Doctoral degrees represent the highest level of graduate school, and they come in two categories: PhD and applied. In order to earn this prestigious degree, students must present a doctoral project or dissertation. In order to choose a program that suits your needs as a student as well as your goals, understanding the similarities and differences between PhDs and Professional Doctorates is key.  

What are PhD Degrees?  

A PhD is a postgraduate doctoral degree, the Doctor of Philosophy. The PhD is the most common type of doctorate. It was developed in the nineteenth century from the modern research university.  

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Prior to the introduction of the PhD, higher education focused on the mastery of a scholarship which was considered the highest academic rank, a master’s degree. The focus shifted when an opportunity was recognized to expand and deepen scholarly knowledge beyond a master’s level.  

PhDs are often sought out for the purpose of becoming a researcher or university instructor. They are great for those who wish to further the study of a particular field. A PhD also increases your chances in the job market outside of academia, though these opportunities are more limited. 

Earning a PhD comes with a wide range of benefits too. Becoming an expert in a specific field, enhancing problem-solving, critical reasoning, and analytical skills allow graduates to continue the work of previous researchers as well as teach the next generation. Earning the title of “doctor” also remains a significant honor reserved for graduates at the doctoral level. 

The PhD Research Process 

A PhD is a research-based degree which involves: 

  • Conducting a literature review. 
  • Performing original research and collecting results. 
  • Producing and writing a thesis or dissertation to present research conclusions. 
  • Presenting and defending the thesis or dissertation in an oral exam.  

The first step of the process is carrying out a literature review. In order to ensure student work is original, they must examine existing literature. It also offers an opportunity to refine the topic of study. 

After conducting a literature review, students spend their time carrying out the core research for their dissertation. This includes more experiments and research, as well as identifying applicable results. 

Throughout the research project, the thesis will continuously evolve to include study results and data analysis. Then, students compile results in order to structure and write the full dissertation. 

The dissertation will go through a process of edits and review before students submit their project for the final oral exam. The oral exam includes defending the dissertation to examiners both internal and external. When students complete a successful doctoral defense, they earn their doctorate degree. 

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Professional Doctorate Degree   

A professional doctorate degree is designed for working professionals. This degree helps professionals advance their careers, increase their skills and earn more credibility and leadership. Much like a PhD, a professional doctorate degree helps students prepare for careers in varied subjects, including law, education, medicine, and many others. Depending on the institution, the program can take up to five years to complete.  

Professional doctorate degrees include Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Doctor of Education (EdD), and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), among others. These programs focus on real-world application where professionals directly contribute to one’s field.  

Research for professional doctorates applies existing theories to real-world problems. Candidates create solutions to issues within specific fields and design effective professional practices throughout the program.   

CalSouthern programs offer professional doctorate degree in the Doctor of Business (DBA) and Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). The doctorates are devoted to advanced practical applications of theory in the professional setting. Along with rigorous yet flexible coursework, CalSouthern emphasizes relationship building and networking to ensure students have the support they need and the growth opportunities they seek.  

The Doctoral Study Process  

Professional doctorate students learn research methods, research design, and how to present results in a scholarly paper called doctoral study. The process involves finding an existing issue within the relevant field and then presenting a practical solution.  

The doctoral study process involves:  

  • Drafting a proposal of the study’s purpose. 
  • Presenting an oral defense of the research proposal. 
  • Collecting data and assembling findings.  
  • Presenting the final oral defense of research findings.

Students go through the process of identifying the problem, providing a description of the design and methodology, and any other relevant work. Students typically work with committees and relevant cohort members who guide them through the proposal process.  The committee also submits proposals for review to the university. Once approved, students set up the oral defense.  

Through doctoral study completion, learners will collect, analyze, and report findings, completing the rest of the doctoral study and project. The study then goes through another process of reviews and revisions until the final oral presentation. Once the oral defense is approved and study is submitted, students earn their doctorate degree. 

Differences Between Dissertations and Doctoral Projects  

While a PhD focuses on extended research that results in a dissertation, professional degrees derive a solution to an existing problem in the relevant field.  

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Another difference is the length of a dissertation compared to a doctoral project. Depending on the length of the program, a doctoral project can take 2-8 quarters to complete. On the other hand, a dissertation can take 4-8 quarters to complete.  

The dissertation is broken up into chapters consisting of the introduction, literature review, methodology, results, and discussion. Each chapter is typically 10-20 pages. Dissertations can be around 150-300 pages depending on the revision and review process.  

In a doctoral study, pages can be written much shorter. The study can be 100 pages. This includes the project description around 10,000-12,000 characters. The document includes a title, table of contents, study plan, footnotes, and references.  

The commonalities of a dissertation and doctoral study is the programs are to prepare students to apply their research skills into the real-world. These type of programs takes a lot of effort in preparation and building strong research, writing, and critical thinking skills.  

While both include formal research and data analysis, understanding the differences can help guide potential students to choose the program that is right for them. If you’re ready to apply for a doctorate, click here! 

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