There are two titles that seem very similar: ScD and PhD. The former stands for Scientiae Doctor (sometimes also referred to as Doctor of the Sciences—DSc), the latter stands for Doctor of Philosophy.
Both terms have doctor in their name, and both are awarded after years upon years of studying.
But what is the difference between them? They both require to follow the same academic path, and are both awarded after completing the same type of coursework.
They aren’t that different. In fact, they are pretty much equal. PhDs are the most common ones, because they are awarded for every type of doctorate research. ScD, on the other hand, is reserved to those who specialize in a STEM doctorate research.
That’s the main difference between the two. They have the same value, but if you get a ScD, expect to have to explain what it is to many people. Everyone knows what is a PhD, much less people know what is a ScD. It’s just how things are.
This is only true in the United States though. In Europe, a PhD is someone who has just started work on their doctorate research, while the ScD is only awarded after a certain amount of years, depending on the student’s academic successes.
In this article, you are going to learn more about PhDs and ScDs. How to get them, what kind of work goes into them, and what are the differences between them.
What Are the Differences Between an ScD and a PhD?
The biggest difference is the field of study of the two. ScDs are awarded to students in STEM, whereas PhDs are awarded to students in every other field. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to refer to PhDs even when they are conducting doctorate research in STEM.
PhD is the more recognizable term. Expect having to explain yourself every time you mention you have an ScD to the average person.
Academically, the two are equal. Meaning that having a PhD or a ScD shouldn’t impact your ability to find work. They are both the highest academic award you can get in your life.
Getting either of these titles means reaching the top of the science. You see many people attaching PhD next to their name on social media. Rightfully so. It’s a huge achievement. Getting a PhD or a ScD is hard. But it’s not “getting a degree” hard. It’s a path that takes years of research, independent thought, and publishing what you discover.
Who Should Get a PhD or ScD?
While the earlier degrees (bachelor’s and master’s) are more geared towards preparing a student for the job market, PhDs and ScDs are designed for students who want to stay in academia. People who opt for a PhD or ScD are interested in furthering the research on their subject of choice.
Getting a PhD is exciting. Remember those excruciatingly boring papers you’ve had to read in college? The overwhelming majority of these was written by a PhD/ScD.
A PhD’s job is to advance research in their field of study. Becoming a PhD takes around 6 years on average. There’s a lot of work involved. It’s only for the most motivated and talented students.
If you don’t have a burning passion for your field of study, and you are not interested in doing thousands of hours of research, you’re better off getting a job.
Warning: just wishing to get a PhD or ScD is not enough. It’s a path that takes years, plus lots of learning and researching. It’s also not well rewarded economically. If you care more about the money, go to work after your bachelor’s or master’s degree. PhD is only for those completely enamored with their field.
Is Getting a PhD/ScD worth it?
This is a hard question to answer. In a vacuum, yes. PhDs earn way more than their counterparts with a lower-tier degree.
But there are other factors at play. Let’s look at them. We are here to help you make the best possible choice.
Money is always tight for students. Doubly so for PhD and ScD students. Some programs are fully funded, but if you aren’t completing your PhD/ScD in a top university, you’ll most likely have to pay for your own education.
Doctorate programs are expensive and take a lot of years. They are a huge investment on yourself. They are guaranteed to repay you in the long run. So, you might be wondering “if they are always worth it, why not?”.
The main thing you should worry about is if you’ll be able to afford investing in yourself. PhDs take around 6 years on average, with many students requiring up to 8 years before earning theirs. You are devoting a lot of time and effort on education. Ponder if it’s the right choice for you.
PhDs are largely unnecessary to get your dream job. They are more about the profound love for the subject, more so than gaining employable skills.
If you want to advance the world’s knowledge on a specific subject, getting a PhD/ScD is the most straightforward way to do it. But if you just want to get a job at your dream company, then a master’s plus relevant work experience should be enough.
We already mentioned that, on average, it takes about 6 years to get a PhD. This is all time you could have spent working, which would have gotten you experience and money.
Plus, not everyone wants to spend so many additional years in academia. There is an opportunity cost to it. And, considering about half of the people who begin the path to earn a PhD drop it, analyze your situation carefully.
Dropping a PhD/ScD results in wasted time and money. Even if you end up getting into a fully-funded program, you’re still losing a lot of potential money, because it’s time you could have spent working. Think it over.
There are no real differences between ScD and PhD in the United States. Both are equivalent, and both are a terrific life achievement.
If you are planning to get one and are convinced about your choice, congratulations. You have taken an important step in your life. You’re also going to advance humanity’s knowledge. You have my utmost respect.
A word of warning to conclude the article: ScD and PhD are two different things in Europe. If you plan to get your degree and then work in Europe, make sure to clearly communicate you have a ScD, even if you have a PhD. PhD in Europe refers to anyone who has begun their path towards the doctorate degree. ScD is the title for those who have completed it.