Types of doctorate degrees

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LIKE any part of culture, including academic culture, the purpose and features of the doctorate degree do change overtime. There are three known types at present – the research, the practitioner’s and the honorary doctorate. Let’s have a swift rundown of its origin up to what it is at present.

“Doctorate” comes from the Latin “docere” which means “to teach,” a term used in medieval Europe. At that time, universities required doctorates a license to be able to teach Latin. Licensing goes back to the early church practice where the term doctor referred to “the Apostles, the church fathers and other Christian authorities who taught and interpreted the Bible.” Later, in 1213, Pope Innocent III granted the University of Paris the right of the Catholic church to award the licentia, which became a universal license to teach (licentia ubiquie docendi).

Although the first Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) was awarded in Paris as early as the 12th century, only in the 19th century did the term “PhD” acquire its modern meaning as the highest academic degree following university practice in Germany. <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. wiki/ Doctor of Philosophy> “Philosophy” in the title refers to the broader sense of its “original Greek meaning,” which is “love of wisdom.” Hence, a doctor is associated with an expert in a field. Over time, the doctorate was regarded as the apex of academic distinction.

PhD doctorates are considered in academe to be in the forefront of research. Anchored on the meaning of ”the love of wisdom” a doctor is regarded as one who, through research, generates new knowledge and develops theories in one’s field of expertise. The research doctorate (PhD) which takes from 3 to 5 years to finish is designed to creating scientists, hence, much less time spent on practice-related activities; rather, mostly on research to contribute to the body of academic literature and theory in the discipline through a dissertation. In fact, these programs discourage students from engaging in practice. Independent study, not taught courses, dominates the research doctorate in European universities. The student’s principal research mentor besides assisting the mentee keep to the research focus would also suggest the latter’s participation in seminars not necessarily University-based. For this purpose, study grants in German and British universities usually cover also travel, hotel, food and seminar fees.


Culture being dynamic, the doctorate has changed over time. In the 19th century, professions began seeking a stable mechanism to sustain development of professional practice. This pursuit led professionals to require among themselves doctorate degrees. The Doctor of Medicine (MD) in the US was introduced at Columbia University in 1767 much earlier than when the PhD was initially offered. Thus the MD is regarded as pioneer practitioner’s doctorate. At that time, only the research doctorate was known.

As the “practitioner doctorates” in the various fields got to define more clearly the over-all purpose of this doctorate which is to be “able to lead practice and initiate change rather than being researchers,” the professional doctorate “as a mode of the highest educational qualification of practitioner professionals gained ground. Briefly described, “a practitioner’s doctorate is a credible source of authority based on engagement in practice, rather than (or in addition to) engagement in academic research.” <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10. 1080/030750 704 2000287249>

Thus, in our times, the Professional or Specialist or Practitioner Doctor such as Doctor of Education major in School Administration etc., Doctor of Business major in Entrepreneurship, Doctor of Engineering, etc. is one with a substantial experience and expertise in a professional field (Education, Business, Engineering, etc.) to contribute “to the profession, community and practice in the discipline, to expand and apply existing knowledge and research to solve real-world, professional problems in the field in one of a variety of forms, such as a dissertation, action research, professional project or portfolio.” (Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.)

According to this analysis, first-generation professional doctorates approach professional practice from the perspective of the researcher working on a practice situation, rather than from that of the practitioner working within it.

A more recently developed or revised professional doctorate represents a second generation, more equally rooted in the contexts of the academe, the profession or practicum in the workplace (Lee et al (2000). These doctorates are more accepting of Gibbons et al’s Mode 2 knowledge, which is created and used by practitioners in the context of their practice, and of Schön’s constructionist notion of knowledge, where research and practice co-exist in a cyclic or spiral relationship: that is, practice gives rise to new knowledge, which in turn informs changes in practice, and so on. This doctorate is often backed by a taught or seminar-based component, but takes a more situated view of the research process and the centrality of the practitioner within it.

The DProf (Doctor of Professional Practice) represents a third generation of professional doctorate, where the focus is driven primarily by practical issues and Mode 2 knowledge or knowledge-in-use. It may be better described as a different kind of program – a practitioner or work-based doctorate geared specifically to addressing complex professional, organizational and social issues.

The third type of doctorate is an honorary degree awarded to individuals who deserve special recognition for either academic work or other contributions to university or society.

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Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, Ph.D., is one of the Philippines most accomplished educators and experts on institutional management in colleges and universities. Her studies have included not only education and pedagogy but also literature. She has studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Britain and Japan. She is now the Vice-President for External Relations and Internationalization of Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro) after serving as its VP for Academic Affairs for six and a half years concurrent to her ten years as dean in the Graduate Studies of the same university. She holds a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the Commission on Higher Education.

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2 Comments

  1. glad to read this article as it provide encourage that Filipinos are of getting Phd, DBA or MD in many.I’m sure that we have great scientists both in social science and other filed are present in our university. The question remain is why our education system is still considered low in Asean regiona, let alone the gobal arena. Perhaps something is missing in the way our education system works , or the behavior of the people towards education which include social scientiest, technicals or engineers.

    Again, I’m happy to read this article as an example of how good a Filipino sicentist is. How does these knowledge translate into action that benefits the country as a whole.

    Does it require cultural change on our part? How our scientiest work the government to benefit the country? Are Filipino scientist just a bunch of talkers, doesr or what?

    • Dear makabayan,

      Thank you for your comments which clearly gives the message we need to reflect on the points you have raised and which are very valid. What I understood from your comments is why do we seem to be short in contributing to development in many areas —- economic-wise, to science, etc. —-it’s a very complex question. Likely, it is in the manner we are reared, in the values to which we are enculturated with such values not modelled by our significant other — sometimes by our own parents who instruct us to tell the bill collector that our mother is out, although she hid in the “silid” — this after a lesson in class on honesty, or people who we highly regard, voted for, only to find they are in the list of grafters. . . . As regards our scientists not seeming to help improve the quality of life — there could be a number of actions to do — more more efforts towards nurturing loyalty and love of one’s community, better pay, more manifestations of encouragement, etc. However, we who know what efforts different government departments do should help in disseminating good news. For instance, students who choose to study any of these fields — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) which is one of the several tracks in the K-12 can avail of several scholarships —- from DOST. Those who are already in these fields may take under a scholarship, the 18 units of professional education, so they can be take the teachers exam and be employed as teachers. This is only one of the several opportunities the material encouragement to improve the fields in STEM. Sorry we will be running out of space — but let us try to help in any small way we can even as modest as taking street children to teach them numeracy, or reading, —lessons to help them improve in some possible ways. Salamat.