What does PHD Stand for?

Definition and Meaning

Though the post-graduate degree designation Ph.D. is literally defined as “Doctor of Philosophy” – from the Latin Doctor Philosophiae – this type of university-bestowed doctorate does not refer to the field of philosophy proper in every instance. Degree standards vary immensely between countries, institutions and time periods, but from entry-level research degrees to higher honors, the term is used more in accordance with the Greek origin of the term, “love of wisdom”. One who is studying to attain a doctorate is generally called a doctoral student, Ph.D. student or D.Phil. student, but anyone who does have a doctorate bestowed upon them automatically receives the academic title “Doctor”. All fields with the exceptions of theology, law, and medicine have been traditionally known as “philosophy” across much of Europe. Elsewhere on the continent, such as among Germany’s institutions, the basic faculty of (liberal) arts is deemed the faculty of philosophy.

Any pursuit of a doctorate degree is highly research-intensive by nature. The intent of this standard of rigor is for the doctoral student to eventually add to the field’s collective knowledge base through the advent of new, groundbreaking projects. This is likely why so many Ph.D.s ultimately embark on academic careers as researchers and professors. However, many a Ph.D. is also widely regarded in his or her field as being exceptionally qualified for higher leadership positions in nonprofit, public and private sectors.

Doctoral students have already earned Bachelor’s degrees and many have also attained Master’s degrees, depending on the requisites of the Ph.D. program. After taking courses and exams in their initial stages of Ph.D. candidacy, doctoral students proceed to design dissertation research while attending advanced seminars. In the final stage, candidates research, write and defend a doctoral-level thesis called a dissertation. The purpose is to demonstrate the depth and breadth of the doctoral student’s research into a single topic. This is almost always the ultimate, definitive test of a student’s worthiness of a doctorate and incomplete dissertations send many candidates off their studies entirely, content to describe their doctoral progress on resumes with the designation “ABD” – All But Dissertation.

Depending on the program’s standards, many doctorates consume up to eight years of study and research before the dissertation stage, though that time frame may depend on whether a student commences doctoral studies immediately after attaining an undergraduate degree or first pursues and completes a Master’s degree, in addition to the time spent completing the dissertation.

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