What’s the difference between a PhD and a professional doctorate?

Some people say that a PhD prepares you to teach, while a professional doctorate is more geared toward a professional career. But the answer to the question is more complex.

Leaders in corporate organizations often benefit greatly from having a PhD, and individuals with a professional doctorate may hold adjunct or even regular faculty posts at universities. Everyone who obtains a doctoral degree from Capella University is a scholar-practitioner—meaning they are equipped with a deep understanding of foundational theory and how it directly applies to the current and future needs of their profession, as well as the skills and knowledge to research, teach, consult, and lead.

Deciding whether to pursue a PhD or professional doctorate can be a complex process. The differences between the two doctoral program types vary in every field—and they are also evolving. In terms of program at Capella, all doctoral programs require coursework and an independent research project. Some require comprehensive exams, and many include residencies.

The primary difference between PhD and professional doctorate programs is the type of research conducted in the independent research phase.

PhD students are expected to create, expand, and contribute to knowledge, research, and theory in their field of study. This kind of discovery is often called original research.

Professional doctorate students are expected to expand and apply existing knowledge and research to existing problems in their professional field. This is often referred to as applied research.

The following graphic shows the differences between a PhD program and a professional doctorate program:

 

PhD

 

Professional Doctorate

 

DEGREE FOCUS Contribute new knowledge aimed at solving real-world problems. Apply existing knowledge aimed at solving real-world problems.
INDEPENDENT RESEARCH PROJECT Five-chapter dissertation. Five-chapter applied dissertation or paper, product, or portfolio.
CAREER INTENTION* More interest in consulting and/or conducting research. More interest in practicing directly in the profession.

* In many instances, both a PhD and professional doctorate prepare students for teaching at the college or university level.

 

Ultimately, deciding whether to pursue a PhD or professional doctorate in your field of study should start with assessing your career goals  and how you plan to apply your degree, and determining the kind of research that interests you most.

 

Capella University offers PhD and/or professional doctorate degree programs in business, information technology, education, nursing, health care, psychology, counseling, social work, and public service. Learn more about Capella’s doctoral degree programs.

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