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What is a doctorate / PhD degree?

A doctorate degree is the highest degree awarded in most academic disciplines. If you’re seeking to advance your career, contribute to a growing body of research, become an expert in a certain subject, or genuinely thrive in academic settings, pursuing a doctorate degree could be the right step for your future career.

Doctoral programs are available for a variety of subjects, from sciences to humanities. However, the time to completion for a doctorate degree can vary significantly between programs and disciplines. While it typically takes four years of full-time study to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD), it could take around eight years to earn a research doctorate, perhaps even longer if you’re studying part time.

For certain professions, including professor, dentist, and veterinarian, having a doctorate degree is a requirement. In other professions, having a doctorate degree is considered a merit, and could even launch you into a higher salary bracket. According to PayScale, the average salary for people holding a doctorate degree is $96,000 US per year, which is about 30% higher than the average yearly salary for people educated to a master’s level.

What are the different types of doctoral degrees?

Doctoral degrees can be broken down into four main categories:

  • Research doctorate / PhD
  • Higher doctorate
  • Professional doctorate
  • Honorary doctorate

Research doctorate / PhD

Research doctorates are awarded for conducting original research that is deemed publishable in peer-reviewed academic journals. Although the Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD, is the most commonly known research doctorate in English-speaking countries, research doctorates also include degrees such as Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), Doctor of Education (EdD), and Doctor of Theology (ThD).Depending on the university, doctoral research could be submitted in the form of a single thesis or dissertation, or a selection of shorter project reports. Moreover, while some universities award research doctorates or PhDs for research that simply meets publication standards, others reserve these degrees for published work. Doctoral research is typically assessed by a committee of examiners appointed by the university.

Higher doctorate

Higher doctorates are a higher tier of research doctorates, awarded to scholars who make a substantial contribution to research. Recipients of higher doctorates have established themselves as the foremost authority within a specific area of study, oftentimes achieving worldwide recognition. Examples of higher doctorate degrees include the Doctor of Letters (LittD), Doctor of Science (DSc), and Doctor of Laws (LLD), which are recognized in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.

Professional doctorate

Unlike research or higher doctorates, which are awarded for academic research, professional doctorate degrees are awarded for contributions to professional practice. Professional doctorates are designed for experienced professionals who wish to translate their expertise into a position of credibility and influence in their industry. In professional doctorate programs, students engage in applied research, which aims to solve real-world problems through existing knowledge, and focus on mastering the skills, theories, and knowledge that are integral to their field.

Honorary doctorate

Honorary doctorates are awarded by universities to formally recognize the outstanding contributions a person has made within a particular field or the philanthropic world. For honorary doctorates and other honorary degrees, universities waive the formal requirements otherwise needed to award the degree, such as matriculation or a dissertation.


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