DPhil vs PhD – Differences Explained

DPhil vs PhD – What Are the Differences?

There is a common misconception that a DPhil and PhD are two different degrees. This is not the case.

The abbreviations ‘PhD’ and ‘DPhil’ both relate to the same academic qualification – a Doctor of Philosophy. A Doctor of Philosophy is a professional research qualification usually undertaken after a Master’s or Bachelor’s degree. It’s awarded to students who successfully undertake a novel research project and usually involves the production and defence of a thesis during an oral examination.

Whilst both abbreviations refer to the same qualification, ‘PhD’ is far more common and well known compared to ‘DPhil’. In fact, it’s likely that most doctoral students located outside of the UK have never even stumbled upon the abbreviation ‘DPhil’ before!

Note: DPhil is sometimes stylised as D.Phil or D-Phil.

The reason for this is that ‘DPhil’ is a British abbreviation and is only currently used by a handful of UK universities such as Oxford, and occasionally, Sussex and York. While almost all UK universities adopt the term ‘PhD’, the University of Oxford still uses ‘DPhil’ as you can see on their admissions page. As a result, almost all doctorate students graduating today do so with ‘PhD‘ written on their official manuscript.

Are There Any Differences in Funding, Eligibility Requirements or Duration?

In short, no.

As ‘DPhil’ and ‘PhD’ both refer to the same qualification, a ‘Doctor of Philosophy’, there are no differences in programme between them. This is true regardless of whether you’re a UK/EU or international student.

With respect to entry requirements, both will require graduate students to possess a relevant Master’s degree (or a very strong Bachelor’s degree), have the same funding opportunities attached to them and take approximately 3 to 4 years to complete if studied full-time.

There are no additional costs associated with a DPhil compared to a PhD in Philosophy, and external funding sources within the UK are the same.

Potential DPhil Concerns

In the past, several current and post-doctoral students have expressed concerns about whether they will be at a disadvantage due to having ‘DPhil’ on their official degree manuscript as opposed to ‘PhD’.

In almost all cases, these concerns have arisen when an individual is contemplating moving abroad. The reason for this is that the abbreviation ‘DPhil’ is not always as well understood in countries outside the United Kingdom. For example, a recent post-doctoral student once shared with us how she spent two days going back and forth with a potential US employer while trying to explain that her degree is the same qualification as a PhD. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be an isolated event given the number of stories and personal anecdotes available through various post-doctoral forums.

However, in all the above cases, the affected individuals were able to address the employer’s confusion once they explained the difference in the abbreviation system.

Therefore, while obtaining a Doctor of Philosophy which has ‘DPhil’ written on its official manuscript may raise a few questions, it’s not a factor that you should be concerned about.

To summarise, ‘DPhil’ and ‘PhD’ both correspond to a ‘Doctor of Philosophy’. Apart from the differences in abbreviation convention, both degrees are the same higher education qualification.

How Long is a DPhil?

Just like a PhD, a DPhil typically takes 3 to 4 years of full time study. This usually comprises of three stages:

  • Research, where the DPhil student carries out a literature review, providing critique on a wide range of sources, before carrying out their own research.
  • Thesis, where the student writes up their research project in a single document which outlines the importance of the project, methodology, findings and conclusions.
  • Viva Voce, the final step before coming a Doctorate of Philosophy. In this stage the DPhil or PhD student sits an oral exam and is required to discuss and defend their original contribution to the field of study.

Tips for a DPhil

You should now be aware of the DPhil meaning, however if you are still unsure whether this is the right PhD degree for you, here are some tips you can use to reassure yourself, particularly if you are an international student looking to study in the UK:

Talk to an academic supervisor, or even your potential supervisor themselves. They will be able to reiterate the points above and give you confidence that your doctoral study will result in a doctoral degree with the same academic merit as a PhD.

If you are pursuing international study, just like any doctorate degree you should confirm English language requirements, study costs, living costs, travel expenses or any other additional expenses associated with the project.

Doctoral study is a big commitment, so as a DPhil or PhD candidate you need to ask yourself ‘is a PhD worth it?’. If you are genuinely interested in your field or research or wish to gain expert knowledge and contribute to a specific topic, then PhD study could be for you. Doctorates are well equipped to pursue academic careers. Academic positions include lecturers, postdoctoral researchers and PhD supervisors. However, the transferable skills developed over the course of their programmes give them an edge beyond just the academic job market. The research and development industries in particular often look to recruit PhD holders for their expertise in novel techniques. It is important therefore to consider your career goals, and how a DPhil may influence your job prospects.

To conclude, when considering a DPhil vs PhD, either way you will hold a Doctorate of Philosophy. The two advanced degrees differ in name only and are of equal academic merit.

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