By Brian Fairbanks
If you’re thinking of going back to school to get an advanced degree, it might be to either compete for a new position or pursue a leadership or teaching role in your field. Or perhaps you are simply a lifelong learner. Whatever the case, when considering a PhD or a practitioner doctoral degree, the question inevitably arises: What’s the difference between them?
Both offer real-world benefits, and both can help distinguish you as a highly disciplined, trained and knowledgeable graduate. Of course, both also require a lot of time and effort to study, research, write and possibly even publish your work.
With a PhD, graduates work toward scholarly publication and usually a role in academia. The focus is on basic research, writing, publishing and potentially teaching.
A practitioner doctorate, on the other hand, is ideal for people who want to be experts in their fields and seek to contribute to new, innovative industry solutions. Their research focuses on applied problems instead.
The difference between basic research and applied research lies in their respective aims:
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As U.S. News & World Report writes, "A doctoral degree is a graduate-level credential which is typically granted after multiple years of graduate school, with the time-to-degree varying depending on the type of doctoral program. Earning a doctorate usually requires at least four years of effort and may entail eight years of work, depending on the complexity and onerousness of a doctoral program's graduation requirements."
While the commitment is substantial, Hinrich Eylers, vice provost at University of Phoenix, points out, earning an advanced degree can help graduates to pursue additional opportunities in their careers.
"All our practitioner degrees prepare students for leadership roles in general and in the area of their programs," he says.
If you’d like to distinguish yourself in your career, a doctoral degree may be an important first step. Available in both in-person and online formats, doctoral degree programs can help you achieve your educational dreams.
There are several major types of practitioner doctoral degrees, all emphasizing career expertise. A Doctor of Business Administration, for example, is perfect for a business person looking to innovate within the field of business and learn how to solve organizational challenges. A Doctor of Education might focus on how research could impact current educational issues.
If you’re thinking of getting a doctoral degree, consider going with an online program, which offers a more flexible schedule, a potentially lower overall tuition cost and potentially a shorter time frame for completion.
"PhD" is short for "Doctor of Philosophy," but don’t be fooled by the word "philosophy." Many PhD programs have nothing to do with philosophy as a subject, per se. Rather, a PhD is more about taking the wisdom you’ve achieved and sharing that knowledge with others, usually in a formal educational setting.
PhD graduates typically complete a dissertation, which is a kind of long-form essay (roughly the length of a slim book) on a subject chosen by the student that is relevant to their field of knowledge. Writing a dissertation takes discipline, good research skills, strong writing skills and time. Candidates usually complete two to four years of study in their field before tackling this project.
A PhD helps prepare you for a wide range of careers and professions, especially in research. The career options are too numerous to list here but include roles as a research associate, teacher, dean of students, copywriter, curriculum designer and many more in a number of fields.
According to U.S. News & World Report, there are fundamental differences between a practitioner doctorate and a PhD.
Doctor of Philosophy degrees, or PhDs, are also commonly referred to as "research doctorates," helping people get ready to work in the research field, either for a private company (such as a pharmaceutical firm) or in the public sector (in a government position or at a college/university). These programs typically focus on educating students in how to research and "discover new knowledge within their academic discipline," and generally prepare students to compete in technical fields like mathematics or engineering, as well as sociology or philosophy. If you’re looking for a tenure-track college career, U.S. News suggests getting a PhD as a way to qualify for more jobs available within the university system.
Today, a doctoral degree is also becoming more of a pathway for people who know which industry they want to be in and envision themselves in a leadership role.
University of Phoenix focuses on online practitioner degrees, as they “align much better with our mission to enable students to develop knowledge and skills necessary to achieve their professional goals, improve the performance of their organizations, and provide leadership and service to their communities," writes Eylers.
For Rose Lorenzo, a three-time University of Phoenix alumna and an entrepreneur, earning her Doctor of Management was a natural choice. She had worked as a business consultant and accountant for three decades, and she knew the doctoral degree would offer real value to her clients while helping her reach her goals.
Lorenzo explains: "I think that [those who earn] a PhD [are] really creating new research and developing new theories for other people to use. I got my Doctor of Management [practitioner doctorate] so I can take the research that’s out there and apply it to the gap and come up with the solution."
In addition to running her own accounting and business consultancy practice, Lorenzo currently operates Hackathon Jr., an organization that facilitates in-person and virtual workshops for kids who like to code and work with technology. Hackathon Jr. was born of her doctoral research — she and her colleagues sought ways to counteract the lower emotional intelligence prevalent among children who are heavily invested in information technology. Hackathon Jr. seeks to counteract that by creating groups of kids who must work together to problem-solve using technology.
Hackathon Jr. is just the beginning. Lorenzo also plans to open an online school of entrepreneurship in the near future and has her eye on running for political office someday.
While Lorenzo speaks of her successes with a grace that belies their difficulty, she does recognize the whole doctoral program would’ve been easier had she known a few things at the outset, including:
At University of Phoenix, five available practitioner doctoral degree programs focus on big-picture skills and strategies within their respective fields. They are also aligned with real-world skills and outcomes so that, upon matriculation, graduates are prepared to advance within their profession.
The primarily online school offers "four practitioner doctoral degrees that are similar in design in the College of Doctoral Studies and one in the College of Nursing [Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)]. The DNP degree program does not require a dissertation, but an applied project must be completed," says Eylers.
The above doctoral degree programs all require two 8-week, online symposia, take a minimum of 38 months to complete and are fully online.
With a variety of online doctoral programs available, the path to leadership in your chosen field is clear. It’s just up to you to take the first step.