What is a PhD?
PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy, a broad term for the doctorate that makes up a large portion of one of the two most common doctorate degrees in the United States, the Research Doctorate, and the other most common doctorate being the Professional Doctorate.
PhDs can be earned in many fields, including:
- Agricultural Sciences
- Art History
- Atmospheric Science & Meteorology
- Biological Sciences
- Biomedical Sciences
- Computer and Information Sciences
- Drama/Theatre Arts
- Foreign Languages & Literature
- Geological & Earth Sciences
- Health Sciences
- Human Resources Development
- Library Science
- Natural Resources
- Ocean/Marine Sciences
- Physical Sciences
- Public Administration
- Research and Administration
- Social Sciences
- Social Work
- Teacher Education
- Teaching Field
These are just a few of the many, many degrees that Universities and Colleges award. Some of them may be called by different names rather than PhD, depending on the school and program.
PhDs are often called earned degrees, or as mentioned previously research doctorates. PhD requirements include coursework and a large, original research project that is expected to provide a unique contribution to the student’s field of study. This is called a dissertation. Dissertations can take anywhere from 2 to potentially 10 years, which is the top limit allowed to complete a dissertation at many universities. Most US universities require that PhD candidates present their research findings to a committee of experts after they have completed their research and written their dissertation. This is referred to as defending their dissertation and is often the last step required before being awarded their PhD.
Why get a PhD?
For many fields and many institutions, the PhD is a terminal degree. In other words, it is the highest degree you can receive in that field. A PhD is required to teach as a Professor at a University and is often required for many research positions. If your goal is to work in academia, a PhD is essential.
What are the benefits of a PhD?
Having a PhD makes you more than a student of a subject. You’re seen as an authority in your field, with knowledge and expertise to share with others. You are a steward of knowledge. It is no longer yours just to know, but to protect, and to impart to others, to ensure that it thrives. It is a privilege and it offers prestige in certain circles, but it is also a responsibility.
Having a PhD means you’ll be positioned well to obtain a well-paying position. Unemployment rates are generally lower for those with PhDs, and starting salaries are generally higher. Be prepared to be creative about what you want to do with your degree. You might not immediately find the job you were expecting, but if you’re creative and open to possibilities, you may find yourself in a related niche that suits you even better and has better employment potential.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics addressed the issue of looking for jobs outside of academia and traditional research positions, particularly in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. While jobs teaching and doing academic research in STEM are becoming rarer, there are not nearly enough STEM graduates to fill jobs in private industry and some of the areas where STEM skills are necessary that are not academic in nature.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median wages for advanced degree holders (both Master’s and PhD) was an average of over $300 more weekly than the wages of Bachelor’s degree holders, and more than twice the weekly wages of workers with only a high school diploma!
Average Unemployment Rates
- HS Graduates, no college – 5.4%
- Bachelor’s degree or Higher – 2.5%
(Bureau of Labor Statistics – Apr 2015 – Mar 2016)