What is a PhD Degree?

The PhD, also known as the Doctor of Philosophy degree, is one of the most coveted achievements in the academic world. In most countries, the PhD is not necessarily a degree in the area of philosophy, and students can be awarded the Doctor of Philosophy in a wide variety of academic fields. The title of “doctor” is often given to individuals with a PhD.

PhD programs are the highest academic degrees awarded by universities in the United States. Most students complete the degree in five or six years. To obtain a PhD, most programs require extensive coursework and some form of intellectual activity outside of the traditional classroom. For many programs, this includes extensive research and the completion of a dissertation. Most programs require that students study under the careful supervision of a faculty advisor, which is one way for students to become familiar with research topics and methodology.

Due to the mentor system, admission to PhD programs is highly competitive. Applicants are often competing against hundreds of other prospective students for a handful of positions. Some programs accept students with a relevant undergraduate degree, but some PhD programs require the completion of a Master’s degree prior to admission.

The early years of the PhD program are dedicated to expanding the student’s knowledge of the academic field. Depending on the specific program, students are required to complete exams or a thesis at the end of the second or third year. During the first three years, students are also required to submit a thesis proposal and form a working relationship with a faculty mentor. After the third year, students are expected to dedicate a significant amount of time to the dissertation, so fewer traditional courses are required. Before the PhD can be conferred, candidates must defend their dissertations.

Individuals with a PhD from an accredited university can select a career in research, academia, or a specialized field.

New Directions for the PhD

Modern technology is changing PhD programs. Distance learning programs have become increasingly popular, and some doctoral programs are starting to follow the trend. It is somewhat difficult to establish a traditional working relationship with a faculty advisor through distance learning, so PhD programs are being forced to adapt. Some online programs allow students to complete the degree through virtual studies, but other online programs do require some time on a traditional campus.

Additional Resources

The Graduate School at Colorado State University
Imperial College London
PhD Degrees
The Princeton Review