The Ever-Changing Dynamics of the Doctoral Degree

The doctoral degree; for many of you reading this, it’s the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, an achievement that far outweighs the incredible stress and strain of having very little sleep, and even less of a social life. In a world that is increasingly starved of experienced and qualified talent, it is rewarding not only for you but for the larger society in general. However, the concept of the doctoral degree is gradually changing. Take a look.

What Is Dead May Never Die 

Please ignore the above Game of Thrones reference, because it is clearly an aphorism for the idea of a doctoral degree. You see, by working towards achieving a doctoral degree, you are immersed into the subject without the ‘buoyant’ assistance of the ‘teacher’. Your study forms the very vanguard of the subject at large, answering questions that have very likely not been answered before. By achieving the degree you form part of an extraordinary league of scholars who have come and gone before; hence the poetic use of ‘what is dead may never die’.

This all sounds very impressive, but how exactly has this assisted society? Not enough, in fact. While there have been a number of organizations and associations that devote their life’s work toward bettering society, many a doctorate degree has been earned, only to fill the annals of hundreds of years of subject-specific literature. And before all those with doctorates throw up their arms in disgust after hearing that statement, consider its truth; the demographics regarding those studying doctorate degrees is changing and as a result institutions are changing their ideas of research methodology.

The New Measurement Of Knowledge 

So how has our level of knowledge been measured with regards to a specific subject? The traditional method relies almost solely on the research assignment or thesis/dissertation. Postgraduate work has changed slightly through the years with the inclusion of tests and examinations, but it’s the measurement of a thesis that judges the competency of the researcher and their specialisation within a given subject.

However, and in many cases for the first time ever experienced, other measures are being used to judge a researcher’s knowledge and experience. Institutions have the arduous job of classifying those activities that form a part of the research literature or portfolio, but the fact is that many of them are realising the importance of practical application as a way of achieving a doctorate degree. Internships, presentations as well as work for committees and non-political organisations all form part of the doctorate literature, which should all count towards achieving one’s doctorate degree.

A recent article by US News summarises the pursuits of postgraduate researchers; half of the USA’s postgraduates will be seeking work outside of academia when achieving their doctoral degrees, and a significant proportion of them could earn well above the $65 000 per month salary mark. Organisations like the American Council of Learned Societies assist doctoral graduates in applying their skills privately and practically.

More and more academic institutions are recognising the requirements of both students and society at large to apply the rhetoric in the ‘real world’, and thus using it as a platform from which to earn your doctorate degree. This, most importantly, will allow individuals to work in environments totally removed from academia, yet still be respected for their influence on the subject at large.

At VUT we hope that more will be done internationally so that even academics in South Africa would be able to achieve a doctorate degree through the practical application of their work ‘off campus’. If you’re wanting to study your doctorate degree at VUT, take a look at our postgraduate courses on offer.