Career Information for a Doctorate Degree Program

Jul 12, 2021

Careers in research and academia typically require a doctoral degree. Research scientists and postsecondary teachers need to complete this level of training to qualify for careers in their fields. It is common for clergy to also pursue this level of education.

Essential Information

A doctorate is the highest possible academic degree, and it signifies that you're an expert in the field studied. Students who obtain this degree are generally considered to be equal in educational attainment to the university faculty under which they studied. There are three types of doctorate degrees: research, terminal/professional and honorary.

Research doctorates, such as the Ph.D., are usually awarded in recognition of academic research and most often lead to university careers. Professional doctorates are bequeathed at the completion of a doctorate program for non-academic disciplines, such as the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Juris Doctor (J.D.). Honorary doctorates are awarded for a substantial contribution to a field and do not follow completion of a specific program.

The following are a few doctorate-level careers that students might consider:

Career Postsecondary Teacher Research Scientist Clergy
Required Education Doctoral degree Doctoral degree Varies by position, but some hold a doctorate in theology
Projected Job Growth (2020-2028)* 9% for all postsecondary teachers Varies by specialty; for example, 7% for physicists and astronomers; 6% for medical scientists 6%
Median Salary (2020)* $71,950 for postsecondary teachers, all other $128,950 for physicists and astronomers; $91,510 for medical scientists $51,940

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Given the various types of doctorate degree programs, the career options are vast. Graduates interested in pursuing a career in academia can become professors or research scientists, while religiously inclined students can become members of the clergy. Read below to find descriptions of possible careers following completion of doctorate degree programs:

Postsecondary Teachers

Most teaching jobs at 4-year colleges require a completed doctorate degree. Postsecondary teachers, or professors, are expected to know how to motivate and teach others, and they must be experts in their respective fields. Some postsecondary teachers may be responsible for curriculum design, as well as presentations in both classroom and small-group environments.

These teachers are usually expected to pursue original, independent research and publish regularly in peer-reviewed journals. To aid in the learning process, lecturers typically assign homework, which is then marked and returned to the student with comments on progress. Many professors also design and administer tests and exams.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),, predicted a 9% job growth for postsecondary teachers between 2020 and 2028, as public interest in higher education grows. The median salary for postsecondary teachers in general was $71,950 as of May 2020.

Research Scientists

Entomology, etymology, astrophysics, sociobiology and limnology are just some of the scientific research specialties in which holders of a doctorate can conduct. Scientists postulate a hypothesis and then design experiments to either prove or disprove the hypothesis. Much of this experimentation is carried out under laboratory conditions, although in some disciplines more data comes from field research and observation.

Research is generally reviewed by peers for publication in scholarly journals. For this reason, experiments must be repeatable, falsifiable (able to be proven wrong if contradictory data arises) and predictive, and results must be consistently collated and interpreted. For scientific researchers, career outlooks depend on the industry. According to the BLS, the median salary for physicists and astronomers as of May 2020 was $128,950. Medical scientists (excluding epidemiologists) earned a median salary of $91,510 at that same time.


If they're not aiming to become professors of comparative religion, people with a completed doctoral degree in theology usually end up working in the clergy. Members of the clergy are religious and spiritual leaders responsible for teaching and voicing their religious faith to parishioners. Duties vary depending on specific churches and denominations, but most clergy workers are required to lead their parishes in worship, administer sacraments and guide religious educational programs.

They're also expected to act as community leaders and models. Many clergy visit the sick and dying, comfort the bereaved and help parishioners through marriage counseling and personal problems. The median salary for clergy members in May 2020, according to the BLS, was $51,940.

A doctoral degree requires several years of postsecondary study, and completing a doctoral degree qualifies graduates to be considered experts in their field. Postsecondary teachers and research scientists are required to have a doctoral degree. Members of the clergy may opt to pursue a doctoral degree, although it isn't always required for them to begin their career.

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