Doctoral candidates work closely with the advisors that typically make up their dissertation committee. The advisors provide guidance and critiques as a candidate writes a book-length dissertation. While the advisors can help along the way, what sets the candidate apart from the student is the applicability and formal demonstration of what they have learned through the conducting and writing of their approved research.
Requirements of a doctoral program
Before graduate school, you must complete years of college courses, typically two degrees before a program will consider your admission. However, this heavily depends on which doctoral program you’re looking to enter; some are more lenient about requirements than others.
Many doctoral programs tend to be intentionally difficult and rigorous courses of study by design. As mentioned, there are several educational levels before a doctoral degree that both students and candidates will need to pass.
The requirements of a doctoral student include:
- Prerequisite degrees: Doctoral programs usually require that students obtain a bachelor’s and a master’s degree first.
- Required coursework: Each program requires different courses, but most will be in the student’s area of study, with some focused on adjacent or complementary subjects. Additionally, foundational coursework prepares students to learn about the research process.
- Qualifying exams: Typically, students must pass qualifying exams to enter doctoral programs, but not all programs require entrance exams.
The requirements of a PhD candidate and many practitioner programs include:
- Selection of dissertation advisor or committee: During your time as a doctoral student, you will come into contact with many instructors. You will typically only interact with the instructors who are your dissertation advisor or on your dissertation committee. The committee is the audience for the doctoral candidate and ensures the candidate demonstrates command of the literature and methodologies relative to their field.
- Choosing your dissertation topic: This is a pivotal point in your journey to earning a PhD or doctorate. Many programs even ask for a general topic as a part of your initial application. Your advisors will help you to create a specific and unique dissertation topic that will fuel your work over the next couple of years.
- Writing the dissertation: Your dissertation or thesis will normally take a couple of years to write and will be a book-length culmination of your learning and research.
- Defending your doctorate or thesis: After you submit your final draft to your dissertation committee, you will need to orally present your work to the committee, answer questions and defend your work.
The requirements for a PhD and doctorate take many years to complete. While some people complete doctoral degrees in three to five years, others take seven to 10 years. The time span depends on your specific area of study, whether you take classes on a full-time or part-time schedule and how long it takes to complete your dissertation. This also includes your level of focus and intent.
The meaning of candidacy in other doctoral programs
A practitioner doctorate or professional doctorate is not the only type of doctoral degree. There are also MDs, ODs, AudDs, DCs, JDs and others.
Such programs have their own conventions and terminology for demarcating various milestones. Some doctoral degrees, such as for law or medicine, focus on mastering the practice of a specific subject and the skills associated with that practice. As a result, terms such as candidate are not used universally among doctoral programs, and many of these programs do not include a dissertation or similar work.