Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Is it simple to obtain a doctor of science degree?

This post is about to become a logical extension to the previous one ("Who is who in universities") and is aimed to increase the number of business community people considering to become a PhD. Notice that this post is written getting into account practises of Tallinn University of Technology (TTU) / department of informatics.

So, what is the minimum requirement to become a doctor of science? First of all (and that is the crucial one) is to write at least three articles to any scientific journal or publish them in conference proceedings. Thereafter you will have to compile you superior doctor work presenting your original research (method, algorithm, approach etc hopefully improving something sufficiently). The length of it should be approximately 70-80 pages (excluding appendixes and so forth). The work (sometimes called thesis) can be done either by combining your articles or writing it from the scratch. Finally it should be presented to a group of highly educated people sometimes called professors and in this particular case gathered together to understand “who are you?”, “why you are here?” and “does your work satisfy to requirements defined by this particular university for obtaining PhD degree?”.

Normally there is one more requirement to the minimum requirement mentioned above: learn at the university something useful and gather a certain amount of academic points (AP). For example TTU requires studying around 10 subjects.

How to achieve that?

Of course it is possible to pass this with minimal requirements (so called extern) but history know very little such example, so I will assume you are not mad enough to do that. Mostly the study will be compiled from a set of seminars on which you will find yourself presenting your ideas, describing something new from your PhD area etc. therefore I would call that: “having fun”. Of course you will have to study a set of other subjects like for example the scientific writing, but those varies from department to department and are not so numerous and you can pass them easily and quickly doing it “right” (spending minimum efforts and time)


We will be discussing this a bit later including formats, structure, content etc.


What I could say about such important question? Well I suppose everyone think that you should get one before considering continuing your study as a PhD student. Actually I think that this opinion is slightly incorrect. Of course it will be nice if a student has got a beautiful idea to work on in advance, but actually it is not quite required. Moreover I do not believe that a student can come with a ready made idea before starting the study, because it requires quite sufficient time to formulate, understand and make it correct. Actually the PhD study is about to do all this and therefore the idea will be formulate during the study, not before. It is obvious that the PhD work should be some kind extension to the master work, but it mean only the field of the research. Therefore don’t afraid to start having no brilliant ideas.
Moreover the research subject can sufficiently change during the study period and migrate to a co-field. Besides a lot of students got the idea done somewhere in the study by a day …. something strikes your head once and vu a la you are done. The only remaining activities are to write, present and celebrate.

Finally I would make a very “criminal” point from the academic research perspective. I have seen a lot of people who actually got the PhD for a very, very strange works (if to not say for nothing), so if you will finally arrive to the presenting your work in front of professors I shall say you will get your PhD for sure.

The thesis (dissertation) defence process

So, we have arrived to a topic of presenting the final work. The actual process of presenting the work is very formal (both from the regulation and the result point of view) and always ends with promoting the person to PhD degree. The reason is simple – normally it is too late on this stage to present doubts or negative result and will mean doubts in quality of the student supervisor and opponents. Therefore and the first and most important event that should happen before – your supervisor should let you (promote) to the final work presentation and s/he will not do that unless w/he is sure that the quality of the work is good enough. Notice that existence of your articles will not always mean the quality if those was written together with others, but normally are aimed to verify your expertise. Secondly, your opponents should agree to be opponents (participate). As a rule, those will not agree if they doubt in the quality of the work (or will decline later after reading it to avoid conflicts on site during the presentation process). That is why they normally would like to read your work and will force you to make certain changes (if the quality can be adjusted at all).

Job/position, i.e. how to earn money been PhD student

The question of being in a certain position (working for .. some company/institution) is also a crucial factor moving toward our PhD goal. Normally there are two ways either to be working for a commercial company or become a part of an institution working there as a lecturer or a researcher. The last one normally mean that you will not be getting paid well, but will have a lot of time for your research (and finally become sure that you are much better that “ordinal” people :) ). Besides you will be able to meet useful people and talk to bright scientists.
After saying that I would actually like to make an opposite suggestion. Working for the institution is not the only way to be successful on the road to PhD and it is possible to become a doctor working at the same time in a business sector. So, the main topic of this post is to encourage specialists from commerce to start the doctoral study and reach the goal. Don’t be afraid, it is possible and actually I did prove that by my experience and would like to help others as well. Actually a lot of researches in IT start to understand that there problems and ideas are rather artificial and requires real examples and cases.


It is obvious that working for your employer you will get paid for all your time spent for them, so will get money and other bonuses. Advantages of this are: a) you don’t depend on other people (like for example you parents or your wife); b) you don’t suffer from cold and hunger, don’t have to rent a flat with two or three friends c) you can avoid wasting your time, for example in public transport moving around in your personal car and d)get what you need when you need that (books, journals, Internet access etc) instead of asking for funds filling numerous forms for the university. I think you will agree that it is much easier to think and research in good conditions, rather than missing very basic things (like been in a cold, noisy room with a poor Internet access). The obvious disadvantage (that we will have to balance) is absence of time (this will be our limited resource :)).

Some remarks on what you need to start

Fortunately we have been discussed already that the efficient study (which is also quite a fun) will not require too much time. Besides the process of finding an idea do require a concentration on that instead of a permanent presence of you at the university.
What you do really, really need is a) a wish to get the desired PhD degree (in order not to cancel your study somewhere in the middle; b) an employer who is willing to let you go to university to participate in classes or visit conferences when you need that (instead of following some kind fixed vacations schedule).
A wish to become a doctor” - I think it is crucial to decide about that starting your study to avoid spending your valuable time dropping the study later. From my point of view, the clever (meaningful) person should evolve all the time. Additionally you will have an opportunity to travel all over the world participating in conferences and al this will be paid by the university. Besides, later you will have at least something to recall as your greatest contribution.
An employer” – I strongly believe that if you are so clever that you are starting PhD study then you will easily find a good working place (otherwise your knowledge is highly artificial) and then you will easily become a very valuable specialist and your company will always be ready to find some kind trade off between your duties and needs, so you could agree on having time (for example counting that as vacation days) during which you can visit conferences.

Summarising all said above I would encourage you to start PhD study even working full day somewhere. Don’t miss one of the greatest challenges of your life.

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