PhD vs DPhil: What’s the Difference?

In General, University by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

Postgraduate degrees are often a mystery to many students, and certainly not guaranteed to be part of your future plans. There are many options available in both employment and higher education, one such option being a PhD. However, you may have also heard the term ‘DPhil’ being used alongside PhD – can these terms be used interchangeably, or are there differences between a PhD and a DPhil?

‘PhD’ and ‘DPhil’ are two different terms for the same thing: they both refer to a ‘Doctor of Philosophy’ qualification. They are both level 8 qualifications and the highest qualification achievable at university. The reason for there being two different terms is to do with their origin: DPhil is just the shortening of the literal English term, whereas PhD comes from the Latin term. Different universities in the UK and internationally may use different terms, but the course structure and requirements are not likely to differ significantly.

In this article, I’ll be taking you through what a PhD and a DPhil is, what they involve, the origins of the terms and whether doing one is worth it, so keep reading for all you need to know!

What is a PhD?

A PhD is a level 8 qualification, the highest level of qualification achievable in the UK. They are usually taken after a master’s degree, but a master’s degree is not always a mandatory prerequisite.

For a PhD, you study for three to four years (full time) or up to seven years (part time). In this time, you will produce a thesis which at the end of your course you will discuss and defend in an oral exam, which lasts anywhere from one to three hours.

You may also work part-time in a related field (usually education) whilst completing your PhD. This might be as a tutor or a teaching assistant.

To read more information about PhDs, including more details about the information included throughout this article, check out this Think Student article.

Are PhD and DPhil the same thing?

Now that you’ve understood what a PhD is and what it involves, yes, a PhD and a DPhil are effectively the same thing.

Both stand for the term ‘Doctor of Philosophy’. Although both terms are short for Doctor of Philosophy, this does not mean the same as the actual discipline of philosophy. You can pursue a PhD/DPhil in a wide range of different specialisms.

Of the two, PhD is the more widely accepted term, having originated in America and being adopted globally. I’ll be talking about this later in the article, so keep reading for more information.

However, there are no significant differences in the structure of PhD and DPhil courses, the application processes, or the funding for the degree.

Similarly, there are no differences between DPhil and PhD meanings internationally. A DPhil in the UK will still be the same as a PhD in Europe or internationally (at least in meaning).

What are the differences between a PhD and a DPhil?

Effectively, the only difference between a PhD and a DPhil is which universities use the term.

There are only a few universities in the UK that still use the term DPhil, including the University of Oxford. The rest of the world, including other high-ranking universities, such as the University of Cambridge, Harvard, and Yale, use the term PhD.

There are no general course differences, for both students will need to do work, such as having to write, submit, discuss, and defend a thesis. Although, there may be differences on how the course is taught depending on your specialism and the university you attend.

For example, at the University of Oxford, some DPhil students, who have their course funded, are required to undertake an internship as part of their programme. Whereas at other universities, this is not the case.

To read more about the University of Oxford’s Doctoral Internship programmes, check out this page of their website.

Why do some universities call a PhD a DPhil?

In short, there is no particular reason why some universities may choose to use the term ‘DPhil’ over ‘PhD’. As we established earlier, both mean ‘Doctor of Philosophy’.

However, DPhil is the English term, literally short for Doctor of Philosophy, whereas PhD is the Latin term, short for Philosophiae Doctor.

Only a few universities use the term DPhil, such as the University of Oxford, Sussex, and (formerly) York. Most universities use the term PhD – it was mostly used in the United States of America first before being adopted as a global term.

Should you do a PhD or a DPhil?

As we’ve already learnt, it doesn’t matter whether or not you choose to do a PhD or a DPhil, as they are effectively the same qualification.

You may choose whether or not to do a PhD or DPhil based on the universities that use the term; the University of Oxford uses DPhil, whereas the University of Cambridge uses PhD.

However, whether or not you choose a PhD or a DPhil might be based on which university offers the course you want to do. For example, if you prefer the course at a university that offers PhDs, you might take a PhD over a DPhil.

Ultimately, they are the same qualification, so you won’t miss anything off your CV if you choose one over the other.

Is a DPhil worth it?

A PhD/DPhil is a level 8 qualification, which is the highest qualification level in the UK. You can read more about the different qualification levels in the UK in a Think Student article, linked here.

Of course, whether or not you choose to do a PhD/DPhil depends on what your future goals are.

Earning a PhD/DPhil is great if you want to enter academia in the future – maybe you want to become a critic, or a lecturer, or maybe a professor. Having a PhD under your belt is a huge advantage for research and education.

However, if you only want to further your career, you might not learn or develop the skills you need for your industry through a PhD.

A PhD/DPhil is the highest level of qualification, so it’s impressive either way. Just make sure it’s the right step forward for you!

Do you need a master’s to do a DPhil?

The majority of institutions will most likely require you to have a master’s degree if you wish to apply for a PhD/DPhil.

At a bare minimum, you will be required to have a bachelor’s degree at a 2:1 or higher if you’re pursuing a PhD. However, universities will probably also like you to have a master’s degree and/or lots of professional experience.

A master’s degree will definitely give your application an advantage, however, it is still possible to be accepted for a PhD without a master’s degree – if you don’t have one, it isn’t the end of the world!

Each application is unique, so there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to a PhD/DPhil application. To read more about candidate requirements for PhDs, check out this Prospects article.

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