In universities in the United States, the highest academic degrees that can be conferred to students are Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) and Doctor of Education (D.Ed.). A doctoral degree, capped by a doctoral thesis at the end of its rigorous program, represents mastery of a student’s field of study as well as their contribution to the academe. Here are what you should know about doctoral programs in graduate schools.
Role of graduate schools – Students who are interested to pursue doctoral programs at an American university are faced with two sets of requirements: One set by the graduate school and another set by the individual department or specific Ed.D or Ph.D. program within the school. Graduate schools provide broad policies and practices that ensure quality doctoral programs. Students usually deal directly with the graduate school when admitted, as well as when submitting their work for completion and subsequent graduation.
Preparing for doctoral program thesis – In most doctoral programs, the first two years of studies provide students with a solid foundation on advanced knowledge of the field of study. Meanwhile, larger fields like history and chemistry may teach students a few courses in specific fields or areas of concentration. Students generally finish this portion of their studies with a general qualifying exam which, if they pass, would make them a candidate for a doctoral degree.
Gaining expertise – Candidates for doctoral titles are expected to become experts in their respective specialized fields. In natural sciences, this knowledge is acquired mainly through extensive laboratory; in other disciplines, if may be acquired through advanced seminars and independent study. When necessary work toward specialization is completed, students are then tested either through a comprehensive test or an oral examination. Passing this test and meeting all other requirements of the program marks the formal end of class work and the beginning to working on their doctoral thesis.
Proposing a thesis topic – The thesis stage is the final step towards completing one’s doctoral studies. The expertise the students have acquired through original research and scholarship would define their proficiency as a learned professional. The process starts with selecting a thesis adviser, who usually chairs the doctoral committee. A thesis adviser is also the faculty member who is most knowledgeable about the topic students plan to cover in their dissertations. Students and their advisers work together in devising a topic worth researchable and develop it into a dissertation proposal. The dissertation proposal describes the general problem a student would be addressing, discusses the relevant scholarly literature, describes and justifies the methodology to be used, and formulates specific research questions. Students would have to defend their proposals before the doctoral committee, who will help strengthen the proposed research.
Preparing the doctoral thesis – Sometimes, preparing for a doctoral thesis takes even longer than the classes itself since research is a highly personal process. Throughout this stage, individual students work closely with their advisers. It is the adviser’s decision whether your thesis is complete and ready to present to the full committee. There are also doctoral programs that allow students to prepare their theses in a less traditional form, such as several article-length studies or publications.
Defending the thesis – The thesis defense is the final step in the Ed.D./Ph.D. program. Unlike in earlier exams, students are now considered experts on their topic and have to defend their findings against the questioning of the committee members. Each member evaluates the theses individually, but a consensus determines whether a thesis is accepted. An accepted thesis will be added to the university library. In the process, the student gets awarded with a doctoral degree.