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I have completed some work that I believe could well be worth a Ph.D. I have been working completely in private, with no affiliation with any academic institution.

I would like to use this work to start a career in academia. What should I do with it next? (In case it's relevant in any way, I am a mature professional in business and IT and 53 years old).

In particular I'm wondering about the following options:

  1. Attempt to publish it as a paper (a fairly long one, around 50 pages).
  2. Use it as my thesis for acquiring a doctorate degree.

My questions are:

  • Can I do both? If not why not?
  • If not, which of the two is preferable and what are the pros and cons?
  • Are there alternatives from the above two that I could pursue to achieve my goal?
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    What is your scientific area? In many scientific areas 50 pages would hardly qualify for an undergraduate thesis. Also, where are you located (Greece perhaps)? Rules vary by places – Alexandros Jul 24 '15 at 14:06
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    Unfortunately, (2) will likely not be an option. I do not know of any university where you can just show up with a dissertation and get your degree. All require that you do your work in collaboration with the university. – xLeitix Jul 24 '15 at 14:28
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    Starting a "career" in academia does not really work that way. Many, possibly most, universities do not offer IT degress, and while business degrees exist, it is a pretty broad field. To get a job in academia you ideally need references that can speak about your teaching and research abilities. – StrongBad Jul 24 '15 at 14:46
  • What is your goal? It's not clear. At your age the best shot is to make it to the C-suite, then potentially find a teaching job after the retirement. – Aksakal Jul 24 '15 at 23:47
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A thesis is only one part of a doctoral program. Generally, there are also classes, qualifying examinations (to make sure you have sufficient breadth and depth), and general apprenticeship as a researcher. The goal of all of this is to prepare you for a scientific career (whether in traditional academia or elsewhere), which requires more than just the ability to produce a single project once. In my experience and observation, life as a practicing researcher typically involves producing another Ph.D. worth of work every year or two---a Ph.D. thesis is just the capstone demonstration that you have been educated enough to be capable of doing it at least once.

As such, I think that it is unlikely that any good institution will allow you to skip straight ahead to using a completed project as a thesis, no matter how good the material. If you want to use the work as an entry-point into academia, I would instead recommend publishing it as a paper paper and simultaneously using the work as a springboard for admission into a good Ph.D. program. If your field supports use of preprint archives, this is a good way to put your paper formally out there even while it is going through peer review.

If this is truly the direction you want to go, don't worry about rushing to the end-point. As other questions on this site indicate, age need not be a bar to an academic career. Instead, I would recommend that you take the time of graduate school as an opportunity---if your independent experiences give you a head start, so much the better for being able to do even more awesome work during graduate school, and also better positioning yourself for what comes after.

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    This might be true in many/most countries and/or for most doctoral degrees, but it is not universally true (see longer answer). – Sverre Jul 24 '15 at 20:09
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    "classes"? Not in the UK, not in Germany... - And to be honest, the only place that seems to mention actual classes in what is a degree awarded for research is the US. – DetlevCM Jul 24 '15 at 20:26
  • In US you we have classes but it's because you go into PhD right from the undergrad. – Aksakal Jul 24 '15 at 23:42
  • @DetlevCM This is not true for economics. In Germany the better PhD programs have classes and I think in the UK there are no PhD programs without classes. – The Almighty Bob Jul 25 '15 at 8:46
  • @TheAlmightyBob I am in the UK - no "classes" for the PhD for anybody in the department - and that's in Engineering. A PhD is a research degree, not a "teaching degree". – DetlevCM Jul 25 '15 at 10:50
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Partly as a comment/correction to jakebeal's answer, this largely depends in what country you're considering getting a doctoral degree. In some countries, like the US, the thesis is normally just one part of the requirements for the doctoral degree. This is why the first page of the submitted thesis typically contains a phrase along these lines (taken from my Ph.D. thesis):

A dissertation presented by [Name] to The Department of [X] in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the subject of [X].

But in other countries and/or at other institutions, you can indeed get a doctoral degree by just showing up with a thesis ready in hand. In Norway this type of doctoral degree is called "dr.philos. (doctor philosophiae)". There are only three requirements for this degree:

  1. A dissertation.
  2. Two trial lectures.
  3. A public defense.

I won't go into more detail about this, since you're unlikely to be in Norway (more detail can be found in the University of Oslo's overview article and regulations) for this type of degree.

In short, you need to check if such degrees exist in your country and/or at your preferred institutions. Otherwise see jakebeal's answer.

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    That's fascinating --- this is the first I've heard of a Ph.D. being awarded in that way. How much do people distinguish between this type of degree and a standard Ph.D. in Norway? – jakebeal Jul 24 '15 at 21:07
  • @jakebeal They're distinguished only by name. "ph.d. (philosophiae doctor)" vs. "dr.philos. (doctor philosophiae)", although they clearly mean exactly the same in Latin. The Ph.D. was introduced as late as 2003. Before that, the doctoral degree in the humanities was the current 'dr.philos.', i.e. a non-supervised dissertation+defense. Supervised doctoral degrees were introduced earlier in other disciplines, but they were also not Ph.D.s, cf. e.g. 'doctor scientiarum' in the natural sciences (introduced in 1977 until it was replaced by the Ph.D.). – Sverre Jul 24 '15 at 22:30

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