PhD Program Guide on

Ph.D. programs award research degrees for advanced graduate study. They often mark the highest form of education one can receive in a given subject. This article details the Ph.D. process, lists subjects in which one can earn a Ph.D. and suggests how to search for Ph.D. programs.

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Ph.D. Program Guide

Ph.D. means Doctor of Philosophy, but this doesn't necessarily refer to the subject of philosophy. The Ph.D. is a research degree designed to teach candidates how to contribute to the body of academic knowledge in their field. Ph.D.s are available at most main-campus national U.S. public universities, as well as at many private universities.

It is common for Ph.D. students to work closely with mentor professors in their field. Students typically must pass one or multiple comprehensive exams earlier in their program. The Ph.D. program culminates in the completion of a dissertation (a written paper or project of significant length). The candidate then presents the dissertation and answers questions from a committee of faculty members during an oral examination called a defense.

Program Format and Topics

Earning a Ph.D. often takes 3-8 years of study beyond the bachelor's degree. This time-frame can vary based on whether the student is full-time and whether he or she holds a master's degree. Some programs are available online, but these programs typically require periodic residencies on campus. Ph.D.s can be earned in the following fields, among many others:

  • English
  • Philosophy
  • History
  • Government
  • Economics
  • Art history
  • Engineering
  • Psychology
  • Anthropology

Program Requirements

While earning a Ph.D., most students work at the university. Their job titles often include teaching assistant (TA), research assistant and lab assistant, depending on the Ph.D. candidate's field. TAs help professors with instructional responsibilities for a particular course, perhaps grading course participants' homework or leading guided study sessions. The TA may also serve as the primary instructor for several classes or lab sessions. Doctoral student TAs may help teach graduate or undergraduate classes.

Research assistants often assist one or more professors working on subject research for publishing in a journal or submission to a conference. The research may become part of the Ph.D. student's dissertation, and the doctoral student may be named as an author on the published paper. Publication and conference presentations can help the professor and the student advance in their field.

Searching for Programs

U.S. News & World Report ranks graduate schools in the ranking section of its website ( Among the subjects featured in the 'Best Graduate Schools' page are engineering, education and online schools. Students can also access articles on topics like graduate school loan options and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test-taking tips.

Career Opportunities

Ph.D. degrees are the most common requirement for teaching at the university level. Ph.D.-level professors are often required to conduct research and present papers at conferences concerning their chosen subject. Professors may get perks and job security based on how often they are published in academic journals.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the tenure track may take about seven years to complete ( It involves gradual promotions from instructor to assistant professor to associate professor to professor. Periodically, the professor's record of research, teaching and contributions is reviewed by a university committee. A favorable review may help the professor gain promotion, tenure or both, though it is not guaranteed.

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