Ph.D. facts

A Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy, is the highest level of an academic degree. Earning a Ph.D. requires an intense and in-depth study on a single tightly focused topic in a particular field. Ph.D. candidates are expected to make a substantial original contribution of new knowledge to their field. Upon successful completion of a doctorate program, a person’s title changes from Mr., Mrs., or Ms. to Dr.

Ph.D. Facts

1. Less than 1% of the population attains a Ph.D.

2. The term philosophy in Doctor of Philosophy is used to mean “love of wisdom” — its original Greek meaning.

3. Full-time Ph.D. students typically do not have to pay tuition. In fact, through stipends and assistantships, some Ph.D. candidates earn more than what bachelor’s degree holders earn.

4. Approximately 50% of those who earn a traditional Ph.D. obtain faculty positions.

5. Some traditional Ph.D. graduates find it difficult to obtain employment as employers often consider them overqualified.

6. Not all advisors are equal. While tenured professors typically have access to more grant money and connections, non-tenured professors tend to be more personally available. It can be beneficial to have both on the advisory committee.

7. Students may continue their education beyond a master’s degree by earning a traditional Ph.D. However, some clinical Ph.D. programs accept students who have completed a bachelor’s degree.

8. Ph.D. students learn to write grants and obtain funding from investors for their research, experiments, travel, and salary.

9. Not all fields have a Ph.D. degree program.

10. Honorary doctorate degrees are granted to individuals by some universities to formally recognize and honor them for contributions to their field or for philanthropy. Cornell University, University of Virginia, CalTech, Rice University, and MIT do not award honorary PhDs.

The PhD Process

11. A traditional Ph.D. typically takes three years of research to complete, but most students also teach or assist professors during their research and studies which extends the time to four to six years — or longer.

12. Most of the work on a traditional Ph.D. is research, but there is one semester of classes.

13. In order to earn a traditional PhD the research done must be new and the results of the research must be of a high enough quality to be published in peer-reviewed journals.

14. A thesis is a collection of articles with an introduction relating all of the articles and describing the methods, theory, and experiments the Ph.D. candidate has conducted.

15. When all of the research, articles, thesis, and funding are complete they are sent to a committee of experts for evaluation to determine whether or not the thesis is worthy of defending. This is a one-shot deal – if the work is deemed not worthy a Ph.D. is not granted.

16. If the committee deems the thesis worthy of defending a date is given for the student to appear before the committee to defend it with a public trial lecture.

17. On the day of the thesis defense, or dissertation, a short presentation of the Ph.D. work is given, then opponents grill the candidate on their body of work. Audience members may also ask questions before the committee decides whether or not to grant the candidate a Ph.D.

18. If the committee does not consider the thesis worthy of defending or if the thesis is not properly defended to the satisfaction of the committee during the dissertation, a Ph.D. is not granted and that is the final word.

19. The unemployment rate for those with a Ph.D. is 2.5%.

20. Ph.D. recipients in the United States earn an average weekly wage of $1,624.

21. Over the course of a career, Ph.D. recipients will earn $1.3 million more than those with only a bachelor’s degree.

History of the PhD

22. The first Ph.D. was awarded in Paris by the University of Paris in 1150.

23. The first university to award a Ph.D. for a course of study similar to today’s Ph.D. was the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, Germany.

24. Prior to the 19th century, the only professional doctorate degrees were in medicine (M.D.), law (J.D.), and theology (Th.D.). Today the M.D. and J.D. remain two of the most popular doctorate degrees, although they are a different animal than research and teaching based PhDs.

25. Approximately 10,000 Americans traveled to Europe for Ph.D. study before Ph.D. programs were available in the United States.

26. The first doctorate degree in the United States was awarded by Yale in 1861. Arthur W. Wright, James M. Whiton, and Eugene Schuyler were the first in the U.S. to receive the honors.

27. The first African American to be awarded a modern Ph.D. was at Yale University in 1876.

28. The first woman received a Ph.D. in the United States in 1877.

29. Universities in the United States awarded over 1.3 million PhDs from 1920 to 1999. Sixty-two percent of these PhDs were in science and engineering fields.

30. Between 1920 to 1999 men earned 73% of all PhDs awarded in the United States.

31. By the late 90s, women accounted for 41% of PhDs awarded in the United States.

32. The Juris Doctor (J.D.) was introduced in 1902 at the University of Chicago, but it took a while to catch on as it was not considered a true doctorate degree.

33. After World War II access to higher education expanded and became more accessible and universities started requiring more professors to have a Ph.D.

34. In the United States, more than 60,000 doctoral degrees are now awarded each year.

The Youngest PhD Recipients

35. Karl Witte was born in 1800 and was awarded a Ph.D. in Philosophy at 13 from the University of Giessen in Germany.

36. Kim Ung-Yong earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics at the age of 15 from Colorado State University.

37. Ruth Lawrence was 17 when she was awarded a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Oxford University.

38. Balamurali Ambati became the youngest doctor in the world at 17, earning a doctorate in Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

39. Sho Yano was granted a Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology at 18 from the University of Chicago. Yano went on to earn an M.D. at the age of 21.

40. Norbert Weiner was awarded a Ph.D. in Mathematical Logic from Harvard at the age of 18.

41. Juliet Beni earned a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California Riverside at the age of 19.

42. Erik Demaine was just 19 years old when he earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Waterloo in Canada. He now teaches at M.I.T.

43. Charles Homer Haskins was 19 in 1890 when he earned a Ph.D. in History at Johns Hopkins University. He went on to teach at Harvard University.

44. Akshay Venkatesh was 20 when awarded a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Princeton University. Venkatesh now teaches at Stanford University.

Celebrities with PhDs

45. NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal earned an Ed.D. in Human Resource Development from Barry University is 2012.

46. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow earned a Ph.D. in politics from Oxford.

47. The former co-host of Car Talk on NPR, Tom Magliozzi earned a Ph.D. in marketing from Boston University.

48. The lead singer of She Na Na, Robert Leonard left his career in music to obtain a Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University.

49. Lead singer of American punk rock band Bad Religion, Greg Graffin was awarded a Ph.D. in zoology from Cornell University in 2003.

50. MLB pitcher Mike Marshall earned a Ph.D. in kinesiology from Michigan State University.