Doctorate in Science



A doctorate is an academic degree that indicates the highest level of academic achievement. A terminal degree in most countries, some Central and Eastern European countries place the doctorate second only to the habilitation. However, some doctorates, such as professional doctorates, are also first professional degrees.

The term doctorate comes from the Latin docere, meaning "to teach", shortened from the full Latin title licentia docendi, meaning "license to teach." This was translated from the equivalent Arabic term ijazat attadris, which was a distinction granted to certain Islamic scholars, thus qualifying them to teach.


The origin of the doctorate dates back to the ijazat attadris wa 'l-ifttd ("license to teach and issue legal opinions") in the medieval Madrasahs which taught Islamic law. It was equivalent to the Doctor of Laws qualification and was developed during the 9th century after the formation of the Madh'hab legal schools. To obtain a doctorate, a student "had to study in a guild school of law, usually four years for the basic undergraduate course" and at least ten years for a post-graduate course. The "doctorate was obtained after an oral examination to determine the originality of the candidate's theses," and to test the student's "ability to defend them against all objections, in disputations set up for the purpose" which were scholarly exercises practiced throughout the student's "career as a graduate student of law." After students completed their post-graduate education, they were awarded doctorates giving them the status of faqih (meaning "master of law"), mufti (meaning "professor of legal opinions") and mudarris (meaning "teacher"), which were later translated into Latin as magister, professor and doctor respectively.

The concept of a doctorate was soon introduced into Medieval Europe as a license to teach at a university. In this sense, 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", seven years, was the same as the term of apprenticeship 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.

The usage and meaning of the doctorate has changed over time, and it has also been 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 prospective lecturers to have completed a "research doctorate" became widespread. Additionally, universities' shifts to "research oriented" education increased the importance of the doctorate. Today such a doctorate is generally a prerequisite for pursuing an academic career, although not everyone who receives a research doctorate becomes a member of a university. 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.

Although the research doctorate is almost universally accepted as the standard qualification for an academic career, it is a relatively new invention. 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 demonstrates independent and thorough research, experience in teaching and lecturing and, more recently, the ability to generate funding within the area of research. The "habilitation" is regarded as a senior post-doctoral qualification, many years after the research doctorate, and can be necessary for a Privatdozent (in Germany) or professor position.

A similar system traditionally holds in Russia. Already in the Russian Empire the academic degree doctor of science (doktor nauk) marked the highest academic degree which can be achieved by an examination. This system was generally adopted by the USSR/Russia and many post-Soviet countries.

Types of doctorate

See Doctor (title) for more information.
Since the Middle Ages, there has been considerable evolution and proliferation in the number and types of doctorates awarded by universities throughout the world, and practices vary from one country to another. While a doctorate usually entitles one to be addressed as "doctor", usage of the title varies widely, depending on the type of doctorate earned and the doctor's occupation.

Broadly speaking, doctorates may be loosely classified into the following categories:

Research doctorates

Research doctorates are awarded in recognition of both mastery of research methods (as evidenced in class grades and a comprehensive examination) and academic research that is ideally publishable in a peer-reviewed academic journal, but that will minimally be assessed by submission and defense of a thesis or dissertation. The best-known degree of this type is that of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD/DPhil) awarded throughout the world but others include the US degrees of Doctor of Engineering (DEng) and Doctor of Education (EdD), the UK Engineering Doctorate (EngD), and the German degree Doctor rerum naturalium (Dr.rer.nat.).

The minimum time required to earn a doctorate varies by country, and can be as short as three years (excluding bachelor's and master's studies). However, some candidates can take anywhere from five to ten years to complete. The mean number of years to completion of doctoral degrees for all fields in the US is seven years. Students are discouraged from taking unnecessarily long to graduate by having their financial support (stipends, research funds, etc.) relinquished. Furthermore, doctoral applicants were previously required to have a master's degree, but many programs will now accept students straight out of undergraduate studies.

Higher doctorates

In some countries, especially the United Kingdom, Ireland and some Scandinavian, Commonwealth nations or former USSR and other Socialist Bloc countries, there is a higher tier of research doctorates, awarded on the basis of a formally submitted portfolio of published research of a very high standard. Examples include the Doctor of Sciences (DSc/ScD) and Doctor of Letters (DLitt/LittD) degrees found in the UK, Ireland and some Commonwealth countries, some older Norwegian doctorates like dr.techn. (technology) and dr.agric. (agriculture), and the Danish doctorate (doktorgrad; e.g. dr.theol., doctor theologiæ, Latin for Doctor of Theology).

The German habilitation postdoctoral qualification is sometimes regarded as belonging to this category, even though, strictly speaking, the habilitation is not an academic degree, but rather a professional license to teach at a German university.

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.

Professional doctorates

Professional doctorates are awarded in certain fields where most holders of the degree are not engaged primarily in scholarly research, but rather in a profession, such as law, medicine, pharmacy, music or ministry. Examples include the U.S. degrees of Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Juris Doctor (JD), the Dutch Professional Doctorate in Engineering (PDEng), and the Czech degrees of Doctor of Dental Medicine (MDDr.) and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (MVDr.).

The term Professional Doctorate is also used to refer to research doctorates with a focus on applied research, or research as used for professional purposes. Among others, these include the degrees of Doctor of Practical Theology (DPT), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and Doctor of Professional Studies (DPS in the U.S. or DProf in the U.K.), Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Science in Physical Therapy (DSc or DScPT), and some others in various specified professional fields.

Honorary doctorates

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. Some universities (e.g., Cornell University, the University of Virginia) do not award honorary degrees, feeling the bestowal unethical.

Country-specific practice


Similar to other countries, in Argentina the doctorate (doctorado) is the highest. The intention is that candidates produce true and original contributions in a specific field of knowledge within a frame of academic excellence. The doctoral candidate's work should be presented in a dissertation or thesis prepared under the supervision of a tutor or director, and reviewed by a Doctoral Committee. This Committee should be composed of examiners external to the program, and at least one of them should also be external to the institution. The academic degree of Doctor is received after a successful defense of the candidate’s dissertation. Currently, there are approximately 2,151 postgraduate careers in the country, of which 14% were doctoral degrees. Doctoral programs in Argentina are overseen by the Comisión Nacional de Evaluación y Acreditación Universitaria, which is a decentralized agency in Argentina’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.


In France, the doctorate (doctorat) is always a research-only degree. It is a national degree and its requirements are fixed by an official text of the minister of higher education and research. Except for a very small number of private institutions, only public institutions of higher education and research can award the doctorate. It can be awarded in any field of study. The master's degree in research (Master Recherche) or the former diplôme d'études approfondies (DEA) is a prerequisite for pursuing a doctoral program. The official normal duration of the doctoral work is three years. The redaction of a comprehensive thesis constitutes the bulk of the doctorate's work. While the length of the thesis varies according to the discipline, it is rarely less than 300 pages, and often substantially more (unlike in the US for example). There are ~15000 new matriculations for the doctoral program every year and ~10000 doctorates awarded.

Doctoral candidates can apply for a three-year fellowship, the most well known being the allocation de recherche du ministère de l'enseignement supérieur et de la recherche (4000 granted every years, gross salary of 18,369 euros in February 2007).

During the preparation of the doctorate, the candidate has had, since 2002, to follow a limited number of courses, but there is no written examination for the doctorate. The candidate has to write an extensive thesis which is read by two external reviewers designated by the head of the institution. According to the reports of the reviewer, the head of the institution decides whether the candidate can defend his thesis or not. The members of the jury are designated by the head of the institution and must be composed of external and internal academics. The supervisor of the candidate is generally member of the jury, as well as the reviewers of the thesis. The maximum number of members in the jury is 8. The defense lasts generally 45 minutes in scientific fields and are followed by 1h30 - 2h30 of questions from the jury. Defense and questions are public. At the end of the series of questions, the jury deliberates in private for 20-30 min and comes back to declare the candidate admitted or "postponed". "Postponement" is very rare. The admission of the candidate is generally followed by a distinction: "honourable", which is not highly considered, "very honourable", which is the usual distinction, and "very honourable with the congratulation of the jury" (Très honorable avec félicitations). Because there exist no national criteria for the award of this last distinction, many institutions have decided not to award it. New regulations concerning this distinction were set in 2006.

Confusingly the title of doctor (docteur) is used only by the medical and pharmatical practitioners who hold not a doctorate but a doctor's state diploma (diplôme d'État de docteur), which is a first-degree and professional doctorate obtained after at least 9 years of studies. As they do not pursue research studies, they are not awarded a doctorate.

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 that the state doctorate, and the diploma of doctor-engineer (diplôme de docteur-ingénieur), created in 1923, for technical research. Since 1984, there is only one type of doctoral degree, simply called "doctorate" (Doctorat). A special diploma has been created called the "habilitation to supervise research" (habilitation à diriger des recherches), which is 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.


A research doctorate usually takes three to five years to complete. In Germany, most doctorates are awarded with specific designations for the field of research instead of a general "PhD" for all fields. The degree is written in front of the first name for addresses (within texts, the abbreviation "Dr." is common) and accompanies the person's name (unlike in German-speaking Switzerland).

Upon the completion of the habilitation paper (Habilitationsschrift) a senior doctorate (habil.) is awarded. This senior doctorate is known as the habilitation. It is not a degree, but an additional qualification. It authorizes the owner to teach at (German) universities ("facultas docendi"), plus qualifies the holder of the "habil." to teacher in a certain subject ("venia legendi"). This or an equivalent professional experience is - traditionally - the necessary prerequisite for a position of Privatdozent and Professor. Now, with the Bachelor/Master model and the Juniorprofessoren to be introduced, this has already changed partially.


In India doctorate level degrees are offered by the universities or institutions of national level importance deemed to be universities. Entry requirements for doctorate degrees by most of the universities include good academic background at masters level(post graduate degree). Some universities also consider undergraduate degrees in professional areas such as engineering, medicine or law for entrance to doctorate level degrees. Entrance examinations are held for almost all the universities for admission to doctoral level degrees. The duration of the coursework and thesis for award of the degree is about 5 years. The most commonly awarded doctoral level degree is Ph.D. There are some other doctoral level degrees such as DBA (Doctorate of Business Administration), LLD (Doctorate in Laws) and D.Sc (Doctorate in Science). Some of the institutions of the national level importance such as Indian Institute of Management call their doctoral level programmes as fellow programme. -->


Doctor Degrees are regulated by Royal Decree (R.D. 778/1998), Decreto Real (in Spanish). They are granted by the University on behalf of the King, and its Diploma has the force of a public document. The Ministry of Science keeps a National Registry of Theses called TESEO . According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), less than 5% of M.Sc. degree holders are admitted to Ph.D. programs, and less than 10% of 1st year Ph.D. students are finally granted a Doctorate.

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

1) A 3-year long period of studies, which concludes with a public dissertation presented to a panel of 3 Professors. If the projects receives approval from the university, he/she will receive a "Diploma de Estudios Avanzados" (part qualified doctor).

2) A 2-year (or longer) period of research. Extensions may be requested for up to 10 years. The student must write his thesis presenting a new discovery or original contribution to Science. If approved by his "thesis director", the study will be presented to a panel of 5 distinguished scholars. Any Doctor attending the public presentations is allowed to challenge the candidate with questions on his research. If approved, he will receive the doctorate. Four marks can be granted (Unsatisfactory, Pass, "Cum laude", and "Summa cum laude"). Those Doctors granted their degree "Summa Cum Laude" are allowed to apply for an "Extraordinary Award".

A Doctor Degree is required in order to apply to a teaching position at the University.

The social standing of Doctors in Spain is evidenced by the fact that only Doctors and Grandees/Dukes can take seat and cover their heads before the King. All Doctorate Degree holders are reciprocally recognized as equivalent in Germany and Spain ("Bonn Agreement of November 14th 1994").

United Kingdom

All doctorates (except for those awarded honoris causa) granted by British universities are research doctorates in the sense described above, in that their main (and in many cases only) component is the submission of a thesis or portfolio of original research, examined by an expert panel appointed by the university. The Quality Assurance Agency states:

Even the relatively new 'vocational doctorates' such as the EngD, EdD, DSocSci and DClinPsych require the submission of a body of original research of a similar length to a PhD thesis. In the case of the EngD, 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, long monographical thesis. Another important difference is that traditional PhD programs are mostly academic-oriented and normally require full-time study at the university, whereas, in an EngD program, 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.

The PhD itself is a comparatively recent introduction to the UK, dating from 1917. It was originally introduced in order to provide a similar level of graduate research training as was available in several other countries, notably Germany and the USA. Previously, the only doctorates available were the higher doctorates, awarded in recognition of an illustrious research career.

The universities of Oxford and Sussex denote the degree of Doctor of Philosophy with the postnominal initials DPhil. The University of York also did this for some years, switching to the more conventional PhD quite recently.

Higher doctorates in the United Kingdom

Higher doctorates are awarded in recognition of a substantial body of original research undertaken over the course of many years. Typically the candidate will submit a collection of work which has been previously published in a peer-refereed context. Most universities restrict candidacy to graduates or academic staff of several years' standing. The most common doctorates of this type are those in Divinity (DD), Medicine (MD or DM), Laws (LLD), Civil Law (DCL), Music (DMus or MusD), Letters (DLitt or LittD) and Science (DSc or ScD).

Of these, the DD historically ranked highest, theology being the senior faculty in the mediaeval universities. The degree of Doctor of Canon Law 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, a consequence of the fact that the teaching of canon law at Cambridge and Oxford was forbidden by Henry VIII, founder of the Church of England. The DMus 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 DLitt and DSc are relatively recent innovations, dating from the latter part of the 19th century.

Honorary doctorates in the United Kingdom

Most British universities award degrees honoris causa in order 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 achievements of the candidate. However, some universities, in order to differentiate between honorary and substantive doctorates, have introduced the degree of Doctor of the University (DUniv) for these purposes, and reserve the higher doctorates for formal academic research.

United States

Research doctorate in the United States

The most common research doctorate is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). This degree was first awarded in the U.S. at the 1861 Yale University commencement. The University of Pennsylvania followed shortly thereafter in 1870, while Harvard (1872) and Princeton (1879) also followed suit.

The requirements for obtaining Ph.D.s and other research doctorates in the U.S. typically entail successful completion of pertinent classes, passing of a comprehensive examination, and defense of a dissertation.

Other fields of study also have their own research doctorates, including the doctorate of theology and the doctor of juridical science, among many others.

Professional doctorates in the United States

In the United States, there are numerous degrees which incorporate the word "doctor" and are known as "professional doctorates." Such fields include audiology, chiropractic, dentistry, law, medicine, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathic medicine, Nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, podiatry, practical theology, veterinary medicine, and many others that usually require such degrees for licensure, including several in development such as that for medical physics. These degrees are also termed "first professional degrees," since they are also the first degree in their field.

Professional doctorates were developed in the United States in the 19th century during a movement to improve the training of professionals by raising the requirements for entry and completion of the degree necessary to enter the profession. These first professional degrees were created to help strenghten professional training programs. The first professional doctorate to be offered in the United States was the M.D. in 1807, which was nearly sixty years before the first Ph.D. was awarded in the U.S. in 1861. The Juris Doctor (J.D.) was subsequently established by Harvard University for the same reasons that the M.D. was established.

Professional doctorates in Korea and Japan

As part of a reform plan adopted in 2004, South Korea is creating a system of American-style graduate law schools which will award a Juris Doctor (professional doctoral) degree. Only graduates of these law schools, scheduled to matriculate their first students in 2009, will be eligible to take the bar exam. In Japan, a similar reform was started in 2004 and the degree of Juris Doctor is awarded to graduates of three year graduate studies in law.

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