What is the Difference in PhD & DSC Programs?

by Kevin Wandrei
Both a D.Sc. and a Ph.D. candidate will undertake primary and groundbreaking research.

Both a D.Sc. and a Ph.D. candidate will undertake primary and groundbreaking research.

Students of science hoping to pursue an advanced degree are often confused about the difference between a Doctor of Philosophy and a Doctor of Science. This confusion is common primarily because the two degrees are largely similar. While the D.Sc. is rarer than the Ph.D., the degrees are usually - but not always - exact substitutes. In some cases, however, the D.Sc. is considered to be above the Ph.D.

Admissions Requirements

Because the two degrees are nearly identical, most universities have the same admissions requirements for a D.Sc. and a Ph.D. in a science field. This includes the typical items required of a Ph.D. applicant, including transcripts, GRE scores, recommendations, a personal statement and a record of academic research achievement. While this is true of the majority of universities that view the D.Sc. and the Ph.D. as equivalent, a few universities view them as slightly different degrees and thus apply different standards. Monash University, for example, describes their Doctor of Science as "of higher standing" than a Ph.D., and the application requirements thus require a student to be a Monash University faculty member or an already-in-residence graduate student of advanced standing.

Course and Curricular Requirements

Typically, a D.Sc. takes about as long as a Ph.D. to complete, though this may not be the case at universities that view the D.Sc. as a higher degree than the Ph.D. For most programs, the maximum amount of time to completion is seven years. Curricular requirements will vary based on the precise scientific topic of a degree. All programs, however, even those that consider the D.Sc. to be above the Ph.D., will require some sort of dissertation, book, book chapter or other original research to satisfy the doctoral requirements.

Administrative Details

It is primarily in the administrative details and logistics that the Ph.D. and the D.Sc. vary most. Columbia University, for examples, offers both degrees in its engineering department and considers them academically equivalent. The only difference between them is that the Doctor of Science candidate does not need to be in residence at Columbia as often as the Doctor of Philosophy student does. This is also similarly the case at Washington University in St. Louis, where D.Sc. students are allowed to transfer more credits from another university for their degree than are Ph.D. candidates.

Post-Graduation Fields

Despite their logistical differences, the D.Sc. and the Ph.D. are both designed to support students' careers in academia. Students can take on careers as researchers, professors or other scientific professionals. This is especially true of situations where the two degrees are recognized as academically equivalent. Where they are not - such as at Monash University - the D.Sc. will merely serve to strengthen an advanced scientists' standing in the academic community by adding a rare achievement to his C.V.

About the Author

Kevin Wandrei has written extensively on higher education. His work has been published with Kaplan, Textbooks.com, and Shmoop, Inc., among others. He is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration at Cornell University.

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