Since the Middle Ages

Since the Middle Ages, there has been considerable evolution and proliferation in the number and types of doctorates awarded by universities throughout the world, and practices vary from one country to another. While a doctorate usually entitles one to be addressed as "doctor", usage of the title varies widely, depending on the type of doctorate earned and the doctor's occupation. Broadly speaking, doctorates may be loosely classified into the following categories: Academic doctors gather before the April 2008 Commencement exercises at Brigham Young University.

Research doctorates are awarded in recognition of academic research that is (at least in principle) publishable in a peer-refereed academic journal. The best-known degree of this type is that of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD, or sometimes DPhil) awarded in many countries throughout the world. Others include the degree of Doctor of Education, various doctorates in engineering (such as the US Doctor of Engineering, the UK Engineering Doctorate and the German Engineering Doctorate (Dr-Ing)) and the German degree of Doctor rerum naturalium (Dr.rer.nat.).

Criteria for award of research doctorates vary somewhat throughout the world, but typically requires the submission of a substantial body of original research undertaken by the candidate. This may take the form of a single thesis or dissertation, or possibly a portfolio of shorter project reports, and will usually be assessed by a small committee of examiners appointed by the university, and often an oral examination of some kind. In some countries (such as the US) there may also be a formal taught component, typically consisting of graduate-level courses in the subject in question, as well as training in research methodology.
The minimum time required to complete a research doctorate varies by country, and may be as short as three years (excluding undergraduate study), although it is not unknown for a candidate to take up to ten years to complete.

Types of Doctorate

In some countries, especially the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and some Scandinavian, Commonwealth nations, or former USSR and other Socialist Bloc countries, there is a higher tier of research doctorates, awarded on the basis of a formally submitted portfolio of published research of a very high standard. Examples include the Doctor of Sciences (DSc/ScD) and Doctor of Letters (DLitt/LittD) degrees found in the UK, Ireland and some Commonwealth countries, and the traditional doctorates in Norway and Denmark, like dr. theol. (Theology), dr. jur. (Law), dr. med. (Medicine) and dr. philos./dr. phil. (after both countries introduced a doctorate at a lower level, the ph.d.).
The German habilitation (a formal professorial qualification with thesis and exam) is commonly regarded as belonging to this category. However, in some German states, the Habilitation is not an academic degree, but rather a professorial certification ("facultas docendi") that the regarding person holds all formal qualifications to teach independently at a German university. In other German states, the "Habilitand" is awarded a formal "Dr. habil." degree. In some cases where such degree is awarded, the regarding person may add "habil." to his or her research doctorate such as "Dr. phil. habil." or "Dr. rer. nat. habil." Higher doctorates are often also awarded honoris causa when a university wishes to formally recognize an individual's achievements and contributions to a particular field.

Juris Doctor candidates gather before commencement at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, May 2008. Professional doctorates are awarded in certain fields where most holders of the degree are not engaged primarily in scholarly research, but rather in a profession, such as law, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, music or ministry. Examples include the U.S. degrees of Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Juris Doctor (JD), and the Czech and Slovak degrees of Doctor of Medicine (MUDr. - Medicinae Universae Doctor) and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (MVDr. - Medicinae Vetenariae Doctor).
Professional doctorates originated in the United States, with the introduction of the M.D. or Medicinæ Doctor at Columbia University in 1767, or almost 100 years before a research doctorate, or Ph.D., was ever awarded in that country (at Yale in 1861).The Juris Doctor, the professional degree for lawyers, was introduced in 1870 just a few years after in the Ph.D.
The term Professional Doctorate is also used to refer to research doctorates with a focus on applied research, or research as used for professional purposes. Among others, these include the degrees of Doctor of Practical Theology (DPT), and Doctor of Professional Studies (DPS in the U.S. or DProf in the U.K.), Doctor of the Built Environment (DBEnv), Doctor of Science in Physical Therapy (DSc or DScPT), and some others in various specified professional fields.
In Australia, the term is also applied to the S.J.D., while that degree is also categorized as a research degree. It appears that the reasoning is not that S.J.D. program in Australia has the goal of preparing better practitioners (as the term is normally applied), but that the research from the degree shall contribute to the practice of law for other practitioners.

Present Day

When a university wishes to formally recognize an individual's contributions to a particular field or philanthropic efforts, it may choose to grant a doctoral degree honoris causa (i.e., "for the sake of the honor"), the university waiving the usual formal requirements for bestowal of the degree. Some universities (e.g., Cornell University, the University of Virginia) do not award honorary degrees. British Business Academy presents five programs of Professional Doctorates in direct of Doctor of Business Administration since September 2009.

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