The highest level of academic degree an educational institution can confer to a student is called a Doctorate. The degree is usually conferred as a “Ph.D.” or a Doctor of Philosophy, but this does not necessarily mean an expert on the discipline of Philosophy (unless it is a Ph.D. program in Philosophy). It means “doctor,” which implies the highest level of expertise on a particular subject matter.
The word “Philosophy” means the continued pursuit of knowledge. In academia, the conferment of a Ph.D. title affords the student who earned it the gravitas and authority to research further the discipline of their choice, which is essentially the objective of applying to a doctoral program.
A point of confusion among many is if doctorates are solely Ph.D. degrees. If so, what about other degrees that also confer the title “Doctor” to its graduates, like Medicine, Physical Therapy, Dentistry, or Law? These are also doctorates but are known as Applied or Professional Doctorates. At the same time, the Ph.D. doctorate is known as a Research or Academic doctorate.
Below are the salient differences between the two:
|Type of Doctorate||Research or Academic Doctorate||Applied or Professional Doctorate|
|Breadth of Study||Concentration on research based on advanced theoretical studies; skills application may also be required||Concentration on the application of advanced theories into the development of specialized skills|
|Program Culmination||Dissertation defense||Combination of exams, capstone project, internship, externship, practicum, and other supervised hands-on experiences|
|Example of Conferred Titles after Program Completion||Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) Ed.D. (Doctor of Education) Th.D. (Doctor of Theology) D.A. (Doctor of Arts) D.S. (Doctor of Science) D.F.A. (Doctor of Fine Arts) D.N.S. (Doctor of Nursing Science)||M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) D.D.M. or D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Medicine/Doctor of Dental Surgery) Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) D.P.T. (Doctor of Physical Therapy) J.D. (Juris Doctor, Lawyer) Au.D. (Doctor of Audiology)|
|Is the doctorate the entry-level requirement for professional work?||No, with a few exceptions||Yes, with a few exceptions|
|Bachelor’s Degree Required?||Yes||Yes|
|Master’s Degree Required?||Yes||Not necessarily|
Many will also assume that a Ph.D. is confined to the Liberal Arts, while applied doctorates are concentrated in STEM and healthcare. This is false. An example is a doctoral program in Physics or Chemistry or Biomedical Engineering. All these three are under the STEM umbrella, but the doctorate title conferred for all three is the Doctor of Philosophy title because it concentrates on research.
Conversely, law graduates are conferred with the Juris Doctor title, or J.D., and not Ph.D., despite the field of study being under the liberal arts umbrella. This is because a J.D. program concentrates on applying doctoral law studies into real-life practice rather than research. Graduates of applied or professional doctorates are also qualified to do extensive research. However, this is not their focus.
Why Get a Doctorate Degree?
The most sensible response to this question is another question: Are you in it for the salary bump or the endless pursuit of knowledge?
Some doctorate degrees will impart significant marketability (role and industry versatility) and salary increase for the professional. Let’s discuss some examples from different disciplines.
First example: A Physical Therapist Assistant (P.T.A.) earns a median wage of $28K annually, according to the latest BLS data. An applied doctorate program in Physical Therapy, which is the obvious next step career-wise, will mean a four to five-fold increase in the median salary to $91K a year.
Second example: Post-secondary or college educators, all of whom have doctorates (otherwise, they can’t teach at this level), earn a median wage of $80K a year. This figure could go higher depending on the discipline being taught, with law, economics, engineering, science, and healthcare professors earning above the $90K mark a year. But a doctorate in Administration and Leadership (Doctor of Education, Ed.D.) allows professors to go beyond academia and hold administrative positions (provost, deanship, department chair, or university president) in universities and colleges. They could also branch out into government work, specifically in educational policy analysis and implementation, usually under government agencies like the Education Department. In terms of salary, an Ed.D. degree could also mean a median salary increase of about 10%.
On the other hand, other doctorate degrees, like applied and professional doctorates, are the only pathway towards a specific profession. Take physicians, dentists, optometrists, lawyers, audiologists, and pharmacists as some examples (all these professions and their corresponding doctorate degrees are included in the list below). You must pursue the corresponding doctorate program for your profession of choice. A bachelor’s degree alone is usually required upon application (as well as passing the corresponding entrance exam). A master’s degree, meanwhile, is not required (see table above).
Then some pursue doctorate degrees simply for the love of research and further studies, although a bachelor’s degree will suffice to gain entry-level employment. Some areas of study include English, Economics, Statistics, and even Computer Science (also included in the list below).
The financial rewards may be lucrative, but the cost of attendance could be just as costly, that you will end up, at best, breaking even, or worse, in debt. It is best to reflect on whether your passion for more information outweighs the cost of going back to school in these disciplines. We have included these degrees in the list to provide a balanced insight.
In summary, these tips will help you decide on whether or not you should apply to a doctorate program:
- If your current occupation is a skilled trade earned from an associate degree and you want to move your career upwards, then a doctorate should be a viable option (assuming you have completed your undergraduate studies with a bachelor’s degree or a bridging program).
- Suppose you have set your career sights on becoming a physician, lawyer, dentist, or any of these specialized medical professions like a pediatrician, a neurologist, a surgeon, a psychologist, and the like. In that case, you must prepare and apply for medical, dental, or law school after earning your bachelor’s degree.
- If you are into the endless and prestigious pursuit of knowledge and a master’s degree won’t suffice, and money is not a concern, consider applying to a doctorate program where all you will do is more research with a few courses here and there.
The 20 Most Popular Doctorate Degree Programs
The entry-level requirement for a Physical Therapist is a doctorate, or a D.P.T. Students can check for available accredited D.P.T. programs through the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) website. State licensure is also required to practice. Most P.T.s first earn a two-year degree in Physical Therapy Assistant (P.T.A.) to work and then complete their undergraduate studies, usually through a P.T.A. to P.T. Bridge program.
At the doctorate level, students will take advanced courses on biomechanics, physiology for physical therapists, functional anatomy, basic clinical didactics, musculoskeletal disorders, pharmacology, therapeutic exercise, and neuroscience. A typical D.P.T. program lasts for two to three years, culminating with a year-long (or even longer) clinical internship.
Possible Career Settings: hospitals, rehabilitation centers, recreation centers, community centers, private clinics, nursing homes, or academe as instructors or professors.
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $63K to $126K
Annual median salary: $91K
Educational Leadership and Administration (General)
An Educational Leadership and Administration doctoral degree is geared towards research, administrative and leadership roles in education. In an educational institution, some roles include principals, deans, provosts, or registrars. Graduates can work in either educational institutions, communities, social advocacies, or private organizations, holding mid-level administrative and leadership roles. Their work is usually focused on identifying workplace or societal challenges and spearheading and impacting changes based on their doctorate training.
The degree is usually conferred as a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) specializing in Leadership and Administration. Students in the program learn about organizational theory, human resource management, program implementation and evaluation, financial management, politics, law, and policy in the education sector, psychology, and behavioral science. A research project and seminars may be required to culminate to program.
Possible career settings: public or private schools of all levels, government offices (federal, state, or local), non-profit groups, social and community work, human resources, corporate recruitment, and corporate leadership.
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $56K to $199K
Annual median salary: $97K
While a bachelor’s degree is a sufficient entry-level requirement for professional work, many chemists go into advanced studies, particularly doctoral studies. The doctoral status affords greater credibility for chemists authoring or contributing to research published in peer-reviewed journals and scientific literature. They can manage research teams as well and hold teaching positions, especially in higher academia.
Students at the doctoral level study higher level chemistry (and its sub-fields like physical, organic, inorganic, analytical, etc.), mathematics, computer science, data analysis, biology, spectroscopy, and many others. Most, if not all, the courses, will have laboratory components. A dissertation defense, usually about a new research topic and its experimental execution, is required to culminate the program.
Possible career settings: manufacturing sector (industrial, pharmaceutical, food, cosmetic, etc.), laboratories (product development and testing, theoretical testing, application testing, research, and development, etc.), academe (graduate level), government work (USDA, D.E.A., etc.) and funded research in universities or government agencies (e.g., NASA, J.P.L., U.S. Military, etc.).
Salary range according to data from the American Chemical Society: $77K to $120K
Annual median salary: $100K
Clinical Psychology involves evidence-based counseling for various demographics and settings. It has a greater focus on clinical counseling and in-patient work rather than research and the academe. Its in-patient work focuses on psychopathology or the abnormalities in mental states and their behavioral manifestations in patients. The entry-level academic requirement is a Doctor in Psychology degree or a Psy.D. (in contrast with a Ph.D. in Psychology, see item number 6 below). Many clinical psychologists pursue a specialization (or multiple specializations). Some of the recognized specializations by the A.P.A. include Educational Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Neuropsychology, or Child and Adolescent Psychology, among many others.
A doctoral program in Clinical Psychology typically includes courses on Psychometry, Clinical Psychopathology, Psychotherapy, assessment techniques, intervention techniques, and statistics in preparation for research. Instead of a dissertation, a year-long (or longer) practical internship may require doctoral candidates to earn the degree.
Possible career settings: hospitals, treatment centers or clinics, rehabilitation centers or clinics, private practice, schools, research organizations, and community or social centers.
Salary range according to Payscale data: $53K $113K
Annual median salary: $80K
Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering
A doctoral degree in electrical, electronics, and communications engineering can open the doors not only for tenure positions in the academe or research. It can also allow graduates to work across various industries, gradually integrating and implementing complex network infrastructures, digital communications systems, and advanced circuitries to automate and streamline processes and technologies. Electrical and Communications Engineers with a Ph.D. can lend their lengthy industry experience and breadth of exposure in advanced technology research to various sectors that adapt to newer and faster ways of doing things.
Most universities offer a doctoral program in Electrical or Electronics Engineering with Network Communications or Telecommunications as one of the emphases. Other specializations include Optics, Computer Engineering, Electromagnetics, and many others. A typical EE-Communications Ph.D. program has courses on robotics, A.I., network and data infrastructure, signals, wireless systems, coding or programming, digital communications systems, and engineering-level troubleshooting, to name a few.
Possible career settings: biomedicine, manufacturing, industrial, finance, military and defense, communications, space technology, transportation, consumer electronics, and even mass media.
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $64K to $159K
Annual median salary: $100K
A Ph.D. in Psychology (Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology) is geared towards a multifaceted career in the field. One can do research, teach in universities, and even hold clinical practice. There is, however, a greater emphasis on research work rather than patient work. This is in contrast to a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree, which focuses on clinical or patient work.
A typical curriculum in a Ph.D. program in Psychology consists of courses on research, statistics, teaching, psychology fundamentals like developmental, cognitive and social, professional issues, and many others. It also includes courses on clinical psychology and psychopathology. Compared to Psy.D. programs, which are generally shorter by a year, a Ph.D. in Psychology program usually lasts for two to three years. Some Ph.D. programs may only require either an internship, a practicum, or a dissertation for completion. Some may require a combination of all these for graduation.
Possible career settings: research, academe, specialized counseling, community and social work, consultancy, or industrial and organizational work (corporate).
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $46K to $137K
Annual median salary: $82K
A Ph.D. in education would allow teachers at the secondary and below to teach at universities and colleges. Their specialization or focus will depend on their undergraduate and master’s degrees. With further experience and training, they could also hold administrative roles in their respective departments or colleges or get tenured. They could also carve a career in academic research.
Students enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Education take courses that focus on education delivery and instructional design. Courses like literacy assessment and evaluation, curriculum design, and delivery techniques are usually included in the curriculum. Topics on leadership, policy, and management are also included, although with less focus. A dissertation is required to earn the doctorate title.
Possible career settings: public or private universities and colleges, specialized occupational organizations or associations, and research.
Salary range according to B.L.S. Data: $40K to $179K
Annual median salary: $80K
Like chemists, physicists also pursue doctoral degrees to become better equipped in research and academia, even though a bachelor’s degree in Physics is the entry-level requirement for many related roles. Physicists pride themselves on having doctorates and being engaged in the continuous pursuit of new knowledge about the universe.
A typical curriculum in a Ph.D. program in Physics consists of advanced or physics-level mathematics, statistics, computer science or engineering, programming, quantum mechanics, dynamics, nanoscience, cosmology, particle physics, experimental or applied physics, astronomical physics, biophysics, computational models, theories in physics (e.g., Relativity Theory, String Theory, Loop Quantum Theory), and special topics in physics, to name a few. A dissertation is required for program completion.
Possible career settings: government research centers, academic research, funded research, academe, consultancy for industries like life sciences, pharmaceutical, space technology, mass media, and pop culture (e.g., sci-fi or futuristic movies or shows), and biomedicine, among others.
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $67K to $208K
Annual median salary: $129K
English Language and Literature (General)
A doctorate in English offers several career options aside from academe and research. A career in public relations, communications, strategy, journalism, mass media (scriptwriting, film, editorials, etc.), advertising, publishing, editorship, or authorship are just some of the many pathways for professionals with this degree.
A typical curriculum in a Ph.D. program in English and Literature includes courses like linguistics, translation (foreign language courses may be required), literary analysis, professional studies, and graduate seminars in preparation for dissertation research and defense.
Possible career settings: academe, research, corporate, mass media, journalism, publishing, public relations, political campaigns, advertising, consultancy, or English curriculum design.
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $39K to $141K
Annual median salary: $69K
Audiology / Audiologist and Hearing Sciences
Audiologists are specialized health professionals who diagnose and treat hearing problems. They treat patients of all ages, from pediatric to geriatric patients. They also administer hearing devices or implement patient programs to help rehabilitate or regain their impaired sense of hearing. The entry-level academic requirements to practice are a doctorate in Audiology (Au.D.) and a state license. Most Au.D. programs require four years of study for completion.
The usual courses included in an Au.D. program include vestibular anatomy and physiology, acoustic sciences, psychoacoustics, types of hearing devices, vestibular pathologies, biological aspects of sound, and laboratory courses, to name some. Most Au.D. programs require a combination of the capstone project(s), clinical exams, and a year-long externship for completion.
Possible career settings: hospitals, specialty clinics, physician’s offices, and adjunctive or rehabilitative treatment clinics (in combination with speech therapists, occupational and physical therapists).
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $56K to $128K
Annual median salary: $81K
A doctorate in Statistics gears students towards a career in research and post-secondary teaching. Statisticians under the Ph.D. program typically deep dive into applying statistical models, theory, and probability to a particular field. And this is where statistics integrates with other disciplines, like business, finance, medicine, epidemiology, data science, insurance, economics, sociology, psychology, and information science, among many others. In these industries, statisticians with a doctorate can hold senior roles.
A typical statistics doctoral program consists of courses on advanced mathematics, statistical models, Bayesian Statistics, regression, variances, data science and analysis, and many others. Students are also expected to learn about different statistical software programs and visual communication, which could help them with data visualization and presentation. A dissertation is required for the completion of the doctorate program.
Possible career settings: research, academia, and almost any industry that requires preliminary studies, polls, focus group discussions, experiments, data analyses, interpretation, visualization, and presentation.
The salary range according to Payscale data will depend on the role and the industry where the statistician is employed:
- Senior data scientists (I.T., marketing, advertising, sales, insurance, finance industries): $104K to $174K, annual median salary: $140K
- Senior biostatistician (life sciences, healthcare industries): $83K to $143K, annual median salary: $112K
- Senior statistician (social sciences, research, academe): $76K to $153K, annual median salary: $109K
Biomedical engineers combine the disciplines of mechanics and medicine to create electronic and automated systems and devices that are essential in healthcare delivery. Devices like defibrillators, monitoring systems, pacemakers, limb prosthetics, organ implants, ultrasound machines, M.R.I., CT Scans, and all the software programs that come with it are just some of the upshots of this profession. The engineers design and create, but they also implement the technologies and maintain their performance within the patient’s body or bedside.
While a bachelor’s degree is the profession’s entry-level requirement, those with a Ph.D. in the discipline have greater advantages. Through constant research exposure, doctorates are more likely to employ advanced technologies in medical systems and devices. They could also lead R&D teams, and of course, teach at universities and colleges.
Some of the courses to be expected in a Ph.D. program in Biomedical Engineering include biomechanics, biomaterials, advanced mathematics, bioimaging concepts and methods, bio instrumentation, rehabilitation engineering, stem cell biology, tissue engineering, and biostatistics, to name some. Some programs may also include courses on robotics, machine learning, and A.I. and its application to healthcare and medicine.
Possible career settings: medical manufacturing, specialized research centers (government-funded or private), information technology (for medical software application and engineering), hospitals or clinics (for those with an M.D. degree as well), medical organizations and non-profits, rehabilitation centers, or community recreation centers, and academia.
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $56K to $149K
Annual median salary: $92K
The course of study for becoming a physician (or a “doctor,” in layman speak) can usually last for a decade or even longer. A bachelor’s degree and passing the MCAT are requirements to enter medical school, leading to the conferment of a Doctor in Medicine (M.D.) degree. There is no requirement for a master’s degree before qualifying for med school, nor is there a specific undergraduate degree requirement – any B.S. or B.A. degree will do. But certain undergraduate degrees will prove advantageous going into medical schools, such as Biology, Pharmacy, Nursing, Public Health, Behavioral Science, Psychology, Chemistry, Health Informatics, Health Management, Emergency Medicine, Health Sciences, and many more.
Students in medical school are expected to gain a holistic understanding of the discipline, with the competency to apply these onto real patients. Under any M.D. program, students will take courses on anatomy, physiology, pathology, microbiology, serology, anesthesiology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics, and pharmacology.
Importantly, med schools extensively feature the main courses on the body’s various organ systems, such as cardiology, pulmonology, neurology, gastrointestinal system, reproductive systems, lymphatic system, dermatology, and immune system. They will also take didactic courses to train them on patient intake, history taking, different diagnostic aids and techniques, interpretation of results, and diagnosis and treatment plan formulation. Exams, clerkships, and internships are all required to complete the program.
After medical school and earning a state license, physicians then choose a specialization and enter residency programs, fellowship programs, or further training and education under their focus of choice. Examples include anesthesiology, neurology, surgery, family medicine, obstetrics, gynecology, urology, cardiology, pediatrics, geriatrics, psychiatry, pulmonology, and dermatology.
Possible career settings: hospitals (mainly), private practice, clinics, research, medical organizations (for research, advocacy, consultancy), medical journalism (journals and other peer-reviewed literature), inter-industry consultancy (e.g., consulting for I.T. companies developing medical software or devices), or the academe.
Despite the slow job projection growth, physicians will always be in demand, no matter what the statistics say. The current pandemic just proved that.
Medical specialty with highest and lowest annual median salary according to B.L.S. data: Anesthesiologists, at $271K and Pediatricians, at $184K
Annual median salary (across all specialties): $208K
Like medicine, dentistry is also a straight-to-doctorate program that will require completing an undergraduate degree before admission to dental school. Passing the Dental Admissions Test (D.A.T.) is also required. A master’s is not required for admission. The degree conferred is either Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.D.M.) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.).
The minimum total study time required to earn the degree is typically eight years (including the four-year study at the undergraduate level). This could be longer by two more years, at least, if post-doctoral studies such as orthodontics, endodontics, pediatric dentistry, oral-maxillofacial surgery, prosthodontics, or periodontics are taken as well.
A D.D.M. or D.D.S. program curriculum is usually composed of courses similar to a Doctor of Medicine curriculum, like anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pathology, infection control, and pharmacology. From the second year onwards, the courses become more dental science-concentrated, with more laboratory components. These courses include dental materials, dental anesthesiology, cariology, operative dentistry, and the various sub-specialties like prosthodontics, periodontics, endodontics, etcetera for holistic dental training. To complete the program, a combination of exams and clinical internship, and clerkship are required.
Possible career settings: private clinical practice, hospitals, academe, schools (school dentists), corporate (company dentists), research, manufacturing/marketing/sales/R&D (dental materials, dental devices like implants or orthodontic braces, dental technology products like intraoral scanners, dental CAD-CAM machines, and dental 3D printers, etc.), consultancy, dental journalism, dental informatics, dental entrepreneurship, community dentistry, and government work (either as a researcher, consultant, dentist or a combination of these).
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $79K to $208K
Annual median salary: $164K
Pharmacists need to have a doctorate in pharmacy or Pharm.D., and a state license to practice. The Pharm.D. program typically lasts for four years and usually requires a capstone project and internship experiences to culminate the program. Any degree in the bachelor level is accepted into the program. A master’s degree is not a requirement.
A typical curriculum in the Doctor of Pharmacy program includes courses like biology, chemistry, physics, pharmaceutics, pharmacodynamics, nomenclature, cell biology, pharmacokinetics, pharmacogenetics, pharmacotherapeutics specific to organ systems, pharmacy management, hospital practice, industry practice, nuclear pharmacy, and many others.
A course on drug development may or may not be included in some programs. A pharmacist’s role is more focused on dispensing and monitoring patient prescriptions than manufacturing medicines. But a rudimentary knowledge in drug manufacturing could be useful, especially for pharmacists who would go into consultancy or industrial work in the pharmaceutical industry. For this particular role, additional studies on microbiology, statistics, advanced chemistry, genetics, biochemistry, microscopic anatomy, and physiology, among others, may be needed.
Despite the projected decline in job demand, pharmacists are still expected to rebound in the job market, especially during and after the pandemic, where a rise in immunizations and drug dispensations are expected. Pharmacists can also administer immunizations to patients as well.
Possible career settings: hospitals, pharmacies (located in groceries, convenience stores, or standalone pharmacies), community centers, research, government, specialty groups and organizations, pharmaceutical companies (with further studies), and academia.
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $85K to $164K
Annual median salary: $128K
Aerospace engineers have specialized roles that allow them to design, create and implement aircraft and other space-bound machines like satellites, payloads, space stations, missiles, and other spacecraft. While a bachelor’s degree is generally accepted as an entry-level professional requirement, a doctorate is more appreciated in these circles. This is because of their extensive experience in research on advanced space science and technologies, which can be applied to the creation and testing of prototypes.
A doctoral program in Aerospace Engineering typically lasts for three years. The curriculum usually consists of courses on rocket propulsion, aerodynamics, fluid dynamics, thermo-fluid dynamics, aircraft/spacecraft essentials (design, control, materials, differences of manned and unmanned crafts, identification, etc., remediation), spacecraft operations, and many other related topics.
One of the more important objectives of space exploration and engineering is its application to other industries like the military, manufacturing, transportation, medicine, and consumer electronics. This is great for Aerospace Engineers as they can carve careers in other industries beyond space technology.
Possible career settings: Military/defense technologies, biomedicine technologies, transportation (aviation, nautical, and land), manufacturing (all industries), construction, product R&D, infrastructure and public works, research, and academia.
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $72K to $171K
Annual median salary: $118K
Juris Doctor / Law
Lawyers undergo rigorous training once they start law school to earn a Juris Doctor program (J.D.). Such a program typically lasts for three years. However, diligent students who can withstand the pressure can complete the program in two years. Part-time students can earn the J.D. title in four years. Many lawyers say the first year of law school is the most rigorous.
Admission to law school requires a bachelor’s degree and passing marks in the LSAT. While any bachelor’s degree will do, an undergraduate degree in Political Science, Social Science, Public Administration, Governance, Economics, Public Policy, or International Affairs may prove advantageous going into law school. Paralegals who are associate degree holders must earn a bachelor’s degree before applying for law school.
Law students study the nitty-gritty of the law like the Constitution and specialized courses on law like criminal law, corporate law, environmental law, family law, labor law, property law, trial law, and international law. They also study the ins and outs of contracts, taxation, litigation, jury selection, and empirical analysis, among others.
Possible career settings: government (district attorney’s office, judgeship), all industries in the private sector (as legal counsel or in-house counsel for companies), private law firm practice, organizations (for-profit, non-profit, private), public office, legal clinics, and the academe. Some lawyers also edit and supervise law review articles written by law students in peer-reviewed law journals and literature.
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $61K to $208K
Annual median salary: $126K
Optometry (O.D. Doctor of Optometry)
Optometrists are specialty doctors focused on diagnosing and treating eye problems. They are knowledgeable on the muscular, neurological, and vascular anatomy, physiology, and pathology of the eyes. They can also prescribe eye medications and adjuncts like eyeglasses, and contact lenses, when necessary. They do not, however, perform ophthalmic or eye surgeries (e.g., LASIK). That is an ophthalmologist’s job, a type of physician with residency training and fellowship to study ophthalmology.
The program of study for Optometrists is similar to that of Dentists – both employ a dedicated straight-to-doctorate program, which culminates in either a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) or Doctor of Dental Medicine or Surgery (D.D.M./D.D.S.) title. While physicians, on the other hand, after completing the M.D. program, still have to undergo specialty training under the focus of their choice. All disciplines will also require a state license to practice.
Optometrists usually study ocular anatomy, physiology, microbiology and pathology, examination and testing techniques, perception study, ocular pharmacology, business management, vision rehabilitation, and prescription and delivery/implementation of ocular or vision adjuncts (glasses, contact lenses).
Possible career settings: private practices (usually with dentists and other allied medical practices, or independent, solo practice), and health and integrative wellness practices.
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $60K to $195K
Annual median salary: $118K
The field of economics is all about research, the employment of statistics in these studies, and its presentation to concerned parties. While many positions for economists in the industry will only require a bachelor’s degree, having a Ph.D. affords more gravitas to the professional holding the role. And those with a doctorate in economics are better equipped and more experienced to provide insight.
Any bachelor’s degree is usually accepted into an economics doctorate program. But those with an undergraduate degree in Economics, Statistics, Mathematics, Social Science, Political Science, Business Management, Business Administration, or Finance are at a better advantage as they transition into the research-heavy world of doctorate programs.
Depending on the university, a Ph.D. program in Economics will usually last anywhere from three to five years. It will also include courses on Micro and Macro Economic Theory, Advanced Econometrics, and Communications, which build the foundation for data visualization and presentation skills. A dissertation is required to complete the doctoral program.
Possible career settings: consultancy in various industries – from corporate to government, research organizations/think tanks/advocacy organizations, research, and academia.
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $59K to $198K
Annual median salary: $108K
Computer Science / Information Science / Computer Engineering
Many I.T. professionals will weigh against a Ph.D. Many would say it is no longer necessary, and whatever you need to learn, you can learn on the job or through non-degree certificates. Personalities like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are the heroes of this argument. Other tech big names like Larry Page and Elon Musk did pursue doctoral degrees but later on left their programs to start their enterprises – Google and PayPal (which later on evolved into SpaceX), respectively.
When Musk was asked why he dropped out of his Ph.D. program at Stanford, it was because he could not just sit idly while internet companies were popping here and there, expanding their global footprints. In short, he wanted to be part of the tech-startup race.
So, what’s the lesson here for I.T. professionals dancing on the idea of a Ph.D.? Why should you stay, or why should you leave (or not even apply, in the first place)?
Apply and stay in the program if you are the I.T. professional who is more intrigued by research and the advancement of the field, without dealing with stakeholders, business plans, expansion plans, budgets, and all those back-office stuff. Musk was more interested in being a tech-entrepreneur, based on the I.T. skills and knowledge he already had even before his college years. If you can relate to him, then a Ph.D. in Computer Science, Engineering, or Information Systems is probably not for you. Bank on the skills and knowledge you already have, and you might be better off with your start-up.
As for the aspiring doctoral candidates in Computer Science (or Information Systems), be ready to take on advanced courses on algorithms, computer systems, network infrastructures, new and advanced programming languages, software development and engineering, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, and their real-life applications (i.e., consumer products, consumer electronics, Internet-of-Things, etc.).
Some words of advice from professionals (thanks to a cursory scroll at forums like Stack Exchange in Quora): students pursuing a Ph.D. in C.S. will have a brighter future in research if they concentrate on software development and engineering rather than in programming. And again, only do a Ph.D. if you are interested in research, software development, machine learning, and A.I. (and other advanced I.T. fields), not in running a start-up. Instead, use your breadth of knowledge in programming languages as a tool in exploring the possibilities in software development and its applications.
Possible career settings: I.T. industry (tech giants like Google are continuously hiring I.T. professionals with a Ph.D., with close to 20% of its employees having doctorates), the space tech industry, government (e.g., military, defense, cybersecurity, dedicated research centers), entrepreneurship (freelance, proprietary business or collaboration, start-up), and academia.
Salary range according to B.L.S. data: $72K to $194K
Annual median salary: $126K