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The Doctoral Degree - PhD Program

The doctoral degree (also referred to as a Ph.D.) is the highest degree awarded by the universities, and is done so after an extensive program of study and research in a specialized subject. The degree signifies a capability to assimilate the most advanced and recondite level of knowledge in the subject. The degree is crowned with a doctoral thesis, which is expected to be a thorough and intensive contribution to a specialized subject based on original research and inquiry.

As is obvious from the above, a prerequisite for pursuing a doctoral degree is an active interest in, and the inclination to do, intensive research work. It requires putting in long and laborious hours of study at a microcosmic level on a specific subject. In this way, a doctoral degree is quite an antithesis of the master's degree, which covers a broad range of subjects in a particular field of study.

Eligibility : A common misconception is that a master's degree is a prerequisite for the doctoral degree. It is an advantage but is not necessary. For 3-year degree holders, it is not possible to enroll directly for a Ph.D program. Some universities do consider admission into a Ph.D directly after a Bachelors degree, if pre-requisite scores, academics and experience are sound. You must demonstrate an inclination towards research and exhibit a good academic record.

Experience of atleast two to three years in the relevant field is considered important for admission into a Doctoral program, by most universities.

How the Doctoral Application Process works :

The application process has to be initiated atleast one year to eighteen months in advance before the proposed date of reporting at the university. This is necessary since identification of professors, interaction with them and finalizing the program of research with necessary financial assistance can take a long time.

For any graduate programme, more so for a doctoral, the applicant has to contend with two sets of requirements - those set by the graduate school and those set by the graduate department. You have to meet up with the eligibility requirements of the university and also find a match between your area of specialisation and the research interests of the department you will be studying in.

Choose your subject : The first step towards applying is deciding on a subject for your doctorate. The essential aspect here is to focus on as specific a field of study as you possibly can; thus saying that you wish to do a doctorate in Electrical Engineering is not good enough, you have to be more specific than that (say, doctorate in Power Transmission and transmission losses, which is a specific field within the broad ambit of Electrical Engineering). Spend time on deciding this - the critical factor here is a very high level of interest in the specific field you choose. In fact, some experts recommend that you should have a rough idea of what your research topic in the doctoral program is going to be even before you apply for admission.

Prepare for the standardised tests : The GRE is required for most doctoral programs in the engineering and other non-management related fields. In the top graduate schools, securing a doctoral berth is a tough proposition because they are very choosy about admitting research candidates. In fact, most schools have a strict ceiling of the number of doctoral candidates they admit, which can be as low as five students in a calendar year. Most universities require the general GRE test as well as the Subject GRE test, with excellent scores. Check this with the university you intend to apply to. You will also be required to take the TOEFL and the TSE.

Choose Universities : Along with your test preparation for GRE, Subject GRE, TOEFL and TSE, you must start identifying universities that are good in the area that you want to specialise in. You must check the research interests of the department under which your research area falls.

Contact the departments and Professors : After identifying a suitable list of universities and their departments, you should identify Professors who could be interested to work with you in your research area. You could do so by visiting the university web sites and getting the names and contact email IDs of the professors.

Start corresponding with the professors by indicating your interest to work under them. Indicate as clearly as possible the subject of your research and what qualifies you to be successful at it.

You must initiate this process with as many universities as you can. There will be some Professors who will not be interested in your research area. Identify those that are, and go ahead and complete the application procedure of those universities.

Follow the Application process of the university : Submit your application to the university, follow their time deadlines, and comply with all requirements.

Project yourself well : An essential part of the application is the statement of purpose (SOP) which all graduate schools require you to write. This statement should clearly bring out your interest in the field in which you wish to do a Ph.D. Any previous research experience in that field will work to your advantage.

Financing your Doctoral Study : Getting financial aid for a doctoral programme is fairly easy. Most universities will give you a full financial aid, which will cover your tuition fees and living expenses. The aid is given either semester wise or on yearly basis. You have to apply for financial aid by indicating your interest in your admission application form.

The content of the Doctoral Programme

The doctoral programme is divided into two parts, pre-dissertation study and the doctoral thesis. Once admitted, you are required to spend the first year or so in acquiring a solid foundation in the advanced knowledge of your chosen field. This entails regular course work - you might have to attend lectures and seminars with the master's degree students of your stream. This course work culminates in a "qualifying examination", on clearing which you are formally admitted to candidacy for a doctoral degree.

In the second and final stage of the pre-dissertation study, you are expected to acquire expertise in a specialized field within your chosen discipline. Thus, if your doctoral subject was organisational behaviour, you may have narrowed down your research interest to "leadership", an important element within organisational behaviour. This stage too ends in an examination, including an oral one, upon passing which you are considered ready to begin work on your thesis.

The Doctoral Thesis : This final stage of the doctoral study is usually regarded as the most important, during which you have to complete a dissertation (a detailed study on a topic, which can be as specific as "Employee motivation at the XYZ Corporation", but should contribute to the existing level of knowledge in that field of study. During the research, you will be assigned to an advisor with whom you are required to work in close association. This advisor is usually a faculty member most knowledgeable about the special area of dissertation research.

Thesis research and preparation is a highly cognitive process. The culmination of the process is in the form of the final thesis defense, in which you are presumed to be an expert in your field and are supposed to literally defend your findings and conclusions on the subject in front of a committee. The completed dissertation becomes a public document, placed in the university library and also often published in the university journal or even on its web site in some cases.

How long does it take?

The entire process of getting a doctorate degree usually takes a minimum of three-and-a-half years, nearly two of which are spent exclusively in preparing the thesis. The degree usually leads to employment in the academic world, but in recent years, more and more doctorates are finding employment in the professional world at par with or even ahead of other professionals.



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