A Doctor of Philosophy degree, abbreviated Ph.D., is the highest academic degree a person can earn. Because earning Ph.D. requires extended study and intense intellectual effort, less than one percent of the population attains the degree. Society shows respect for a person who holds a Ph.D. and addresses them with the title of “Doctor”.
A Ph.D. is the de facto union card for an academic position. Although it is possible to obtain an academic position without a Ph.D., the chances are low. Most colleges and universities require each member of their faculty to hold a Ph.D. and engage in research activities to ensure that the faculty has sufficient expertise to teach advanced courses and to encourage faculty members to remain current in their chosen field.
The PhD degree prepares students for careers in university teaching and research. The doctorate degree is most appropriate for students who desire to concentrate their study and research within a well-defined subject area and who are able to pursue advanced topics to a greater depth than do students in undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Doctoral students emphasize research as a major part of their degree programs. An active research program is a vital component of all doctoral programs regardless of the specific school or field of study. In fact, most of the research projects in the doctoral program utilize PhD candidates as research assistants.
To earn a Ph.D., a person must accomplish two things: master a specific subject completely, and extend the body of knowledge about the subject. To master a subject, a student searches the published literature to find and read everything that has been written about the subject. Each university establishes general guidelines that a student must follow to earn a Ph.D. degree, and each college or department within a university sets specific standards by which it measures mastery of a subject. Because examinations given as part of a Ph.D. curriculum assess expert knowledge, they are created and evaluated by a committee of experts, each of whom holds a Ph.D. degree.
The essence of a Ph.D., the aspect that distinguishes Ph.D. study from other academic work; can be summarized in a single word” “research. To extend knowledge, a person must explore, investigate, and contemplate. To complete a Ph.D., a person must present results from their research to the faculty in a lengthy, formal document called a dissertation. The student must then submit their dissertation to the faculty and defend their work by oral examination. Research shows that half of all doctoral students never get their degree? So, what is unique about the 50% who can put those letters after their name? It’s simple – they finished writing the dissertation.
Being a doctoral student can be a very isolated, lonely experience. For minorities, this is even more so, simply because there just are not a critical mass of minorities in the college and university classrooms (at the doctoral level) or in front of them.