Terminated

August 23, 2013

The Twitt @TellDrTell wondered:

This brings up the question of what is meant by the “terminal degree“, and this way of phrasing it focuses on one aspect of the concept, namely the “highest” degree.

For many fields of endeavor, some sort of degree that includes the word “Doctor” is the terminal degree. These ones are familiar to my audience.

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD or DPhil if you are a Brit)
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)

These terminal degrees happen to predominate in our research fields and in the population of PIs who secure major grant awards. There are also others of potential interest to this audience, including

  • Juris Doctor (JD. Did you know lawyers can call themself “Doctor”? Why don’t they?)
  • Doctor of Education (Ed.D.; fraught with implications)
  • Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
  • Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)

If you hold only one Doctoral degree then presumably most folks would agree this is the highest one. But @TellDrTell wondered which to consider the highest one if a person holds two doctoral degrees.

Wikipedia and other sources tend to distinguish research degrees from professional degrees. In our usual pool of Doctoral letters, the Ph.D.s are research degrees and most of the other ones are professional degrees. This is underlined by the fact that most of the dual Doctoral degree subpopulation holds a PhD and one of the so-called professional degrees.

Being a research degree, obviously the PhD is higher, better and/or more terminal.

But wait. The Wikipedia lists a whole other bunch of research doctorates, like Doctor of Management and Doctor of Modern Languages, that you’ve never heard of and sound like some scam to avoid doing a Doctor of Philosophy in the respective subjects. In more familiar terms, there are PhDs in both Pharmacology and Psychology, so the PsyD and PharmD seem like lesser degrees to some folks. More limited.

Obviously those are lesser than the professional doctorates in Medicine, Dental Surgery, Veterinary Medicine and Juris. Wait, Juris? Is that law degree more “terminal” than a Ed.D. that was awarded after 6 years* of painstaking thesis research?

Gaaah!

Okay, let’s just say the Ph.D. is the best, all others are lesser and you should list your Ph.D. as your highest degree if you are also a M.D. or a D.V.M.

Unless you went to a combined M.D./Ph.D. program, in which case I think you are this, but not separately either a M.D. or a Ph.D.. And yes, unsurprisingly, I have heard at least one M.D., Ph.D. speak of how awesomely better this is than those lesser M.D./Ph.D. folks**.

And since it is usually a Doctor of Philosophy in [Subject], and the sciences are the most awesome, I think we can safely say that if you have two degrees in which one is a Ph.D. [Science] and the other is Ph.D. [Philosophy], the latter*** is the higher one. And you win the entire world’s respect.

__
*I don’t actually know the duration of Ed.D. programs.
**Gawd, I love academics.

***Because Philosophy squared

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47 Responses to “Terminated”

  1. dr24hours Says:

    You left out my Doctor of Science, which is like a PhD but more coursework and from a fancier school.

    Like

  2. Grumble Says:

    DM, why are you wasting precious neurons perseverating about this bullshit?

    Like

  3. dr24hours Says:

    Also, there’s apparently a movement to legitimize the “Doctor of Nursing Practice”. Not a research doctorate in nursing, a professional doctorate, like an MD.

    Remember: MDs aren’t real doctors. They just graduate a trade school. They don’t make original contributions until AFTER their degree (if then).

    Like

  4. asda Says:

    I think DPhil is Oxford only

    Like

  5. drugmonkey Says:

    The lawyers that prosecute medical malpractice cases should totally insist on being addressed as “Doctor”. Can you imagine the hilarity?

    Like

  6. Joe Says:

    I think the NIH considers MD’s more valuable than PhD’s; they have all these mechanisms for funding physician-scientists. Also, MD’s and certainly MD/PhD’s get better salaries as faculty than PhD’s.

    Like

  7. physioprof Says:

    I think the NIH considers MD’s more valuable than PhD’s; they have all these mechanisms for funding physician-scientists.

    HAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!! Are you really this fucken stupid?

    Like

  8. becca Says:

    If it is *research* that makes the Ph.D. Superior to Other Degrees (which I can get on board with), the Most Superior Ph.D. is clearly the Ph.D. in Library and Information Sciences- i.e. research on research. Meta-Ph.D.

    Like

  9. Eleventy Says:

    I imagine lawyers don’t call themselves doctors as a JD is not actually a terminal degree- LL.M. is higher

    Like

  10. Eli Rabett Says:

    How about the German Habilitation and the Russian Candidate of Science and Doctor of Science, both of which require a significant level of publication as jumping through a bunch of other hoops.

    Like

  11. GenomeGal Says:

    I’m not sure on the PsyD, but the PharmD is actually a professional degree not a research degree. As you initially said it is a Doctorate of Pharmacy – these folks go on to be your friendly pharmacist at your local drug store. As such it may not be the best example of the pseudo-phd!

    Like

  12. The Other Dave Says:

    “Being a research degree, obviously the PhD is higher, better and/or more terminal.”

    This entire post, and that statement in particular, demonstrate why people with Ph.Ds. get so little respect from so many real people.

    Like

  13. The Other Dave Says:

    Eli makes an excellent point.

    Like

  14. Dr Becca Says:

    @ Genome Gal – My uni has a number of research PharmD tenured and tenure-track faculty. They have some clinical responsibilities in addition to running a lab and teaching, but those do not include working behind the counter at CVS.

    Like

  15. AcademicLurker Says:

    PharmD’s both end up behind the counter at CVS and end up as clinical and/or research faculty.* It all depends on which direction they head in after graduation.

    *Not both at the same time, however.

    Like

  16. MolecularGeek Says:

    Two additional points to muddy the waters further.

    1) There is a research doctorate in law as well, the JSD. It presumes completion of a JD and an LL.M. and requires an original dissertation. So while it is technically correct for someone who has graduated from a JD program to use the title of doctor, it is rather misleading.

    2) PharmD graduates actually do sometimes end up behind the counter at a retail pharmacy and clinical faculty at the same time. Usually, they function as preceptors and supervising faculty for pharmacy students in their clinical clerkships, but there are also retail pharmacies that provide residency programs and where the clinical staff hold academic appointments in that role.

    Like

  17. kaleberg Says:

    Back in the 1960s, my father, a practicing lawyer, got a letter from his law school saying that his LLM (I believe) degree was now equivalent to a JD degree, and if he sent the school, an honest to goodness NY State certified law school, a few bucks, they’d send him a handsomely mounted JD degree with his name, year and all that on it. Nowadays, we’d dismiss this as an internet scam, but this was before the internet, and a quick phone call to his alma mater confirmed the new alignment. Apparently, not all lawyers were JDs back in the 1930s. There were other degrees granted, but later an adjustment was made once the school started granting JDs. No, no one ever called my father “doctor”, though he joked about it. It was the easiest degree he had ever earned, but this, as I mentioned, was before the internet.

    Like

  18. yikes Says:

    MD/PhD is not a degree. MD & PhD are separate degrees. If you think the PhD in a combined program is less worthy than a standalone PhD, well, then, you are pretty much getting into the business of ranking the relative merits of different PhD’s in the same discipline based on the program…

    Like

  19. sciencedude Says:

    I have known a few people in MD/PhD programs that worked towards “real” PhDs, i.e five, six, or more years of research. However, I have heard that some of these folks get there PhDs in only three years. Unless the latter category consists only of geniuses or extraordinarily productive people, a three year PhD is laughable. It should be considered an MD/MS.
    BTW, does anyone know why working behind the counter at CVS requires a doctorate? This seems like the ultimate well-paid no-stress job.

    Like

  20. GMP Says:

    BTW, does anyone know why working behind the counter at CVS requires a doctorate? This seems like the ultimate well-paid no-stress job.

    I am not sure about no stress. Check out

    Your Pharmacist May Hate You

    and in particular this post

    Like

  21. DrugMonkey Says:

    Like I said yikes, I know a MD, PhD who begs to differ.

    Like

  22. MolecularGeek Says:

    ScienceDude: Pharmacists are expected to do more than just dispense pills, even in a retail setting. At a minimum, they are expected to have the basic science background to double check prescriptions for physician errors (not at all uncommon) and to understand the mechanisms for the drug-drug interactions that physicians tend to memorize by rote. In most states, they are also expected to titrate dosages on medications like vancomycin and warfarin on their own authority based on lab results. They can also prescribe on their own authority in most states after appropriate specialty training. The switch from a 5-year BS degree to the 4-year graduate PharmD came in about 2000, in an attempt to underscore the level of training expected in the profession.

    DrugMoney: There are always exceptions to the rule. There may not be a special asterisk next to the PhD of someone coming out of a MSTP, but there is a widespread perception (at least from the people I’ve talked to about it) that there are differences in how MD/PhD students are treated by graduate schools and in the expectations for their dissertations. It may be that funding constraints force smaller projects upon them, or that the professional program is uneasy about the multi-year interruption in their medical studies between pre-clinical and clinical training, but the perception is a thing.

    Like

  23. Jonathan Says:

    @sciencedude

    ” Unless the latter category consists only of geniuses or extraordinarily productive people, a three year PhD is laughable. It should be considered an MD/MS.”

    Respectfully, go fuck yourself.

    PhD, Pharmacology, Imperial College of Science and Technology, 1998-2002.

    It’s quite possible to finish a PhD if you’re motivated, manage your time properly, and do it in a country where the first two years aren’t spent with classes and homework.

    Like

  24. becca Says:

    @Drugmonkey- I know an MD, Ph.D. who said “I did mine the stupid way”. I did like that about him. Also, I’ve got a 6 year, 400+ page dissertation in immunology from a friend to thwack anyone who disputes that SOME MD/PhDs were real.

    @sciencedude- see also the difference between “pharmacist” and “pharm tech”. It’s somewhat akin to “librarian” and “page”. In full truth, I do think it is a bit weird there aren’t more steps in between the two tiers, but there ya go.

    Like

  25. sciencedude Says:

    “Respectfully, go fuck yourself. ”

    I have never figured out how to do that. Maybe that’s why my PhD took five years.

    Like

  26. theshortearedowl Says:

    @ sciencedude and Jonathan

    Science PhDs in the UK take 3-4 years. In the US, 4-6 years seems to be normal. US schools generally require higher teaching commitments from graduate students, and I think there are more hoops to jump through in addition to the actual research (eg. prelims/quals seem to be a bigger deal here). No need for animosity.

    Like

  27. becca Says:

    4 years of my 7 year PhD were learning to respectfully tell faculty to go fuck themselves. I consider those wasted years, given that I will likely avoid faculty for the rest of my life.

    Like

  28. Eli Rabett Says:

    FWIW, the MA at Oxford is considered the highest degree and they mail them out if you survive for seven years after joining up upon the payment of a nominal fee.

    Like

  29. The Other Dave Says:

    becca: 2 years of your 7 year PhD were unnecessarily surfing the internet and commenting on blogs like this one.

    Like

  30. AcademicLurker Says:

    I’ve seen both ends of the MD/PhD spectrum. At one end was a person whose thesis was as substantial as most straight PhD’s. At the other end was essentially a glorified rotation project. It all depends on the program/adviser/committee.

    Like

  31. JPop Says:

    @sciencedude, theshortearedowl
    The main reason UK PhDs are 3-4 years (as opposed to the US 5-7) is that we prespecialise. None of this major in biology, minor in french literature stuff – most scientists study only (3 of) maths/chem/physics/bio from the age of 16 on, and the university courses are usually narrower – by the 3rd year of undergrad, you study only molecular biology, or genetics, or pharmacology, with a consequent increase in subject depth. This removes the need for introductory courses at the PhD level – so the PhD is research only.

    Like

  32. drugmonkey Says:

    That sounds horrible JPop. That’s all you get to learn at the University level? Three things?

    Dayum.

    Like

  33. MolecularGeek Says:

    It’s worse than that. It’s 3 subjects at the A level, which is the last two years before leaving secondary education. By the time you get to university level, it’s assumed that you have had all the general education courses you need and you will be almost exclusively taking courses in your discipline of choice.

    Like

  34. Jonathan Says:

    I should note that if you do something like the International Baccalaureate instead of A levels you still get a broad education in the final two years of high school (mine was bio/chem/maths/history/english/japanese), and as an undergrad reading Pharmacology there were still opportunities to take other classes.

    But yes, you get the foundation out of the way at undergrad and day one of your PhD is someone handing you your lab book and showing you to your bench. Then again UK PhD students aren’t expected to teach all their PIs classes for them either.

    Given that UK scientists have had a disproportionate impact based on population size and levels of funding, I think we can say it’s a pretty good model, and our campuses aren’t littered with dreadlocked white people playing with hackeysacks and ultimate frisbee.

    Like

  35. sciencedude Says:

    How about dreadlocked black people?

    Like

  36. DrugMonkey Says:

    Does the “impact” account for the British-first-citation practices and obsession with writing repetitive reviews?

    Like

  37. qaz Says:

    I learned a lot from my fellow college students who were playing hackeysack and ultimate frisbee and guitar (though rarely at the same time).

    More importantly, what I have never understood is how does the UK system handle double majors – you know the people who complete BAs in Spanish Literature and Neuroscience or Poetry and Physics?

    Even more importantly, what happens when someone realizes half-way through college that their real passion is Neuroscience and not 18th Century Poetry?

    Like

  38. commentariette Says:

    In the UK (and many other European countries), students specialize much earlier than they do in the US, where they may still be taking ‘distribution’ classes at the university level. Certainly by their mid-teens at the latest, college-prep students in Europe would be specializing in stem vs humanities vs social sciences. In the UK, it’s usual to take only 3 (maybe 4) subjects over the last two years before university.

    European university programs are similarly highly focused right from the beginning because students apply into a specific major. This means that it’s impractical to have a ‘double major’ and relatively few changes of major are permitted (perhaps apart from a few closely related pairs). In most cases, it would be necessary to re-apply to university.

    There are disadvantages, but it’s far more sensible than having some 17 year-old math whiz sitting around pretending to be interested in the symbolism of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ just to get into a good university math program. And it’s definitely more cost efficient than US programs where some 20-25% of courses (and cost!) are explicitly intended to be irrelevant to the student’s career plans and interests.

    Like

  39. GMP Says:

    Seconding what commentariette said above.

    Here’s an oldish post that details a bit how my undergrad in old Europe looked.

    The undegrad education in the US seems to serve a different purpose than in Europe; it’s really a rite of passage for middle-class kids as much as (or more than?) a route to gainful employment. And, based on what I see with my 8th grader, kids could really be learning more here during their teen years, the curriculum seems pretty vacuous. I suppose that needs to be made up for in college.

    In most of Europe you are expected to be employable in your specialty after you are done with undergrad. E.g. med school where I come from is not grad school; you need to pass very serious entry tests after high school (I think chemistry, biology, physics, Latin, something else perhaps?) and then go through 7 years of training starting first year of undergrad, then followed by internship, residence, all that. The title is not MD for practicing medics. Also law, veterinary school, dentistry — none is a grad school at home, they are all enrolled in after high school (provided you pass pretty serious entrance exams).

    As commentariette said, double majors are uncommon unless they are related so you can transfer some credits: e.g. degrees in physics and math, or math/physics/chemistry and some engineering discipline; you basically have to complete two full 4-year programs, and due to similarity you would you be able to transfer a few related credits, but generally only in the first year or two, later on things get too specialized. Majoring in English literature and chemistry, for instance, would mean you do two full 4-year programs.

    Like

  40. Dave Says:

    Does the “impact” account for the British-first-citation practices and obsession with writing repetitive reviews?

    Oh jesus christ. Pipe down.

    More importantly, what I have never understood is how does the UK system handle double majors – you know the people who complete BAs in Spanish Literature and Neuroscience or Poetry and Physics?

    It’s really not that common to see these degrees from UK universities, but in very good schools it basically means doing a double degree…..literally. If you meet anyone from oxbridge who has a first-class double major, you know they had to put a shift in to get it.

    Even more importantly, what happens when someone realizes half-way through college that their real passion is Neuroscience and not 18th Century Poetry?

    UK universities are very inflexible. This basically cannot happen without starting all over again. That’s if your uni will let you do that, which it most likely will not. As someone said above, you will have to apply somewhere else. Then there are issues with loans etc since there is a limit to how many years of loans you can take (at least, there used to be).

    Like

  41. Jonathan Says:

    “Does the “impact” account for the British-first-citation practices and obsession with writing repetitive reviews?”

    Define it how you like – Nobel Prizes, new drugs discovered, number of patents issued, H-indices, whatevs.

    Like

  42. DrugMonkey Says:

    I opt for “interesting scientific advances in my fields of interest”.

    Like

  43. becca Says:

    The Other Dave- likely. I figure the internet at least saved me from becoming a raging alcoholic to get through though. Whether that’s a net plus is anybody’s guess…

    Like

  44. D. C. Sessions Says:

    Yes, a doctor of philosophy in philosophy is awesome squared. And then there’s Janet Stemwedel, who is a both a physical chemistry doctor of philosophy and a philosophy doctor of philosophy. They must be additive because if they multiply we’re doomed.

    Like

  45. DrugMonkey Says:

    You *did* check the link at the end, righ DC?

    Like

  46. D. C. Sessions Says:

    Sorry — didn’t even see it as a link until you pointed it out.

    Like


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