Phd Programs


What does phd stand for  ?

Phd is the doctorate degree in any field. Historically phd stood for Doctorate in Philosphy. There is an interesting theory about why phd is doctorate of philosophy. Previously around 1700s science did not exist. There was no physics and chemistry. It was called natural philosophy or philosophy. That’s why  when Newton’s published his ground-breaking work, it was called “the principles of natural philosophy.”

The Doctor of Philosophy is the highest degree of education offered in the United States.  There is a PhD degree offered in all subject of studies.  For example, biology, chemistry, physics, philosophy, philosophy/law (combined PhD/JD), politics/law (combined PhD/JD), etc.  A more common dual degree is the MD/PhD which provide training in both medicine and research.  These programs are designed for those who want to become research physicians, or physician-scientists.  A MD/PhD graduate normally goes on to become a faculty member at medical schools or research institutes.

Choosing a PhD program is very important because it requires a lot of interest, passion, and commitment on one specific subject.  The USA’s Board on Higher Education and Workforce has published studies and research on ranking of all PhD programs offered at universities around the nation. Click here for a quick glance of all universities that offer PhD programs, who also participated in the studies.

It is difficult to determine what universities are best to pursue a PhD program.  Rather, it makes more sense to pursue the top PhD programs based on your interests.  However, to give you rough idea of the top rated PhD programs in the US, here is a list of universities ranked by their research findings (normally measured by Federal research funding):

  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Columbia University
  • Stanford University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • University of of Pennsylvania
  • Duke University
  • University of California – Los Angeles
  • Yale University
  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
  • Cornell University
  • University of Chicago
  • Boston College
  • Princeton University
  • Harvard University
  • Northwestern University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Brown University
  • Rice University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Tufts University
  • Emory University
  • University of Virginia
  • Georgetown University
  • College of William and Mary

Indeed, more popular and higher ranked universities are more selective of their candidates.

So what if you studied something totally unrelated to what you now want to pursue your PhD in?

The short answer is: it doesn’t matter.

In order to pursue a PhD degree, you need a Bachelor degree.  Some students have a Master’s degree, but this is not mandatory.  In terms of field of study, there will not be any university that tells you you can’t apply for a degree because your Bachelor’s degree is in an unrelated field.  However, that could be your disadvantage to you compared to other candidates, because graduate level by definition is advanced level of something.  At the same time, it has become more common that people pursue a different field for their Master’s to broaden knowledge or to change career direction.

For PhD it may be harder to go from B.A. in Political Science to PhD in Economics but if you are able to prove your interest and connect the two fields using your work experience and transferable skills, you probably will be able to convince admission that you are a strong candidate that bring in diversity of thinking.  Again, PhD is research, so if taking an internship or project in research is something that could help your case, you will have to do so.

Is work experience required for a PhD?

The short answer is: NO.

You want to be creative and do whatever you can to prove your case and why you are a good PhD candidate for the school.  Hypothetically, if you are suddenly hoping to change direction of your career and have not done research at all in your life, that would raise a red flag to the admission office.  In that case, taking up a research analyst position or internship is a good idea, then you can relate that to show your interest in doing academic research.

Another example is if you want to study PhD in Economics, you should make sure your math is solid, especially if you did not study math or something quantitative in your Bachelor’s.  Depending on your motivation to pursue your PhD field, just be sure to make a linkage to your previous academic or professional experience.

Can I do phd without doing Masters or without a Graduate degree ?

Sometimes students like to go for a phd right after completing their undergraduate or graduate degree for international students . Question is can you do phd without having a masters degree or a graduate degree  ? Short answer is yes you can do it but then it varies across various universities and program.

When it comes to chose between phd and Masters and  let us help you dissect and understand what and how each degree is like, before deciding which to apply for.  Both degrees are huge commitments, so it’s important to consider different factors. It is not just about getting a degree. Either of those degree will sail your career ship in a different direction

Differences between a PhD and a Master’s degree

PhD Master’s
Career objective Academic and research career Traditional professional career
Length of study 5-6 years full time 1-2 years full time, or longer part time
Costs Full scholarships and a living stipend Possible scholarships but do not come with admission automatically
Style Independent work, research including writing and reading More group work, projects, cases, problems
Path to obtain the degree
  • First three years you take core courses to fulfill degree requirements
  • Choose an academic advisors
  • Write a dissertation proposal / thesis
  • Work as research or teaching assistant
  • At the end of the second of third year, PhD students complete a thesis, take comprehensive exams, or both
  • From year four through six, you take fewer to no courses and focus on writing your dissertation.  You are required to present and your thesis in front of a faculty committee.  You will be given a chance to revise your dissertation if need be.
  • First year Master’s students take core courses to fulfill degree requirements and choose their specific concentrations, or electives, during the second year
  • May or may not have to complete a thesis
  • Has option to continue towards a PhD program