I saw a job posting that says

PhD or equivalent required.

What is meant by equivalent? What can be an equivalent for PhD? Expertise gained through work experience and publications?

  • 16
    DFA (Doctor of Fine Arts), DSc (Doctor of Science), DLitt (Doctor of Letters), Ed. D (Doctor of Education), MD, D. Phil (naming variant of Ph D), DBA (Business Administration) are possible "equivalents". DDS and JD probably are not, and obviously DFA, MD and Ph D are not functionally interchangeable for the same position. A professor of dance might have a PhD, or a DFA; a professor of pathology might have a PhD or an MD, or a DSc earned in Japan.
    – user6726
    Oct 7, 2015 at 20:29
  • 2
    One more: D. Eng. (Doctor of Engineering). Not common, but it does exist.
    – ybakos
    Oct 8, 2015 at 0:16
  • 3
    @Victor: Not every doctorate is a PhD. Oct 8, 2015 at 10:48
  • 3
    In many countries, there is not a single degree called "PhD".
    – Raphael
    Oct 8, 2015 at 15:48
  • 2
    In an academia context, I would assume it is mainly a matter of equivalent degrees. In industry, it is far broader. When I told my boss I planned to go for a PhD, I was informed it would make no difference in my career and promotion prospects - they already considered me qualified for "PhD or equivalent" jobs in the company. Feb 21, 2016 at 0:59

7 Answers 7


It could also be an equivalent degree from another country. For example, a degree, equivalent of PhD, in Russia is called 'Candidate of science' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Russia)

  • 4
    You don't even need to go to Russia, many post-comunist countries that are now members of the EU used the title as well.
    – yo'
    Oct 7, 2015 at 18:31
  • 5
    @yo' Is the implication that using Russia as an example is "going further" than using an example from Eastern Europe?
    – Sverre
    Oct 8, 2015 at 14:02
  • 1
    @yo' Yes. For example, you can get candidates with either Ph.D. or CSc. (Candidatus Scientiarum) from the Czech Republic, where the only substantial difference is when the degree was awarded.
    – Pavel
    Oct 8, 2015 at 15:36

In an advertisement for a tenure-track position (assuming from the tags on your question), in the absence of more specific information, I would assume this wording is meant to include other names for a doctoral degree, e.g. DPhil or one of the other degrees on this list.

Sometimes it even specifically says as much, e.g. here:

PhD or equivalent biomedical doctorate(s)

Presumably this wording also allows them to hire someone without a PhD, without having HR make a huge fuss, but I would assume that would be a rare situation.

If it said "or equivalent experience," then perhaps it could be interpreted to mean equivalent experience gained outside of a doctoral program.

  • The omission of "or equivalent experience" could easily also just be a typo / brain fart. If the job is not on the tenure track and does not require teaching duties (i.e. for a research assistant, industry jobs), the main requirement is probably just that you have a reasonable amount of research experience.
    – Moriarty
    Oct 7, 2015 at 17:45
  • 9
    @Moriarty That could be. But with the missing word, I'm inclined to assume "or equivalent degree" rather than "or equivalent experience", especially given that the original question is tagged tenure-track.
    – ff524
    Oct 7, 2015 at 17:46
  • I missed the tag – I thought the question was more general. You're absolutely right for a tenure-track job.
    – Moriarty
    Oct 7, 2015 at 17:52
  • @Moriarty, I don't believe in brain malfunctions in something as carefully worded as such a call.
    – vonbrand
    Feb 21, 2016 at 1:41

While it does seem to be less common now relative to several decades ago, I certainly know, and know of, several folks who had masters degrees, went to work at US National Labs, and were world leaders in their technical fields. Often, to their amusement, they were introduced at conferences as "Dr. So-and-so". None that I knew personally moved to university positions, but most had been contacted about their interest in doing so. All were quite capable of being a professor at a research-oriented university, with strong publication records and funding success.

A different question is what has changed since the, roughly, 1970's when this pattern seems to have been broken. One possibility is that there are many more graduate programs, so those kind of folks are probably just going on to get a PhD.

  • 2
    Most likely, what changed was that the National Labs made having a PhD a requirement for getting those jobs. Oct 8, 2015 at 8:03
  • 4
    But I'm not sure this really answers the question: you give an example of some people who would have been "PhD or equivalent" but then say that it stopped happening 40 years ago. The question is, I think, about what the phrase "PhD or equivalent" means in a job ad today. Oct 8, 2015 at 8:04
  • @DavidRicherby - That is a fair and accurate comment. As a national lab person, looking around, such folks are nearly non-existent at this point (and perhaps I'm partly to blame on the hiring side). Not stressed (enough) by me was - if you are a masters but have a strong track record of publishing and getting funding, the university will not care about the lack of a p, h, and d.
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 8, 2015 at 14:07

In addition to the answers given such as "Some doctorate degrees don't have the abreviation 'PhD'" that several people have provided, especially in the biomedical fields there may actually be several possible alternative degrees that might compete for the same position.

For example, there are positions in my field that might capable be filled by a PhD, and MD, or a DVM, each of whom would add their own particular twist to the position, but all of whom might serve the needs of a particular program.


PhD or equivalent. An experience equivalent to a PhD surely does exist and has been used by almost all major Universities a round the world in recruiting for tenured positions. Professional fields like Medicine, Law, where professional life are as rigorously academic as being in class still use it a great deal. A bachelor degree or masters degree holder but with relevant experience, could be considered an equivalent to a PhD. or better if he had comparable or better experience. However as the opportunities for PhD studies are increasing, most employers are today insisting on the actual PhD. However you will also realize that a lot of top level institutions look for the best brains not schooling history! I was once in recruiting an expert in Elephant Conservation. We had two great candidates. One had an M Sc in Conservation Biology with fifteen years experience working with elephants and 30 papers in top range refereed journals. The Other had a PhD in the same field, but with five years experience with elephants out of which he had published three papers in good journals. They were both very good, however the MSc fellow had greater academic depth than the PhD fellow. The MSc fellow was taken!


In some countries it is only literally called Doctor of Philosophy if it is a humanitarian / theoretical sciences subject. "Doctor of Technology" is another and "Doctor of Medicine" is a third, so the name kind of specifies the subject.

To start a PhD in some countries requires a MSc degree first and in some places a BSc is enough. In some areas (both geographically and by subject of study) one year worth of formal course work is enough in some two years is required. In some areas you are expected to produce maybe 5 or 6 peer-reviewed publications in some you may be able to get away with considerably less. Also the length of studies vary. From 3 years in some places to 5 in some and in practice often a bit longer than that.

There really exists no "equivalence". What they are polling for when phrasing it like that is probably not primarily any particular skill set, but rather a type of person who has the personality and mental drives fit for a particular type of role or position.


A Ph.D is a research degree which involves, in part, convincing a committee of professors that the student is capable of doing professional level research, and writing the results of such research in a formal style. No actual publication of the research is involved. An equivalent Ph.D could be actual publications in scientific journals without having attended, or completed, a formal university degree program.

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