What is a Ph. D.?
Ph. D. is an abbreviation for Doctor of Philosophy. It
comes from the Latin term for teacher of philosophy, "PhilosophiÃ¦
Doctor". It is an advanced academic degree that is above the
Bachelors degree as well as the Masters degree. This doctorate
degree is considered the highest level of degree awarded by
universities in much of English-speaking world.
Doctoral programs vary greatly across the world. In the United
States, doctoral education usually takes at least 5 years. In
Europe, the Ph.D. is usually at least 3 years and may be structured
or consist mostly of informal individual training. A Ph.D.
involves devoting several years of intense research on a single
You can get a Ph. D. in one of many areas. For example, the
University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, offers PhDs in
Accounting, Applied Mathematics, Biology, Chemical Engineering,
Computer Science, English, German, Physics, Psychology, Sociology,
and Statistics - and these are just a few! Other universities can
also offer a variety of different programs at the PhD level.
What does earning a Ph. D. consist of?
The main goal of a Ph. D. is research training.
A Ph. D. requires you to conduct a research project of your own.
Learning techniques, doing experiments, and interpreting data are
all part of this research.
A typical program will require you to: complete course work, choose
a thesis lab, TA classes, pass a qualifying exam, and defend your
thesis. You will have to plan out your research project, execute it
and keep on top of the newest literature in the field you are
studying. You will then present your work to the academic community
through meetings and publications.
A candidate must submit a thesis
consisting of an appropriate work of original academic research,
worthy of publication in their academic community. Usually this
work will be assessed by a panel of expert examiners to determine
if you will earn your Ph. D.
Why is a Ph. D. important?
Beyond the expertise in academic research and technical ability, a
Ph. D. can offer something beyond this. Mihir Bellare, a Professor
in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the
University of California in San Diego, describes the Ph. D.
experience as this:
"The Ph.D experience is about much more than learning to do deep
work in some technical area.
You should get a sense of confidence in the power of rational
thought and the range of its applicability. Everything in life is a
problem of some sort of the other. How often do we think about it
that way, and approach methodically the job of solving it? After a
Ph.D you should have the inclination and ability to research
anything, whether it be mortgages, biology, cooking or Toyota
engines, and the expectation that you will understand it.
You should get the confidence and inclination to question all
that is around you and seek out new ways of doing it or seeing it.
You should be more likely to ask why things are done a certain why,
and how it could be made better.
A Ph. D should give you the confidence that you can jump into a new
area, pick it up quickly, and have something interesting to say
about it, even if other people have looked at this area for a long
time. More than depth in any one area it should give you the
courage to jump from area to area.
You might increase your appreciation for creativity, in other
people and in all areas of life. You might view art differently, or
think differently about music you hear, more appreciative of what
it took to do this and how it departed from the previous works. You
should learn to value creativity and seek it out.
It will install a sense of taste and a critical sense. It should
make you unwilling to accept the common standards and norms, and to
put them to the test of your own intellect and opinions. You should
naturally find yourself questioning things. You should be willing
to contradict conventional widsom. That doesn't mean being a rebel
just for the sake of it; you are too mature for that. It just means
being constructively critical."
Of course, this is a personal reflection by the professor, but it
certainly gives you an idea of what a Ph. D. can offer in the long
What careers can I have with a Ph. D.?
The Ph.D. has become a common requirement if you wish to pursue a
career as a university or college professor
that area of study, because it demonstrates your expertise in that
If you want to work in applied research
technology and eventually manage your own lab or group, a Ph. D.
would also be a major prerequisite in achieving this goal.
While teaching and research are obvious choices for graduates with
a Ph. D., many of them also go on to careers in government
, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or in
the private sector.
Bellare, University of California