Questions frequently arise about the differences between professional doctoral degrees and traditional degrees such as Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), and the various terms are often confused.

First of all, to clarify: a doctorate is an umbrella term for a degree rank, denoting the highest degree awarded by a university. A PhD is a specific type of doctorate.

All doctoral students are required to conduct in-depth research and all holders of doctoral degrees are considered experts in their field of study and are entitled to use the title ‘doctor’.

The main difference between a PhD and a professional doctorate lies in their orientation – one has an academic focus, the other a professional one.

Traditional doctorates – PhD

A PhD is a doctoral degree with an academic focus. Students are involved heavily in research and in the creation and pursuit of new knowledge in their specific field.

Although the title ‘PhD’ means ‘Doctor of Philosophy’, the subjects studied can range from scientific issues to management theory. For many educators a PhD is a must because it is often a requirement of university teaching staff.

Professional doctorates

Professional doctorate degrees are equivalent in status and challenge to a PhD but, unlike a PhD, are intended to create knowledge that advances professional practice, rather than furthering academic pursuits.

Professional doctoral degrees can be gained in a variety of subjects and fields including law, education, business, engineering, medicine and others.

Doctoral degrees such as a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) or an EdD (Doctor of Education) are considered professional doctorates.

Professional doctorate vs PhD

A professional doctorate degree, such as a DBA or an EdD, is designed for professionals who wish to deepen and advance their professional business practice and career. A PhD, however, is suitable for students who want to explore theory, push back the frontiers of knowledge, and pursue a career in academia.

Professional doctorates PhDs
  • Designed for students who wish to advance their professional practice and further their career
  • Aims to develop researching professionals
  • Holder has the title ‘doctor’
  • Suitable for students who want to pursue a career in academia
  • Intended to develop academic researchers
  • Holder has the title ‘doctor’

Prospective students often mention that they either want a rigorous, intellectual experience or they want to better develop research skills within the context of their business or industry. They don’t always realise that there are degree programmes that can give them both. DBAs in particular are focused on professional practice but are just as rigorous and intellectually challenging as a PhD.

Also, some professionals incorrectly believe that if you do a DBA you can’t teach or publish papers, which is not the case. There is nothing to stop you from publishing and submitting papers for academic conferences - as a matter of fact DBA holders are experts in the field of action research and would be well equipped to publish research papers!

University of Liverpool online doctoral programmes

The University of Liverpool offers two professional online doctorate degrees; Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and Doctor of Education – Higher Education (EdD). The DBA and EdD are professional doctorates and research degrees, available 100% online with a residency option involving in-person meetings in Liverpool.

The University of Liverpool has designed the regulations for its professional doctorates to ensure that they are directly comparable to its PhDs . Equivalence between the professional doctorates and a PhD is fully accepted within the UK through Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

The online DBA

The online DBA is AACSB-accredited and attracts senior professionals from all over the world looking to advance their careers by enhancing their leadership capabilities and experiencing first-hand the power of an innovative, research-backed approach to today’s workplace challenges.

Equal in challenge and status to a PhD, the online DBA is a professional, business-orientated doctorate degree that will equip you with practical skills, understanding and insights that you can immediately apply.

The online DBA is a professional doctoral business programme focusing on deep integration of practice based learning.

The online EdD

The online EdD focuses on the latest practice, research, and leadership thinking in higher education in a global context. It encourages a deep understanding of the role of universities as places of learning and as learning institutions, from a global perspective, allowing you to apply research-based knowledge and critical thinking in practical contexts around the world.

Embarking on a doctoratal degree programme will involve a major commitment of your energy, time and finances. When it comes to choosing the right doctorate degree it is important that you consider the future of your own career and select the programme that will help you meet your goals.

Find out more about the online doctorate degrees offered by the University of Liverpool.

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