A doctorate – or Ph.D. – (doutoramento) is an academic or professional degree that certifies the holder’s ability to develop research and, in most countries, qualifies them to teach in the specific field of their certificate. With the implementation of the Bologna Process, of which Portugal is a signatory, this degree is equivalent and recognized across most European countries, namely those implementing the Bologna Process. At this level, it is expected from the student that he or she is able to work in an independent and creative manner. The ability to do so should be demonstrated by the creation of new knowledge and validated by being published or obtaining patents. In order to pursue a doctorate, a student needs to demonstrate good research qualities and experience, as well as achieve high marks in graduate studies.
The term doctorate comes from the Latin docere, meaning “to teach.” The “licentiate” degree is shortened from the full Latin title licentia docendi, which means “teaching licence”. In some countries, the highest degree in a given field is called a terminal degree and a distinction is sometimes made between terminal professional degrees and terminal research degrees.
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. In Portugal and in the African Countries of Portuguese Official Language, it is common to use the title “Dr.” (supposedly the abbreviation of “Doutor”) in reference to people with “Licenciatura” or “Mestrado” degrees. Thus, “Doutor” is commonly used in the extended form to denote someone with a doctorate. “Professor Doutor” is used with professional career teaching doctorates, usually university professors. The male title is “Dr.”/”Doutor”, while the female title is “Dra.”/”Doutora”.
Broadly speaking, doctorates may often be loosely classified into the following categories:
- Research doctorates are awarded in recognition of academic research that is (at least in principle) publishable in a peer-refereed academic journal.
- In some 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.
- Professional doctorates are awarded in certain fields where scholarly research is closely aligned with a particular profession, such as law, medicine, or psychology.
- 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 do not award honorary degrees,
- An extreme rarity among degrees is the Professorial degree. In modern times, the status of professor is awarded as recognition of sustained academic excellence, equivalent in standing to an honorary doctorate, but this is not a degree per se. However, in past times, Professor was sometimes awarded as a degree.
In Portugal, all doctoral programs are of research nature. Usually 3 or 4 years of study are required, mostly as a period of research. The student must write a thesis presenting a new discovery or contribution of their own to Science. If approved by his/her “supervisor”, the study will be presented to a panel of distinguished scholars. If the panel judges the thesis favourably, the student will be awarded the doctorate.
Before the Bologna Process reform, a “Licenciatura” was something between a Bachelor’s (“Bacharelato”, now extinct) and a Master’s, and it represented 4 to 6 years of graduate studies.
After the Bologna Process reform in Portugal, the new “Licenciatura” degree is equivalent to the old “Bacharelato” (Bachelor’s with 3 or 4 years). There are also the “Mestrado” (Master’s degree) and the “Mestrado Integrado” (integrated Bachelor’s and Master’s degree with 5 or 6 years, required in order to access some professional fields). Successful completion of these is required to undertake doctoral studies.