buckingham (est. 1976) and Sussex (est. 1961), and, until a few years ago, York (est. 1963) - chose to adopt the D.Phil., as did some universities in New Zealand.

Doctor of Philosophy degrees across the globe

Ph.D.s are awarded under different circumstances and with different requirements in many different English-speaking countries.



Admission to a Ph.D. program within Australia and New Zealand requires the prospective student to have at least completed either a Bachelor's Degree with an Honours component or a higher degree such as a post graduate Master Degree by research or a Master Degree by course work.

In most disciplines, Honours involves an extra year of study including a large research component in addition to coursework; however, in some disciplines such as engineering, law and pharmacy, Honours is automatically awarded to high achievers of the normal four-year program. 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, or Second Class Honours Division I). Alternatively, a student who fails to achieve a First or Second Class Honours may apply for a Research Masters course (usually 12–18 months) and upgrade to a PhD after the first year, pending sufficient improvement.


In Australia, Ph.D. students are sometimes offered a scholarship to study their Ph.D. The most common of these is the government-funded Australian Postgraduate Award (APA), which provides a living stipend to students of approximately AU$ 20,000 a year (tax free). Most universities also offer a similar scholarship that matches the APA amount, but are funded by the university. In recent years, with the tightening of research funding in Australia, these scholarships have become increasingly hard 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 and do guest lectures (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.

Australian-citizen and other eligible Ph.D. and Research Masters students in Australia are not charged course fees as these are paid for by the Australian Government under the Research Training Scheme. International students and Coursework Masters students must pay course fees, unless they receive a scholarship to cover them.



Admission to a Ph.D. program at a Canadian university may require completion of a Master's degree in a related field, with sufficiently high grades and proven research ability. In some cases, a student may progress directly from an Honours Bachelor's degree to a Ph.D. program. The student usually submits an application package including a research proposal, letters of reference, transcripts, and in some cases, a sample of the student's writing. A common criterion for prospective Ph.D students is the comprehensive or qualifying examination, a process that often commences in the second year of a graduate program. Generally, successful completion of the qualifying exam permits continuance in the graduate program. Formats for this examination include oral examination by the student's faculty committee (or a separate qualifying committee), or written tests designed to demonstrate the student's knowledge in a specialized area (see below).

At English-speaking universities, students may also be required to demonstrate English language ability, usually via an acceptable score on a standard examination (e.g Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)). 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 programs students are advised (or must agree) not to devote more than ten hours per week to activities (ie employment) 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 or tuition waiver). Other sources of funding include teaching assistantships and research assistantships; experience as a teaching assistant is encouraged but not requisite in many programs. Some programs may require all Ph.D. candidates to teach, which may be done under the supervision of their supervisor or regular faculty.

Besides these sources of funding, there are also various competitive scholarships, bursaries, and awards available, such as those offered by the federal government via NSERC, CIHR, or SSHRC.

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. Furthermore, it is usually required that by the end of eighteen to 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 an oral thesis defense open to the public.

At most Canadian universities, the time needed to complete a Ph.D. typically ranges from four to six years. It is, however, not uncommon for students to be unable to complete all the requirements within six years, particularly given that funding packages often support students for only two to four years; many departments will allow program extensions at the discretion of the thesis supervisor and/or department chair. Alternate arrangements exist whereby a student is allowed to let their registration in the program lapse at the end of six years and re-register once the thesis is completed in draft form. The general rule is that graduate students are obligated to pay tuition until the initial thesis submission has been received by the thesis office. In other words, if a Ph.D. student defers or delays the initial submission of their thesis they remain obligated to pay fees until such time that the thesis has been received in good standing.



Due to the differences in French education systems in comparison to anglophone ones, students who want to earn the Ph.D degree must complete a Master of Science program which lasts for 2 years after graduation with a Bachelor's degree. In France, the Masters program is divided into two branches, Master of Engineering which orients the students towards the working world. On the other hand, a Master of Science orients the students towards research. In France, Ph.D admission is adopted by a school of graduate (in French, école doctorale), a Ph.D Student has to follow some courses offered by the school of graduate while continuing his/her research at laboratory. His/her research may be carried out in a laboratory, at a university, or in a company. In the last case, The company hires the student as an engineer and the student is supervised by both the company's tutor and a labs' professor.


It is not possible anymore, for the students, to start their PhD without fundings. The financing of Ph.D studies comes mainly from funds for research of French Ministry of National Education. These grants often depend of the results and the student's file. However, the student can apply for funds from a company who can host him/her at its premise (as in the case where Ph.D students do their researches in a company). Other resources come from some regional/city projects, some associations, etc.



In Germany a Master, Diplom, Magister or Staatsexamen (state examination) degree is usually required to gain admission to a doctoral program. Sometimes good grades or a degree in a related field are additional requirements. The candidate must also find a tenured professor to serve as the formal advisor on the Dissertation throughout the doctoral program. This advisor is informally termed Doktorvater.

The doctoral degree in Germany mostly takes 3–5 years, strongly depending on the subject. Since there usually are no formal classes, but instead independent research under the tutelage of a single professor, a good deal of the doctoral candidates work as teaching or research assistants, and are paid a reasonably competitive salary. This is a considerable difference to the situation in many other countries worldwide (such as the U. S.) where doctoral candidates are thus also referred to as "PhD students", whereas with German candidates, this rather misleading expression should be avoided.


In early university history the Doctorate was awarded as a first degree. It has since evolved into a research degree.

In German-speaking countries, most Eastern European countries, the former Soviet Union, most parts of Africa, Asia, and many Spanish-speaking countries 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 an M.D., "Dr.rer.nat" — doctor rerum naturalium (Doctor of Science), "Dr. phil." — doctor philosophiæ, "Dr. iur." — doctor iuris — not equal to a J.D., etc.).

United Kingdom


In principle, a university is free to admit anyone to a Ph.D. programme; however, in practice, admission is usually conditional on the prospective student having successfully completed an undergraduate degree with at least upper second class honours, or a postgraduate master's degree.


In the United Kingdom, funding for Ph.D. students is sometimes provided by government-funded Research Councils or the European Social Fund, usually in the form of a tax-free bursary which consists of tuition fees together with a stipend of around GBP 12,600 per year for three years (rising to £14,300 per year in London), whether or not the degree continues for longer. Research Council funding is sometimes 'earmarked' for a particular department or research group, who then allocate it to a chosen student, although in doing so they are generally expected to abide by the usual minimum entry requirements (typically a first degree with upper second class honours, although successful completion of a postgraduate master's degree is usually counted as raising the class of the first degree by one division for these purposes). However, the availability of funding in many disciplines (especially humanities, social studies, and pure science subjects) means that in practice only those with the best research proposals, references and backgrounds are likely to be awarded a studentship. The ESRC (Economic and Social Science Research Council) explicitly state that a 2.1 minimum (or 2.2 plus additional masters degree) is required - no additional marks are given for students with a first class honours or a distinction at masters level.

Since 2002, there has been a move by research councils to fund interdisciplinary doctoral training centres such as MOAC which concentrate on communication between traditional disciplines and an emphasis on transferable skills in addition to research training.

Many students who are not in receipt of external funding may choose to undertake the degree part time, thus reducing the tuition fees, as well as creating free time in which to earn money for subsistence.

Students may also take part in tutoring, work as research assistants, or (occasionally) deliver lectures, at a rate of typically £15–20 per hour, either to supplement existing income or as a sole means of funding.


Funding typically lasts for three years full-time (this period is usually extended pro rata for part-time students) at the end of which the thesis is submitted. Typically, there is a first-year assessment which could for example be a Certificate of postgraduate studies. With special dispensation, the final date for the thesis can be extended for up to four additional years, for a total of seven, but it is rare for students to spend more than four years in the programme. Since the early 1990s, the UK funding councils have adopted a policy of penalising the departments of students who fail to submit their theses in four years (or equivalent) by reducing the number of funded places in subsequent years.

Other doctorates

In the United Kingdom Ph.D.s are distinct from other doctorates, most notably the higher doctorates such as D.Litt. (Doctor of Letters) or D.Sc. (Doctor of Science), which are granted on the recommendation of a committee of examiners on the basis of a substantial portfolio of submitted (and usually published) research.

Recent years have seen the introduction of vocational doctorates, most notably in the fields of engineering (Eng. D.), education (Ed. D.), clinical psychology (D. Clin. Psychol.) and business administration (D.B.A.). These typically have a more formal taught component, as well as a research component which is not equivalent to that of a Ph.D. This research component typically takes the form of a portfolio of two or three smaller research studies, rather than a single dissertation focusing on one larger academic project. D.Phil. is the title given to doctorates achieved from the University of Oxford.

United States


In the United States, the Ph.D. is the highest academic degree awarded by universities in many fields of study. American students typically undergo a series of three phases in the course of their doctoral work, after they have obtained at least a bachelor's degree, or in some cases a master's degree: the first phase consists of coursework in the student's field of study and requires one to three years to complete. This often is followed by a preliminary or comprehensive examination and/or a series of cumulative examinations where the emphasis is on breadth rather than depth of knowledge.

Another two to four years is usually required for the composition of a substantial and original contribution to human knowledge embodied in a written dissertation that in the social sciences and humanities is typically 100 to 450 pages in length. In many cases, depending on the discipline, a dissertation would consist of (i) a comprehensive literature review, (ii) an outline of methodology, and (iii) several chapters of scientific, social, historical, philosophical, or literary analysis. Typically, upon completion, the candidate undergoes an oral examination, sometimes public, by his or her supervisory committee with expertise in the given discipline.

As the Ph.D. is often a preliminary step toward a career as a professor, throughout the whole period of study and dissertation research the student may be required or at least offered the opportunity, depending on the university and degree, to teach undergraduate or sometimes graduate courses in relevant subjects.

The Ph.D. is often misunderstood to be synonymous with the term "doctorate". While the Ph.D. is the most common doctorate, the term "doctorate" can refer to any number of doctoral degrees in the United States. The U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation recognize numerous doctoral degrees as "equivalent", and do not discriminate between them (See Doctoral Degree in the United States).


There are 282 universities in the United States that award the Ph.D., and those universities vary widely in their criteria for admission, as well as the rigor of their academic programs.[6] Typically, Ph.D. programs require applicants to have a Bachelor's degree in a relevant field, reasonably high grades, several letters of recommendation, relevant academic coursework, a cogent statement of interest in the field of study, and satisfactory performance on a graduate-level exam specified by the respective program (e.g., GRE, GMAT[7][8]). Specific admissions criteria differ substantially according to university admissions policies and fields of study; some programs in well-regarded research universities (i.e., Research 1 universities) may admit less than 5% of applicants and require an exceptional performance on the GRE along with near-perfect grades, strong support in letters of recommendation, substantial research experience, and academically sophisticated samples of their writing.

Master's degree "in passing"

As applicants to many Ph.D. programs are not required to have Master's Degrees, many programs award a Master of Arts or Master of Science degree "in passing" or "in course" based on the graduate work done in the course of achieving 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 program, masters-in-passing degrees can be either mandatory or optional. Not all Ph.D. students choose to complete the additional requirements necessary for the M.A. or M.S. if such requirements are not mandated by their programs. Those students will simply obtain the Ph.D. at the end of their graduate study.

Some programs also include a Master of Philosophy degree as part of the Ph.D. program. [9] The M.Phil., in those universities that offer it, is usually awarded after the appropriate M.A. or M.S. (as above) is awarded, and the degree candidate has completed all further requirements for the Ph.D. (which may include additional language requirements, course credits, teaching experiences, and comprehensive exams) aside from the writing and defense of the dissertation itself. This formalizes the "all but dissertation" (ABD) status used informally by some students, and represents that the student has achieved a higher level of scholarship than the M.A./M.S. would indicate - as such, the M.Phil. is sometimes a helpful credential for those applying for teaching or research posts while completing their dissertation work for the Ph.D. itself. [10]


Depending on the specific field of study, completion of a Ph.D. program usually takes between four and eight years of enrollment after the Bachelor's Degree; those students who begin a Ph.D. program with a Master's Degree may complete their Ph.D. a year or two sooner.[1] As Ph.D. programs 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. programs, or refuse to consider graduate credit older than ten years as counting towards a Ph.D. Similarly, students may be required to re-take the comprehensive exam if they do not defend their dissertations within five years of taking it. Overall, 57% of US Ph.D. students will complete their degree within 10 years, approximately 30% will drop out or be dismissed, and the remaining 13% of students will continue on past 10 years.[11]


Doctoral students are usually discouraged from engaging in external employment during the course of their graduate training. As a result, Ph.D. students at U.S. 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 U.S. graduate students work as teaching assistants or research assistants while they are doctoral students. Graduate schools increasingly encourage their students to seek outside funding; many are supported by fellowships they obtain for themselves or by their advisors' research grants from government 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 degree program (if it is short) or for most of it.

Ph.D. candidacy

Ph.D. Candidate, sometimes called Candidate of Philosophy, is a stage of university education in North American and some European universities. A Ph.D. Candidate is a postgraduate student in the doctoral level who has successfully satisfied the requirements for doctoral studies, minus the thesis or dissertation. As such, a Ph.D. Candidate is sometimes called an ABD (All But Dissertation). The process through which a doctoral student becomes a Ph.D. Candidate varies based on the country and even the university. However, it often consists of a series of written oral and written examinations, as well as an occasional defence of a dissertation project or topic.

Training for supervisors

At some universities, there may be training for those wishing to supervise Ph.D. studies. There is now a lot of literature published for academics who wish to do this, such as Delamont, Atkinson and Parry (1997). Indeed, Dinham and Scott (2001) have argued that the worldwide growth in research students has been matched by increase in a number of what they term "how-to" texts for both students and supervisors, citing examples such as Pugh and Phillips (1987). These authors report empirical data on the benefits that Ph.D. students may gain if they publish their work, and note that Ph.D. students are more likely to do this with adequate encouragement from their supervisors.

Wisker (2005) has noticed how research into this field has distinguished between two models of supervision: The technical-rationality model of supervision, emphasising technique; The negotiated order model, being less mechanistic and emphasising fluid and dynamic change in the Ph.D. process. These two models were first distinguished by Acker, Hill and Black (1994; cited in Wisker, 2005). Considerable literature exists on the expectations that supervisors may have of their students (Phillips & Pugh, 1987) and the expectations that students may have of their supervisors (Phillips & Pugh, 1987; Wilkinson, 2005) in the course of Ph.D. supervision. Similar expectations are implied by the Quality Assurance Agency's Code for Supervision (Quality Assurance Agency, 1999; cited in Wilkinson, 2005).

Other Degrees:

  • Doctorate - A general term describing a set of degrees analogous 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 Masters Degree or a Ph.D.
  • C.Phil. (also ABD) - Term, usually used unofficially, for a graduate student who has completed all Ph.D. coursework but has yet to defend his or her dissertation.
  • Kandidat - Degree awarded by USSR and post-Soviet states.
  • Licentiate - Degree awarded in various countries, including Portugal, Belgium, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Poland.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Research Doctorate Programmes". US Department of Education. Retrieved 6/18/06. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. Dinham, S. & Scott, C. (2001). The experience of the results of disseminating the results of doctoral research. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 25 (1) 45-55. ISSN: 1469-9486
  3. Though the term "doctor of philosophy" is not generally applied by them to graduates in disciplines other than philosophy itself. These doctoral degrees, however, are sometimes colloquially identified in English as Ph.D.s.
  4. See, for instance, Ralph P. Rosenberg, The Journal of Higher Education, 33, 381 (1962). Available m/ here with subscription.
  5. Renate Simpson, How the PhD came to Britain : a century of struggle for postgraduate education
  6. Listing of Research I Universities, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching - 282 is the sum of all three categories of doctoral universities.
  9. Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.)
  10. Policies and Regulations
  11. In Humanities, 10 Years May Not Be Enough to Get a Ph.D., The Chronicle of Higher Education July 27, 2007


  • Delamont, S., Atkinson, P. & Parry, O. (1997). Supervising the Ph.D.: A guide to success. Buckingham: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-19516-4
  • Dinham, S. & Scott, C. (2001). The experience of the results of disseminating the results of doctoral research. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 25 (1) 45-55. ISSN: 1469-9486
  • MacGillivray, Alex; Potts, Gareth; Raymond, Polly. Secrets of Their Success (London: New Economics Foundation, 2002).
  • Phillips, E. & Pugh, D.S. (1987). How to get a PhD : managing the peaks and troughs of research / Estelle M. Phillips and D.S. Pugh. Milton Keynes : Open University Press ISBN 0335155375
  • Simpson, Renate. How the PhD came to Britain: A century of struggle for postgraduate education, Society for Research into Higher Education, Guildford (1983).
  • Wellington, J. Bathmaker, A._M., Hunt, C., McCullough, G. & Sikes, P. (2005). Succeeding with your doctorate. London: Sage. ISBN 1-4129-0116-2
  • Wilkinson, D. (2005) The essential guide to postgraduate study. London : SAGE ISBN 141290062X (hbk.)

External links

  • PhinisheD An online discussion and support group for PhD students.

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