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Academic doctors gather before the commencement exercises at Brigham Young University (April 2008).
The cover of the thesis presented by Claude Bernard to obtain his Doctorate of Medicine (1843).

A doctorate (from Latin docere, "to teach") or doctor's degree (from Latin doctor, "teacher") or doctoral degree is an academic degree awarded by universities that, in most countries, qualifies the holder to teach at the university level in the degree's field, or to work in a specific profession. In some countries, the highest degree in a given field is called a terminal degree. Many universities also award "honorary doctorates" to individuals who have been deemed worthy of special recognition, either for scholarly work or for other contributions to the university or to society.

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The term "doctorate" derives from the Latin docere meaning "to teach". The doctorate (Latin: doctor, "teacher," from doctum, "[that which is] taught," past participle of docere, "to teach") appeared in medieval Europe as a license to teach Latin: licentia docendi at a medieval university.[1] Its roots can be traced to the early church when the term "doctor" referred to the Apostles, church fathers, and other Christian authorities who taught and interpreted the Bible.[1]

The right to grant a licentia docendi was originally reserved to the Catholic church, which required the applicant to pass a test, to take an oath of allegiance and pay a fee. The Third Council of the Lateran of 1179 guaranteed the access—at that time largely free of charge—of all able applicants. Applicants were tested for aptitude.[2] This right remained a bone of contention between the church authorities and universities that were slowly distancing themselves from the Church. The right was granted by the pope to the University of Paris in 1213 where it became a universal license to teach licentia ubiquie docendi.[2] However, while the licentia continued to hold a higher prestige than the bachelor's degree baccalaureus, it was ultimately reduced to an intermediate step to the Magister and doctorate, both of which now became the exclusive teaching qualification.[2] According to Wellington, Bathmaker, Hung, MucCullough and Sikes (2005), the first Ph.D. was awarded in Paris circa 1150;[3] but not until the early nineteenth century did the term "Ph.D." acquire its modern meaning as the highest academic doctoral degree, following university practice in Germany.

University doctoral training was a form of apprenticeship to a guild. The traditional term of study before new teachers were admitted to the guild of "Masters of Arts" was seven years, matching the apprenticeship term for other occupations. Originally the terms "master" and "doctor" were synonymous, but over time the doctorate came to be regarded as a higher qualification than the master's degree. Makdisi's revised hypothesis that the doctorate originated in the Islamic ijazah, a reversal of his earlier view that saw both systems as of "the most fundamental difference",[4] was rejected by Huff as unsubstantiated.[5]

Universities did not originally admit female students into their doctoral programs. The first doctorates to female students were granted in 1678 to Elena Cornaro Piscopia at the University of Padua, in 1732 to Laura Bassi at Bologna University, in 1754 to Dorothea Erxleben at Halle University and in 1785 to María Isidra de Guzmán y de la Cerda at Complutense University, Madrid.[6] By contrast, the University of Oxford did not accept female scholars until 1920,[7] and the first female to earn a University of Cambridge Ph.D. succeeded in 1926.[8]

The use and meaning of the doctorate has changed over time, and is subject to regional variations. For instance, until the early 20th century few academic staff or professors in English-speaking universities held doctorates, except for very senior scholars and those in holy orders. After that time the German practice of requiring lecturers to have completed a research doctorate spread. Universities' shift to research-oriented education increased the doctorates importance. Today, a doctorate is generally a prerequisite for an academic career, although many recipients do not work in academia.

Although the research doctorate is almost universally accepted as the standard qualification for an academic career, it is a relatively new convention.

Professional "doctorates," which ironically, are not considered doctorates at all in many countries, such as the United States, were developed in the United States in the 19th century during a movement to improve the educations of academics by raising the requirements for entry and completion of the degree necessary to enter academia.[9] These first professional degrees were created to help strengthen professional training programs. The first professional "doctorate" to be offered in the United States was the M.D. at the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) in 1765, with the first doctoral degrees conferred in 1771,[10] nearly one hundred years before the first Ph.D. was awarded in the U.S. in 1861. However, the M.D. degree is a vocational degree, in that students are trained similarly to other students in vocational schools or institutes, not educated. Consequently, M.D. degrees are not considered doctoral degrees.[11] The Juris Doctor (J.D.) was subsequently established by Harvard University for the same reasons that the M.D. was established.[12]

The older-style doctorates, now usually called higher doctorates in the United Kingdom, take much longer to complete, since candidates must show themselves to be leading experts in their subjects. These doctorates are now less common in some countries and are often awarded honoris causa. The habilitation is still used for academic recruitment purposes in many countries within the EU, and involves either a new long thesis (a second book) or a portfolio of research publications. The habilitation (highest available degree) demonstrates independent and thorough research, experience in teaching and lecturing, and, more recently, the ability to generate supportive funding. The habilitation follows the research doctorate, and in Germany it can be a requirement for appointment as a Privatdozent or professor.


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Since the Middle Ages, the number and types of doctorates awarded by universities proliferated throughout the world. Practices vary from one country to another. While a doctorate usually entitles one to be addressed as "doctor," use of the title varies widely, depending on the type and the associated occupation.

Research doctorate

Research doctorates are awarded in recognition of academic research that is (at least in principle) publishable in a peer-refereed academic journal. Generally, earning a research doctorate requires successful completion of a specific coursework regimen. The best-known research degree, in the Anglosphere, is that of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D., or D.Phil.[13] as it is abbreviated at the University of Oxford)[14] awarded in many countries throughout the world. Other research doctorates are Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), Doctor of Arts (D.A.), Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.), Doctor of Professional Studies, Doctor of Social Science (D.S.Sc.), Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A.), Doctor of Management (D.Mgt.), Doctor of Information Security (D.I.S.), various doctorates in engineering, such as the US Doctor of Engineering (D.Eng.)[15] (also awarded in Japan and South Korea), the UK Engineering Doctorate,[16] the German engineering doctorate Doktor-Ingenieur (Dr.-Ing.) and the German natural science doctorate Doctor rerum naturalium (Dr.rer.nat.). The Doctor of Theology (D.Th.) and the Doctor of Sacred Theology (D.S.Th.) are research doctorates in theology. In the UK, an equivalent to a doctorate is the QCF 8.[17]

Criteria for research doctorates vary, but typically include completing a substantial body of original research. This may take the form of a single thesis or dissertation, or of a portfolio of shorter project reports (thesis by publication). The candidate's submission is typically assessed by a committee of examiners. Candidates also typically undergo an oral examination by the committee. Candidates generally take graduate-level courses in their field, as well as study research methodology.

The time required to complete a research doctorate varies from three years, excluding undergraduate study, to six years or more.


Licentiate degrees generally have fewer requirements than Ph.D. Sweden similarly awards both the Licentiate's degree as a lower-level doctorate and the proper doctorate as a higher-level degree. Norway abolished its Licentiate terminology, calling those qualifications Ph.D.s, and thus lower degrees than the Swedish and Danish doctorates, while equal to the Danish Ph.D. (Licentiate's) degree and the Swedish Licentiate's degree. In other countries such as Belgium, the Licentiate is equivalent to a master's degree, while in still others it is a simple diploma. In the Pontifical system, a Licentiate is equivalent to an advanced master's degree, or the post-master's coursework required in preparation for a doctorate.

Higher doctorate and post-doctoral degrees

A higher tier of research doctorates may be awarded on the basis of a formally submitted portfolio of published research of a particularly high standard. In Poland, that standard was a discovery or innovative element beyond the use of scientific methods. Examples include the Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) and Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) degrees found in the UK, Ireland and some Commonwealth countries, and the traditional doctorates in Scandinavia.

The École Saint-Thomas-d'Aquin of the Université catholique de Louvain, for instance, has offered the opportunity for students who had already earned a doctorate to earn the degree of Maître Agregé (Magister Aggregatus).[18]

The habilitation teaching qualification ("facultas docendi" or faculty to teach) under a university procedure with a thesis and an exam is commonly regarded as belonging to this category in Germany, Austria, France, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Poland, etc. The habilitation results in an award of a formal "Dr. habil." degree or the holder of the degree may add "habil." to his research doctorate such as "Dr. phil. habil." or "Dr. rer. nat. habil." In some European universities, especially in German-speaking countries, the degree is insufficient to have teaching duties without professor supervision (or to teach and supervise Ph.D. students independently) without an additional instructor/teaching certificate/license, such as Privatdozent. In many countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the degree gives the venia legendi, Latin for "permission for lecturing," or the ius docendi, "right of teaching" a specific academic subject at universities for a lifetime. The French academic system used to have a higher doctorate, called "State doctorate" (doctorat d'État), but it was superseded by the habilitation in 1984.

Higher doctorates are often also awarded honoris causa when a university wishes to formally recognize an individual's achievements and contributions to a particular field.

Doctor of Commerce and Doctor of Medicine can also be awarded at the higher doctorate level.

Professional doctorate

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In some countries professional doctorates are awarded in certain fields where there may be comparatively less or no scholarly education and scholarly research. Examples of professional doctorates include the US and Canadian degrees of Doctor of Medicine (D.M., M.D.), Doctor of Optometry (O.D.), Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.), Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.), Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.), Doctor of Behavioral Health (D.B.H.), Doctor of Social Work (D.S.W.), Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.), Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.), and Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.).

In Australia, the term is on occasion applied to the Scientiae Juridicae Doctor (S.J.D.),[19][20][21] and on other occasions that degree is also categorized as a research degree.[22][23]


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When a university wishes to formally recognize an individual's contributions to a particular field or philanthropic efforts, it may choose to grant a doctoral degree honoris causa (i.e., "for the sake of the honor"), the university waiving the usual formal requirements for bestowal of the degree.[24][25] Some universities do not award honorary degrees, for example, Cornell University,[26] the University of Virginia,[27] the California Institute of Technology, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[28]

Professorship as a higher degree

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An extreme rarity among degrees are the Professorial degrees.

In modern times, the status of professor is awarded as a recognition of sustained academic excellence, equivalent in standing to an honorary doctorate, but this is not a degree per se. However, in past times, professor was sometimes awarded as a degree.

National variations

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In Argentina the doctorate (doctorado)[29] is the highest academic degree. The intention is that candidates produce original contributions in their field knowledge within a frame of academic excellence.[30] A dissertation or thesis is prepared under the supervision of a tutor or director. It is reviewed by a Doctoral Committee composed of examiners external to the program and at least one examiner external to the institution. The degree is conferred after a successful dissertation defense.[31] Currently, there are approximately 2,151 postgraduate careers in the country, of which 14% were doctoral degrees.[30] Doctoral programs in Argentina are overseen by the National Commission for University Evaluation and Accreditation,[32] an agency in Argentina’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.[33]


Doctoral candidates are normally required to have a Master's degree in a related field. Exceptions are based on their individual academic merit. A second and a third foreign language are other common requirements, although the requirements regarding proficiency commonly are not strict. The admissions process varies by institution. Some require candidates to take tests while others base admissions on a research proposal application and interview only. In both instances however, a faculty member must agree prior to admission to supervise the applicant.

Requirements usually include satisfactory performance in advanced graduate courses, passing an oral qualifying exam and submitting a thesis that must represent an original and relevant contribution to existing knowledge. The thesis is examined in a final public oral exam administered by at least five faculty members, two of whom must be external. After completion, which normally consumes 4 years, the candidate is commonly awarded the degree of Doutor (Doctor) followed by the main area of specialization, e.g. Doutor em Direito (Doctor of Laws), Doutor em Ciências da Computação (Doctor of Computer Sciences), Doutor em Filosofia (Doctor of Philosophy), Doutor em Economia (Doctor of Economics), Doutor em Engenharia (Doctor of Engineering) or Doutor em Medicina (Doctor of Medicine). The generic title of Doutor em Ciências (Doctor of Sciences) is normally used to refer collectively to doctorates in the natural sciences (i.e. Physics, Chemistry, Biological and Life Sciences, etc.)

All graduate programs in Brazilian public universities are tuition-free (mandated by the Brazilian constitution). Some graduate students are additionally supported by institutional scholarships granted by federal government agencies like CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico) and CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento do Pessoal de Ensino Superior). Personal scholarships are provided by the various FAP's (Fundações de Amparo à Pesquisa) at the state level, especially FAPESP in the state of São Paulo, FAPERJ in the state of Rio de Janeiro and FAPEMIG in the state of Minas Gerais. Competition for graduate financial aid is intense and most scholarships support at most 2 years of Master's studies and 4 years of doctoral studies. The normal monthly stipend for doctoral students in Brazil is between 500 and 1000 USD.

A degree of Doutor usually enables an individual to apply for a junior faculty position equivalent to a US Assistant Professor. Progression to full professorship known as Professor Titular requires that the candidate be successful in a competitive public exam and normally takes additional years. In the federal university system, doctors who are admitted as junior faculty members may progress (usually by seniority) to the rank of Associate Professor then become eligible to take the competitive exam for vacant full professorships. In São Paulo state universities, Associate Professorships and subsequent eligibility to apply for a full professorship are conditioned on the qualification of Livre-docente and requires, in addition to a doctorate, a second thesis or cumulative portfolio of peer-reviewed publications, a public lecture before a panel of experts (including external members from other universities), and a written exam.

In recent years somme initiatives as jointly supervised doctorates (e.g. "cotutelles") have become increasingly common in the country, as part of the country's efforts to open its universities to international students.[34]


Denmark offers four levels of degrees: 1) a three-year bachelor's degree (e.g. Bachelor of Arts degree); 2) a five-year candidate's degree (e.g. Candidatus/Candidata Magisterii), generally compared to a master's degree; 3) a ph.d. degree, which replaced the licentiate in 1988; 4) a doctor's degree (e.g. Doctor Philosophiae), which is the higher doctorate. (A three-year extended research program, leading to the magister's degree was phased out to meet the international standards of the Bologna Process.)

For the Ph.D. degree, the candidate writes a thesis and defends it orally at a formal disputation. In the disputation, the candidate defends his thesis against three official opponents as well as opponents from the auditorium (ex auditorio).

For the higher doctorate, the candidate writes a major thesis and has to defend it orally in which the candidate (called præces) defends this thesis against two official opponents as well as opponents from the auditorium (ex auditorio).


In Egypt, the doctorate (abbreviated as M.D.) is equivalent to the Ph.D. degree.[35] To earn an M.D. in a science specialty, one must have a master's degree (M.Sc.) (or two diplomas before the introduction of M.Sc. degree in Egypt) before applying. The M.D. degree involves courses in the field and defending a dissertation. It takes on average three to five years.

Many postgraduate medical and surgical specialties students earn a Doctorate. After finishing a 6-year medical school and one-year internship (house officer), physicians and surgeons earn the M.B. B.Ch. degree, which is equivalent to a US MD degree. They can then apply to earn a master's degree or a speciality diploma, then an MD degree in a specialty.

The Egyptian M.D. degree is written using the name of one's specialty. For example, M.D. (Geriatrics) means a doctorate in Geriatrics, which is equivalent to a Ph.D. in Geriatrics.


The Finnish requirement for the entrance into doctoral studies is a master's degree or equivalent. All universities have the right to award doctorates.[36] The ammattikorkeakoulu institutes (institutes of higher vocational education that are not universities but often called "Universities of Applied Sciences" in English) do not award doctoral or other academic degrees. The student must:

  • Demonstrate understanding of their field and its meaning, while preparing to use scientific or scholarly study in their field, creating new knowledge.
  • Obtain a good understanding of development, basic problems and research methods
  • Obtain such understanding of the general theory of science and letters and such knowledge of neighbouring research fields that they are able to follow the development of these fields.

The way to show that these general requirements have been met is:

  • Complete graduate coursework.
  • Demonstrate critical and independent thought
  • Prepare and publicly defend a dissertation (a monograph or a compilation thesis of peer-reviewed articles). In fine arts, the dissertation may be substituted by works and/or performances as accepted by the faculty.

Entrance is not as controlled as in undergraduate studies, where a strict numerus clausus is applied. Usually, a prospective student discusses his plans with a professor. If the professor agrees to accept the student, the student applies for admission. The professor may recruit students to his group.[37] Formal acceptance does not imply funding. The student must obtain funding either by working in a research unit or through private scholarships. Funding is more available for natural and engineering sciences than in letters. Sometimes, normal work and research activity are combined.[38]

Prior to introduction of the Bologna process, Finland required at least 42 credit weeks (1,800 hours) of formal coursework. The requirement was removed in 2005, leaving the decision to individual universities, which may delegate the authority to faculties or individual professors. In Engineering and Science, required coursework varies between 60 and 70 ECTS.

The duration of graduate studies varies. It is possible to graduate three years after the master's degree, while much longer periods are not uncommon. The study ends with a dissertation, which must present substantial new scientific/scholarly knowledge. The dissertation can either be a monograph or it an edited collection of 3 to 7 journal articles. Students unable or unwilling to write a dissertation may qualify for a licentiate degree by completing the coursework requirement and writing a shorter thesis, usually summarizing one year of research.

When the dissertation is ready, the faculty names two expert pre-examiners with doctoral degrees from the outside the university. During the pre-examination process, the student may receive comments on the work and respond with modifications.[39] After the pre-examiners approve, the doctoral candidate applies the faculty for permission to print the thesis. When granting this permission, the faculty names the opponent for the thesis defence, who must also be an outside expert, with at least a doctorate. In all Finnish universities, long tradition requires that the printed dissertation hang on a chord by a public university noticeboard for at least ten days prior to for the dissertation defence.[40]

The doctoral dissertation takes place in public. The opponent and the candidate conduct a formal debate, usually wearing white tie, under the supervision of the thesis supervisor. Family, friends, colleagues and the members of the research community customarily attend the defence. After a formal entrance, the candidate begins with an approximately 20-minute popular lecture (lectio praecursoria), that is meant to introduce laymen to the thesis topic. The opponent follows with a short talk on the topic, after which the pair critically discuss the dissertation. The proceedings take two to three hours. At the end the opponent presents his final statement and reveals whether he/she will recommend that the faculty accept it. Any member of the public then has an opportunity to raise questions, although this is rare. Immediately after the defence, the supervisor, the opponent and the candidate drink coffee with the public. Usually, the attendees of the defence are given the printed dissertation.[41] In the evening, the passed candidate hosts a dinner (Finnish: karonkka) in honour of the opponent. Usually, the candidate invites his family, colleagues and collaborators.[42]

Doctorates are often Doctors of Philosophy (filosofian tohtori), but many fields retain their traditional titles: Doctor of Medicine (lääketieteen tohtori), Doctor of Science in Technology (tekniikan tohtori), Doctor of Science in Arts (Art and Design), etc.

The doctorate is a formal requirement for a docenture or professor's position, although these in practice require postdoctoral research and further experience. Exceptions may be granted by the university governing board, but this is uncommon, and usually due to other work and expertise considered equivalent.


In France, the doctorate (doctorat) is a research-only degree. It is a national degree and its requirements are fixed by the minister of higher education and research. Except for a few private institutions, only public institutions award the doctorate. It can be awarded in any field of study. The master's degree is a prerequisite. The normal duration is three years. The redaction of a comprehensive thesis constitutes the bulk of the doctoral work. While the length of the thesis varies according to the discipline, it is rarely less than 150 pages, and often substantially more. Some 15,000 new doctoral matriculations occur every year and ~10,000 doctorates are awarded.[43]

Doctoral candidates can apply for a three-year fellowship. The most well known is the allocation de recherche du ministère de l'enseignement supérieur et de la recherche (4,000 granted every year with a gross salary of 19,740 euros as of December 2012).

Since 2002 candidates study specific courses, but there is no written examination for the doctorate. The candidate has to write a thesis that is read by two external reviewers. The head of the institution decides whether the candidate can defend the thesis, after considering the external reviews. The jury members are designated by the head of the institution. The candidate's supervisor and the external reviewers are generally jury members. The maximum number of jury members is 8. The defense generally lasts 45 minutes in scientific fields, followed by 1 – 2 and a half hours of questions from the jury or other doctors present. The defense and questions are public. The jury then deliberates in private and then declares the candidate admitted or "postponed". The latter is rare. The acceptance is generally qualified by a distinction: "honourable", which is the minimum, "very honourable", the usual distinction, and "very honourable with the congratulation of the jury" (Très honorable avec félicitations). Because no national criteria define this last distinction, many institutions do not award it. New regulations concerning this distinction were set in 2006. Many institutions do not award distinctions.

The title of doctor (docteur) is used only by medical and pharmaceutical practitioners who hold a doctor's state diploma (diplôme d'État de docteur) rather than a doctorate. The diploma is a first-degree.

Before 1984 three research doctorates existed : the state doctorate (doctorat d'État, the old doctorate introduced in 1808), the third cycle doctorate (doctorat de troisième cycle, created in 1954 and shorter than the state doctorate) and the diploma of doctor-engineer (diplôme de docteur-ingénieur created in 1923), for technical research. After 1984, only one type of doctoral degree remained, called "doctorate" (Doctorat). A special diploma was created called the "accreditation to supervise research" (habilitation à diriger des recherches), a professional qualification to supervise doctoral work. (This diploma is similar in spirit to the older state doctorate, and the requirements for obtaining it are similar to those necessary to obtain tenure in other systems.) Before only professors or senior full researchers of similar rank were normally authorized to supervise a doctoral candidate's work.[44] Now habilitation is a prerequisite to the title of professor in university (Professeur des Universités) and to the title of Research Director (Directeur de recherche) in national public research agency such as CNRS, INRIA, or INRA.


Most doctorates are research doctorates and are awarded in the context of the so-called promotion. Its duration depends on the field. A doctorate in medicine may take less than a full-time year to complete, engineering takes three to six. In Germany, most doctorates are awarded with specific designations for the field of research instead of a general "Ph.D." for all fields. The most important degrees are:

  • Dr.rer.nat. (natural sciences, i.e. physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, computer science and information technology);
  • Dr.phil. (humanities such as philosophy, philology, history, and social sciences such as sociology or psychology);
  • Dr.iur. (law);
  • Dr.oec. (economics);
  • Dr.rer.pol. (political science);
  • (medicine);
  • Dr.-Ing. (engineering).

Over fifty such specific degrees are available, many of them rare. The degree can be written in front of the first name for addresses using abbreviations such as "Dr." and "Dr.-Ing."[45] Although the honorific does not become part of the name, holders can demand that the title appear in official documents. The title is not mandatory. The honorific is commonly used in formal letters. Holders of other titles, as commonly use only the highest title in formal letters.

Upon completion of the habilitation thesis (Habilitationsschrift) a Dr.habil., or only habil., is awarded. This doctorate is known as the Habilitation. It is considered an additional academic qualification rather than a formal degree. It qualifies the owner to teach at German universities (facultas docendi). The holder of a Dr.habil. can apply for authorization to teach a certain subject (venia legendi). This has been the traditional prerequisite for attaining Privatdozent (PD) and employment as a full university Professor. With the introduction of Juniorprofessoren—around 2005—as an alternative track towards becoming a professor at universities (with tenure), Habilitation is no longer the only university career track.


In India, doctorates are offered by universities. Entry requirements include master's degree. Some universities consider undergraduate degrees in professional areas such as engineering, medicine or law as qualifications for pursuing doctorate level degrees. Entrance examinations are held for almost all programs. In most North Indian universities, coursework duration and thesis is 2 years and in most South Indian universities is 3 years.

The most common doctoral degree is Ph.D. Others include D.B.A. (Doctorate of Business Administration), DIT (Doctorate of Information Technology), LLD (Doctorate in Laws) and D. Sc (Doctorate in Science). Nationally important schools such as Indian Institute of Management,[46]National Institute of Industrial Engineering[47] call their doctoral programmes fellow programmes. Pharmacy Council of India permits a few colleges to offer Pharm D course (Doctorate in Pharmacy). Entry to professional fields such as medicine, dentistry, occupational therapy and physical therapy is at the bachelor's level. They are usually of longer duration than a regular bachelor's degree (e.g. B.Sc., B.Com., B.A.). The Pharm. D degree (Doctor of Pharmacy) takes 6 years.


Italy uses a three-level degree system. The first-level degree, called a "laurea" (Bachelor's degree), requires three years and a short thesis. The second-level degree, called a "laurea magistrale" (Master's degree), is obtained after two additional years, specializing in a branch of the field. This degree requires more advanced thesis work, usually involving academic research or an internship. The final degree is called a "dottorato di ricerca" (Ph.D.) and is obtained after three years of academic research on the subject and a thesis.

Alternatively, after obtaining the laurea or the laurea magistrale one can complete a "Master's" (first-level Master's after the laurea; second-level Master's after the laurea magistrale) of one or two years, usually including an internship. An Italian "Master's" is not the same as a master's degree; it is intended to be more focused on professional training and practical experience.

Regardless of the field of study, the title for Bachelors Graduate students is Dottore/Dottoressa (abbrev. Dott./Dott.ssa, or as Dr.), not to be confused with the title for the Ph.D., which is instead Dottore/Dottoressa di Ricerca. A laurea magistrale grants instead the title of Dottore/Dottoressa magistrale. Graduates in the fields of Education, Art and Music are also called Dr. Prof. (or simply Professore) or Maestro. Many professional titles, such as ingegnere (engineer) are awarded only upon passing a post-graduation examination (esame di stato), and registration in the relevant professional association.

The first institution in Italy to create a doctoral program (Ph.D.) was Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa in 1927 under the historic name "Diploma di Perfezionamento".[48][49] Further, the research doctorates or Ph.D. (Italian: Dottorato di ricerca) in Italy were introduced with law and Presidential Decree in 1980 (Law of February 21, 1980, No. 28 and the Presidential Decree No. 382 of 11 July 1980), referring to the reform of academic teaching, training and experimentation in organisation and teaching methods.[50][51]

Hence the Superior Graduate Schools in Italy (Grandes écoles)[52] (Italian: Scuola Superiore Universitaria),[53] also called Schools of Excellence (Italian: Scuole di Eccellenza)[52][54] such as Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa and Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies keep their historical "Diploma di Perfezionamento" Ph.D. title by law[49][55] and MIUR Decree.[56][57]



Until the 1990s, most natural science and engineering doctorates in Japan were earned by industrial researchers in Japanese companies. These degrees were awarded by the employees' former university, usually after years of research in industrial laboratories. The only requirement is submission of a dissertation, along with articles published in well-known journals. This program is called ronbun hakase (論文博士?). It produced the majority of engineering doctoral degrees from national universities. University-based doctoral programs called katei hakase (課程博士?), are gradually replacing these degrees. By 1994, more doctoral engineering degrees were earned for research within university laboratories (53%) than industrial research laboratories (47%).[58] Since 1978, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) has provided tutorial and financial support for promising researchers in Asia and Africa. The program is called JSPS RONPAKU.[59]

Professional degree

The only professional doctorate in Japan is the Juris Doctor, known as Hōmu Hakushi (法務博士)[60] The program generally lasts two or three years. This curriculum is professionally oriented,[61] but unlike in the US the program does not provide education sufficient for a law license. All candidates for a bar license must pass the bar exam (Shihou shiken), attend the Legal Training and Research Institute and pass the practical exam (Nikai Shiken or Shihou Shushusei koushi).[62]

Netherlands and Flanders

The traditional academic system of the Netherlands provided four basic academic diplomas and degrees: propaedeuse, kandidaat, doctorandus (drs.) and doctor (dr.). After successful completion of the first year of university, the student was awarded the propaedeutic diploma (not a degree). In some fields, this diploma was abolished in the 1980s: in physics and mathematics, the student could obtain directly a kandidaat (candidate) degree in two years. The candidate degree was all but abolished by 1989. It used to be attained after four or five years of academic study, after which the student was allowed to begin work on his doctorandus thesis. The successful completion of this thesis conveyed the doctorandus title, implying that the student's initial studies were finished. In addition to these 'general' degrees, specific titles were available for specific subjects, which are equivalent to the doctorandus degree: for law: meester (master) (mr.), and for engineering: ingenieur (engineer)(ir.). More recently the Dutch incorporated the Anglo-Saxon system of academic degrees into their own. The old candidate's degree was relabeled as the bachelor's degree and the doctorandus' by the master's degree. However, Dutch university programmes tend to include advanced subject matter that e.g., at Harvard is taught in Ph.D.-courses (for instance advanced quantum mechanics or general relativity in a Dutch course for the master's degree in theoretical physics).

Students can enroll in a doctorate system after achieving a master's degree (or equivalent). The most common way is to work as promovendus/assistant in opleiding (aio)/onderzoeker in opleiding (oio) (research assistant with additional courses and supervision), perform extensive research and write a dissertation consisting of published articles (over a period of four or more years, averaging about 5.5). Research can be conducted without official research assistant status, for example through a business-sponsored research laboratory.

Every Ph.D. thesis has to be promoted by a full university professor who has the role of principal advisor. The promotor (professor) decides whether the thesis quality suffices and can be submitted. A committee of experts in the field review the thesis. Failures at this stage are rare because supervisors withhold inadequate work. The supervisors and promotor lose prestige among their colleagues should they allow a substandard thesis to be submitted.

After reviewer approval, the candidate prints the thesis (generally more than 100 copies) and sends it to colleagues, friends and family with an invitation to the public defense. The degree is awarded in a formal, public, defense session, in which the thesis is defended against critical questions of the "opposition" (the review committee). Failure during this session is possible but never happens. The defense lasts exactly the assigned time slot (45 minutes or 1 hour exactly depending on the University) after which the defense is stopped by the bedel who closes the process. The candidate is allowed to immediately stop the defense.

The doctor's title is the highest academic degree in the Netherlands. In research doctorates the degree is always Ph.D. with no distinction between disciplines. Three Dutch universities of technology (Eindhoven University of Technology, Technical University Delft, and University of Twente) award a (lower) Professional Doctorate in Engineering (PDEng).

Although the title doctor is informally called Ph.D., no such degree exists. All other university titles (B.Sc./B.Ba./LL.B./B.A. M.Sc./M.B.A./LL.M./M.A.) are protected by law, while Ph.D. is not. Any person thus can adopt the Ph.D. title. Those who obtained a degree in a foreign country can only use the Dutch title drs. mr. ir. or dr. if approved by the Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs[63] though according to the opportunity principle, little effort monitors such frauds. Dutch doctors may use the letter D behind their name instead of the uncapitalized shortcut dr. before their name.[64]

Those who have multiple doctor (dr.) titles may use the title dr.mult.[64] Those who have received honoris causa doctorates may use dr.h.c. before their own name.[64]

In Belgium's Flemish Community the doctorandus title was only used by those who actually started their doctoral work. Doctorandus is still used as a synonym for a Ph.D. student. The licentiaat (licensee) title was in use for a regular graduate until the Bologna reform changed the licentiaat degree to the master's degree (the Bologna reform abolished the two-year kandidaat degree and introduced a three-year academic bachelor's degree instead).


In the Russian Empire the academic degree "doctor of the sciences" (doktor nauk) marked the highest academic degree that can be achieved by an examination. This system was generally adopted by the USSR/Russia and many post-Soviet countries. A lower degree, "candidate [doctor] of the sciences" (kandidat nauk), is, roughly, the Russian equivalent to the research doctorate in most other countries.


The ancient ceremony of bestowing Complutense's Doctoral biretta.

Doctoral degrees are regulated by Royal Decree (R.D. 778/1998),[65] Real Decreto (in Spanish). They are granted by the University on behalf of the King. Its Diploma has the force of a public document. The Ministry of Science keeps a National Registry of theses called TESEO.[66] According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), less than 5% of M.Sc. degree holders are admitted to Ph.D. programmes.

All doctoral programs are research-oriented. A minimum of 5 years of study is required, divided into 2 stages:

  • A 3-year (or longer) period of studies concludes with a public dissertation presented to a panel of 3 Professors. Upon approval from the university, the candidate receives a "Diploma de Estudios Avanzados" (part qualified doctor, equivalent to M.Sc.).
  • A 2-year (or longer) research period includes extensions for up to 10 years. The student must present a thesis describing a discovery or original contribution. If approved by his thesis director, the study is presented to a panel of 5 distinguished scholars. Any Doctor attending the public defense is allowed to challenge the candidate with questions. If approved, the candidate receives the doctorate. Four marks used to be granted: Unsatisfactory (Suspenso), Pass (Aprobado), Remarkable (Notable), "Cum laude" (Sobresaliente), and "Summa cum laude" (Sobresaliente Cum Laude). Those Doctors granted their degree "Summa Cum Laude" were allowed to apply for an "Extraordinary Award".

Since September 2012 and regulated by Royal Decree (R.D. 99/2011) (in Spanish),[67] three marks can be granted: Unsatisfactory (No apto), Pass (Apto) and "Cum laude" (Apto Cum Laude) as maximum mark. In the public defense the doctor is notified if the thesis has passed or not passed. The Apto Cum Laude mark is awarded after the public defense as the result of a private, anonymous vote. Votes are verified by the University. A unanimous vote of the reviewers nominates Doctors granted "Apto Cum Laude" for an "Extraordinary Award" (Premio Extraordinario de Doctorado). A numeric mark lof up to 50 (10 points per scholar in the panel), is communicated only to the candidate, the thesis director and the department.

In the same Royal Decree the initial 3-year study period was replaced by a Research master's degree (one or two years; Professional master's degrees do not grant direct access to Ph.D. Programs) that concludes with a public dissertation called "Trabajo de Fin de Máster" or "Proyecto de Fin de Máster". An approved project earns a master's degree that grants access to a Ph.D. program and initiates the period of research.

A doctorate is required in order to teach at the University.[68]

Only Ph.D. holders, Grandees and Dukes can sit and cover their heads in the presence of the King.[69]

Complutense University was the only one in Spain authorised to confer the doctorate. This law remained in effect until 1954, when the University of Salamanca joined in commemoration of its septecentenary. In 1970, the right was extended to all Spanish universities.[70]

All doctorate holders are reciprocally recognised as equivalent in Germany and Spain ( according to the "Bonn Agreement of November 14, 1994").[71]

United Kingdom

In 1917 British universities resolved to create doctoral programs. The first Oxford D.Phil in mathematics was awarded in 1921 and the first Cambridge Ph.D. in mathematics was awarded in 1924.[72]

Today, except for those awarded honoris causa, all doctorates granted by British universities are research doctorates, in that their main (and in many cases only) component is the submission of an extensive and substantial thesis or portfolio of original research, examined by an expert panel appointed by the university. The Quality Assurance Agency (for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not Scotland) states:

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Doctorates are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

  1. the creation and interpretation of new knowledge, through original research or other advanced scholarship, of a quality to satisfy peer review, extend the forefront of the discipline, and merit publication;
  2. a systematic acquisition and understanding of a substantial body of knowledge which is at the forefront of an academic discipline or area of professional practice;
  3. the general ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the generation of new knowledge, applications or understanding at the forefront of the discipline, and to adjust the project design in the light of unforeseen problems;
  4. a detailed understanding of applicable techniques for research and advanced academic enquiry.
    — Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland,[73] Annex 1

The professional doctorates such as the Doctor of Engineering (D.Eng.), Doctor of Social Science (D.S.Sc), Doctor of Social Work (D.S.W.), Doctor in Information Security (D.Info.S.), Doctor of Criminal Justice (D.Crim.J.) and Doctor of Clinical Psychology (D.Clin.Psy.) requires the submission of a body of original research of a similar length to a Ph.D. thesis.[74] In the case of the D.Eng., however, this might be in the form of a portfolio of technical reports on different research projects undertaken by the candidate as opposed to a single monograph. Another important difference is that traditional Ph.D. programs are mostly academic, whereas in an D.Eng. programme, the candidate typically works full-time for an industrial sponsor on application-oriented topics of direct interest to the partner company and is jointly supervised by university faculty members and company employees.

In the UK, the doctorate is a qualification awarded at NVQ level 8 or QCF level 8 in the national qualifications framework.[75]

Higher doctorates

Higher doctorates are awarded in recognition of a substantial body of original research undertaken over the course of many years. Typically the candidate submits a collection of previously published, peer-refereed work and pays an examination fee. A committee of internal and external academics review the submission and decide whether the candidate deserves the doctorate.

Most universities restrict candidacy to graduates or academic staff of years' standing. The most common doctorates of this type are the Doctor of Divinity (D.D.), Doctor of Laws (L.L.D.), Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.), Doctor of Music (D.Mus.), Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.), Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) and Doctor of Medicine (D.M.) degrees. The degrees in medicine or dentistry that permit licensure are bachelor's degrees. These correspond roughly with the M.D. in the US or the Staatsexamen (physician exam) in Germany. The M.D. (in most universities) is an unsupervised doctorate by thesis, usually ranking below the supervised Ph.D. and the D.Sc. It requires two to three more years of supervised research to achieve the Ph.D. level.

Of these, the D.D. historically ranked highest, because theology was the senior faculty in mediaeval universities. The degree of Doctor of Canon Law (D.C.L.)was next in the order of precedence, but (except for a brief revival during the reign of Mary Tudor) did not survive the Protestant reformation.[76] Henry VIII, founder of the Church of England banned the teaching of canon law at Cambridge and Oxford. The D.Mus. was historically, in an anomalous situation, since a candidate was not required to be a member of Convocation (that is, to be a Master of Arts). The D.Litt. and D.Sc. are relatively recent innovations, dating from the latter 19th century.

Honorary degrees

Most British universities award degrees honoris causa to recognise individuals who have made a substantial contribution to a particular field. Usually an appropriate higher doctorate is used in these circumstances, depending on the candidate's achievements. However, some universities differentiate between honorary and substantive doctorates, using the degree of Doctor of the University (D.Univ.) for these purposes, and reserve the higher doctorates for formal academic research.

United States

In 1861, Yale University awarded the first Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in the United States.

The structure of US doctoral programs is more formal and complex than some others. US research doctorates are awarded for successfully completing and defending independent research presented in the form of a dissertation, not advanced study. Multiple professional degrees use the term "doctor" in their title, such as Juris Doctor and Doctor of Medicine, but these degrees do not always contain an independent research component or always require a dissertation and should not be confused with Ph.D./D.Phil./Ed.D./D.Ed. degrees or other research doctorates.[77] Many universities offer Ph.D./D.Phil. followed by a professional doctorates or joint Ph.D./D.Phil. with the professional degree. Most often, Ph.D. work comes sequential to the professional degree, e.g., Ph.D./D.Phil. in law after a J.D. or equivalent[78][79][80][81] in physical therapy after DPT,[82][83] in pharmacy after Pharm.D.[84][85] Such professional degrees are referred to as an entry level doctorate program[86][87][88] and Ph.D. as a post-professional doctorate.[83]

Research degrees

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The most common research doctorate is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D. or D.Phil.). This degree was first awarded in the U.S. at the 1861 Yale University commencement.[89] The University of Pennsylvania followed in 1871,[90] and Cornell (1872),[91] Harvard (1873),[92] and Princeton (1879)[93] followed suit. Unlike the introduction of the professional doctorate M.D., considerable controversy and opposition followed the introduction of the Ph.D. into the U.S. educational system, lasting into the 1950s, as it was seen as an unnecessary artificial transplant from a foreign (Germany) educational system, which corrupted a system based on England's Oxbridge model.[94]

Ph.D.s and other research doctorates in the U.S. typically entail successful completion of pertinent classes, passing a comprehensive examination, and defending a dissertation.[95]

The median number of years for completion of US doctoral degrees is seven.[15] Doctoral applicants were previously required to have a master's degree, but many programs accept students immediately following undergraduate studies.[96][97] Many programs gauge the potential of a student applying to their program and grant a master's degree upon completion of the necessary Ph.D. course work.[citation needed] When so admitted, the student is expected to have mastered the material covered in the master's degree despite not holding one.[citation needed] Finishing Ph.D. qualifying exams confers Ph.D. candidate status, allowing dissertation work to begin.[citation needed]

The International Affairs Office of the U.S. Department of Education lists over 20 frequently awarded research doctorates titles accepted by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as representing degrees equivalent in research content to the Ph.D.[98]

Professional degrees

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Many fields offer professional doctorates, such as medicine/osteopathic medicine, public health, dentistry, optometry, pharmacy, psychology, speech-language pathology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, health science, advanced practice registered nurse, chiropractic, naturopathic medicine, law, architecture, education, teaching, business, and others that require such degrees for licensure. Some of these degrees are also termed "first professional degrees," since they are also the first field-specific degrees.

A Doctor of Pharmacy is awarded as the professional degree in Pharmacy replacing a Bachelor's. It is the only professional pharmacy degree awarded in the US. Pharmacy programs vary in length between 4 years for matriculants with a B.S./B.A. to 6 years for others.

In the twenty-first century professional doctorates appeared in other fields, such as the Doctor of Audiology in 2007. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses were expected to completely transition to the Doctor of Nursing Practice by 2015, and physical therapists to the Doctor of Physical Therapy by 2020. Professional associations play a central role in this transformation amid criticisms on the lack of proper criteria to assure appropriate rigor. In many cases Masters level programs were relabeled as doctoral programs.[99]

See also


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