Types of Doctoral Degrees

Engineers must seek a Ph.D. if they wish to teach at a university.
Engineers must seek a Ph.D. if they wish to teach at a university. | Source

The Doctor of Philosophy

Mastery of the Philosophy of Learning

At college graduation ceremonies, the Ph.D.s are distinguished by their long hoods decorated with blue velvet. The blue velvet indicates "philosophy" even though the degree holder may have studied engineering, economics, music, or German literature. The philosophy designation is indicative of the research and study skills mastered by the student--a mastery of the philosophy of learning.

Long hoods with other colors indicate a doctorate degree that is not a Ph.D. For example, a Doctor of Divinity would have a red-trimmed hood indicating theology. A Doctor of Music would have pink velvet on his/her hood. These degrees are terminal degrees (the highest degree in a field) like the Ph.D. but have a different emphasis. Let's learn more about doctorates that are not Ph.D.s.

Professional Doctorates

Professional doctorates indicate mastery of a particular field of professional practice. Rather than a research dissertation, these programs may require practice and projects in the field of study. The degrees are similar in rigor to the Ph.D., but the substance is more practical than theoretical. Some professional doctorates include:

  • Ed.D. for education administrators
  • J.D. (Juris Doctor) for attorneys
  • M.D. for medical doctors
  • DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
  • DBA (Doctor of Business Administration.)

Those who wish to teach and do research at a university must usually have a Ph.D. Those who want to operate at the highest levels of a profession outside teaching and research may choose a professional doctorate instead. Fields such as law and medicine require professional doctorates (J.D. or M.D.) while other fields have choices. For example, a teacher may choose a Ph.D. in Education or an Ed.D., depending on whether he/she wants to work with the theoretical or practical aspects of education. Here is an excellent discussion of the Ph.D. versus the Ed.D from USC-Rossier. Nurses may likewise choose a Ph.D. in nursing if they want to teach or continue doing research or a DNP if they are pursuing advanced-practice nursing in a more hands-on way. Duke University has an article that contrasts the two doctoral degrees in nursing.


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4 comments

Tiffany Regan profile image

Tiffany Regan 2 years ago from Colorado

I am currently completing my Ed.D and I most definitely DO have to complete a research dissertation. Also, I am not in administration or a bureaucrat. I am a professor of literacy.


kschimmel profile image

kschimmel 2 years ago from North Carolina, USA Author

Interesting, since the university I worked at definitely preferred a Ph.D. for professors. Perhaps like MBAs it depends on where you get your degree--the level of rigor varies from institution to institution. Be sure your CV points out that you did a dissertation.


kschimmel profile image

kschimmel 2 years ago from North Carolina, USA Author

I have updated the hub to include links that clearly illustrate the distinctions between Ed.D. and Ph.D. and between DNP and Ph.D. When choosing a program of any kind, be sure to consult with practitioners in your chosen field to be sure you are on the right path in business, nursing, education, etc.


Tiffany Regan profile image

Tiffany Regan 2 years ago from Colorado

In my field, it makes no difference between an Ed.D and Ph.D. Two of my department chairs have Ed.Ds and the tenured faculty have a mix of the two. Every Ed.D program that I researched before I began required a dissertation. It is assumed among academia professionals that an Ed.D includes a dissertation.

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