Magoosh GRE

What is a PhD?

| May 27, 2013

“If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us. The free mind is no barking dog to be tethered on a ten-foot chain.”

Adlai E. Stevenson Jr. (1900-1965)

Never Stop LearningFor some people, learning and the pursuit of knowledge leads them to undertake further studies beyond a college degree. Engaging in post graduate studies, such as completing a PhD, is one way of gaining a high level of knowledge, expertise and specialization in a certain field. Most students pursue a PhD as a way to obtain maximum knowledge in a specific area in order to set themselves apart as subject matter experts.

A PhD, or formally known as a Doctor of Philosophy, is a postgraduate academic degree conferred by universities and is the highest academic degree that can be awarded to a student. At some institutions, a Doctor of Philosophy is known as a DPhil. This is different from professional doctorates such as an Engineering Doctorate (EngD).[1]

PhDs vary significantly, depending on the country and institution. However, a person who is awarded a PhD may be referred to as a doctor. This is society’s way of showing respect for a person who holds a PhD, taking into consideration the years of extended study and intense intellectual effort required to attain the degree.[2] PhDs are recognized around the world, so a PhD from one country will be accepted in another.

The term ‘philosophy’ must not be taken literally. It does not mean that the field of study is confined only to philosophy. Rather, philosophy is used in a broader context based on the term’s original Greek meaning – which is ‘love of wisdom.’ Moreover, in Europe, excluding theology, law and medicine, all fields of study were traditionally referred to as philosophy; while in Germany, the basic faculty of liberal arts was known as the faculty of philosophy. The Doctor of Philosophy as it is known today actually originated as a doctorate in the liberal arts at the Humboldt University of Berlin.

A PhD is a demonstration of research competence, which is accomplished through the completion of a PhD dissertation. A dissertation reflects competence and professionalism. It must show comprehension not only about the work of others but also one’s own.[3]

Due to its emphasis on research, a PhD is often viewed as a research training leading to a professional research qualification. A PhD involves a profound and specialised education in a specific discipline, usually preceding a post-doctoral period of on-the-job training. A PhD is proof that you are good enough to conduct independent research.[4]

A PhD is highly advisable for someone seeking to have an academic post. Teaching at the university level commonly requires a PhD. A PhD is also helpful for a career as a researcher in other industries and is often essential in scientific research. From a practical standpoint, an employee with a PhD usually gets a higher pay scale.[5]


[1] Jobs.ac.uk. (2013). What is a PhD? Available: http://www.jobs.ac.uk/careers-advice/studentships/1551/what-is-a-phd/. Last accessed 28th Mar 2013.

[2] PhD Project. (2012). What is a PhD? Available: http://www.phdproject.org/downloads/What_is_a_PhD.pdf. Last accessed 28th Mar 2013.

[3] Marian Petre & Gordon Rugg, The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research Open Up Study Skills. (Berkshire: Open University Press, 2010), 1-13

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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Category: Phd Writing