Different types of PhD

Students often have many questions about PhD’s. Is a doctoral degree a PhD? What’s the difference? The pinnacle of education is that of a PhD, doctorate qualification. But did you know that there are different types of PhDs, and how do you choose the right one for you and how can you get PhD help?

‘PhD’ or Doctor of Philosophy is the most widely known higher qualification. However, there are other types of PhD degrees that specialise in particular subjects or are professional degrees completed in a different format.

Here’s what you need to know about all the higher education degrees available.

PhD/DPhil (Doctor of philosophy)

Many think that DPhil and PhD are different degrees but they are only different names for the same thing. DPhil, an abbreviation for Doctor of Philosophy, is a British term but is hardly used by many universities any more. An academic PhD can be studied in all subjects and are not restricted to certain fields.

A PhD typically involves independent and original research in a particular field or subject. Some PhD degree courses include taught parts, however, the main focus of the course is the completion of a publishable thesis as a result of the independent research.

PhD’s can range from three to four years long for full time students and as long as seven years for part time PhD students. The majority of PhD courses require a Masters degree qualification to apply, however, applications with significant professional experience may be accepted with lower qualifications.

This degree is also an academic type PhD. Aiming to advance theoretical understanding of a subject and often, helping students to advance in their careers rather than focusing on professional development. As a result, PhDs are typically awarded in traditional academic subjects.

Th.D (Doctor of theology)

A Th.D is a PhD equivalent degree, however, it can only be undertaken in Christian theology. As a result, this degree is only offered by universities with religious connections. Whereas, a PhD allows students to study any religion and are usually available at most universities. As this is an academic type degree, students will undertake this qualification for careers in academia, leadership, or ministry.

Professional type Doctorates

Another type of higher education is professional type PhD’s. These are higher degrees awarded as part of professional registration such as in fields like Medicine. Or studied as a professional development qualification for career advancing reasons. Often, these degrees are supported by employers as they explore more vocational subjects and aim for a career outside of academia.

In addition, these degrees are taught differently to traditional PhDs including more practical work rather than just theoretical independent study or thesis writing. These degrees reply on smaller research projects, shorter theses, and taught practical work. As a result of this approach, applicants will often need professional experience in the field or subject of study.

DBA (Doctorate in business administration)

A DBA is a PhD equivalent qualification in business administration and management. As a professional type degree, there are key differences between a DBA and a standard PhD. Most notably, a DBA combines management theory with training in the methodologies and techniques necessary to carry out the research.

These degrees are now offered worldwide and take around 4-6 years to complete. A DBA is designed for experienced professional applicants such as those in senior positions, those with an MBA or equivalent looking for a higher qualification, and those looking to refine skills for business development. Therefore, this degree is not suitable for a student straight from a masters degree.

DProf (Doctorate of professional studies)

A doctorate of professional studies can be undertaken in any subject like a PhD. However, it focuses on professional development within your chosen work context. Often, the study can be inspired by the students own experience within the field and so the degree can be untaken within a profession or can be more individual.

Each course will vary between subjects and institutions which can mean the subject area you are interested in may only be available at certain universities. Again, this course predominantly includes a large taught part and then self-study presented as a thesis.

EdD/ D.Ed (Doctorate of education)

An EdD is a professional type equivalent PhD qualification in Education. This program is designed for experienced teachers or people in other education roles. Who may be looking to move into more senior roles, work into a totally different role in education, or is interested in contributing to research in the sector.

EdD courses are usually taught in two distinct parts. The first part will focus more on taught modules or trainings in various theories relevant to education and practices essential for the research part of the course. This section is what makes this course more differentiated to a traditional PhD. The second phase of the degree focuses on independent research for a thesis.

Please note, this degree is not a teaching qualification and you should consider a PGCE or other postgraduate teaching qualification.

Other professional type PhD equivalent degrees include:

DSoc/Sci (Doctorate of social science)

This type of PhD can cover a variety of topics including management science, psychology, or political science.

EngD (Doctorate of engineering)

An EngD is a PhD equivalent qualification in engineering and applied sciences and includes working closely with a company throughout the degree. This program is suitable for engineering professionals, those looking for higher employment options, or those wanting to contribute to theory and research in their field.

DArch (Doctorate of Architecture)

Less commonly heard of than others, a DArch is a PhD equivalent in Architecture. This qualification helps to prepare students for a career in architecture. Often covering topics like architectural theory, architectural communication, technology, and management.

MD (Doctor of medicine)

A doctorate level degree in medicine and health studies and typically requires students to have years’ worth of postgraduate experience. As a professional type higher degree, this course will combine research and clinical practice.

Are there other types of higher degrees similar to a PhD?

The simple answer is, yes. There are other qualification types that can be deemed similar to a PhD, however, they are not studied in the same way and typically awarded after years of study and professional development. Therefore, they aren’t likely to apply to you but we have included them for your information.

These include Higher Doctorates like, (Doctor of):

  • Civil Law (DCL)
  • Divinity (DD)
  • Literature/Letters (DLit/DLitt/LitD/LittD)
  • Music (DMus/MusD)
  • Science (DS/SD/DSc/ScD)
  • Law (LLD)

Higher Doctorates are awarded after the review of a portfolio of published and peer-review research that has been completed over a number of years. This type of degree is awarded as a way to recognise and acknowledge esteemed researchers later in their career.

Another type of higher degree is that of an Honorary Degree. This qualification is awarded to celebrate an individual’s achievements within their field. Usually, it is granted by a university and doesn’t require a record of their academic or professional work like a higher doctorate does.

difference between thesis and dissertation

How do you choose the right PhD Level course for you?

As we have outlined, there are many different types of PhD. Choosing the right PhD course for you is extremely important. Not only are they expensive but they require a huge time and energy investment in studying and conducting research. So how do you decide which course to undertake?

Start by evaluating your goals

What is your goal as a result of this qualification? If you are looking for further career advancement and have been practicing in your field already for a few years, then a professional type doctorate is your best choice. However, if you are looking to contribute to your field of study with original and independent research or are pursuing a career in academia, then a standard PhD degree is for you. Perhaps you would prefer more taught sections of a degree to help develop your research skills and develop as an expert, then a professional type degree would be better.

Look at the subject area you are interested in

Is there a specific professional type degree in your field? If so, and your goal is professional development, then a professional type degree is your best choice. This degree not only allows you to conduct research and be taught skills, they often work with companies or in practical settings.

However, if there is no subject specific degree for your field, then a traditional PhD is best for you. This qualification gives you much more freedom of choice of what and where you study. PhD Centre have many PhD services to help you from the application and proposal to the full PhD thesis writing.

When do you want to study a PhD degree?

Are you wanting to study a PhD straight after a Masters degree? Often, a PhD might develop on from your Masters degree research. Therefore, a traditional PhD can be the best option if you are looking to pursue higher level study within a short time span from graduating at masters level. On the other hand, if you are already well established in your career, a professional type degree can help build on your experience and expertise and may not be suitable straight out of postgraduate study.

Final thoughts on the types of PhDs

We are sure there are more PhD degrees out there than you might have first thought. The variety and different types of PhD available provide you with many options and methods of gaining a doctorate in your chosen field. What degree is your best choice?