I am trying to find a doctoral program without a capstone, project, or a dissertation, because I do not find a value in doing a project.

But why isn't there a doctoral degree that does not involve a major project?

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    You may not see the value of a project, but the purpose of a doctoral degree is to learn how to perform independent research. No amount of coursework is going to teach you that skill; that is why (meaningful) doctoral degrees without a thesis, project or dissertation do not exist. Dec 29, 2016 at 21:49
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    Why do you want a doctorate? Historically, this degree shows that you are able to be an independent researcher. Currently, there are professional doctorate programs that do not require dissertation (e.g., some M.D.s, Doctorates of Physical Therapy, Doctor of Pharmacy etc) but these prepare one for a specific career. Dec 29, 2016 at 22:06
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    Why do you want a doctorate, then? The value of a (non-medical) doctorate is that you are more likely to be hired for jobs that require people who can work independently and finish a major project. If you don't want to do that, you don't want those jobs, either.
    – AJK
    Dec 29, 2016 at 22:07
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    Since we cannot give recommendation on specific programs, I've edited the question to keep it on topic. Let me know if it's ok. Dec 29, 2016 at 22:15
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    I disagree with the close votes; this is not a shopping question. The actual question Why do doctoral programs require dissertations? is on-topic.
    – JeffE
    Dec 29, 2016 at 23:34

2 Answers 2


The doctoral degree indicates that you are ready to "do research" yourself. A Ph.D. (or similar doctoral degrees) is essentially your qualification to join the academic community as a fully fledged researcher. Until this time, your research, e.g., for a Master's thesis, was conducted under close supervision by your professor.

The community believes that the best way to find out whether you can conduct a research project yourself is, in fact, to have you conduct a research project yourself. This is what the dissertation is all about. (Of course still under supervision - after all, you are still learning the ropes.)

No amount of classes or coursework will prepare you adequately for the realities of research, just as you can't get a driver's license through a written test only, without demonstrating that you can indeed drive a vehicle.

I strongly recommend that you reexamine the value you may see in a doctoral project.

  • Is that true for the Ed.D. degree? I don't think so, but don't really know.
    – emory
    Dec 29, 2016 at 22:49
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    I'm not sure I agree with this answer: I think the other answers and the comments on the OP make clear there are lots of doctoral degrees that are NOT Ph.Ds, and the philosophy (accidental pun?) behind those degrees is not always the same as the PhD. I would suggest editing your post to say "The PhD degree indicates..." A Doctor of Nursing, for example, indicates a high professional status sufficient for advanced teaching and duties, whereas a PhD in Nursing would indeed suggest a research focus, likely focused on nursing practice (vs. a PhD in, say, rheumatology).
    – Bryan Krause
    Dec 29, 2016 at 23:14
  • @BryanKrause: you have a point there. I may well be blinkered by my own fields' conventions. Then again, it would be helpful if the OP gave the field she or he is in. Dec 30, 2016 at 9:12

So first we have to distinguish between PhD's and the EdD, MD, JD type of degree.

If you are getting a PhD in something then you are the world expert on that narrow topic. That is the point of the PhD, at least in the sciences. You need to be able to solve a problem no one has solved before. You have passed your professors. Some fields, such as engineering, use some form of project rather than a written document.

The coursework is designed to prepare you to begin your doctorate. You are used to undergraduate or masters programs where you take a class and learn something. The purpose of the courses is to add to your personal knowledge in the topic. In a doctorate, the purpose of the courses is for you to learn how to think about problems. In some fields, such as accounting, the content knowledge is pretty much complete at the masters level. A PhD in accounting isn't about knowing more knowledge in accounting, it is about researching the consequences one accounting standard has on society versus another.

Most people never finish their dissertation who get through their coursework. There are two possible reasons. The first is a lack of discipline and commitment, but the second is that you have chosen a problem that you cannot solve. Generally you could avoid the second by being careful, but it does happen. A PhD is intended to be risky.

The EdD, MD and JD and a handful of similar professional degrees substitute rigour, exams and methods to show they have sufficient expertise in their fields that they no longer need supervision or their fields require postgraduate supervision and so in some fields, such as medicine, the doctorate is granted prior to the "project." It is not enough to have an MD to practice medicine as an independent person. You then need to pass an exam, then get an internship, then pass another exam, then become a resident, then pass another exam then become a practitioner and possibly specialize and take yet more exams to show you could be a "fellow," in a professional society. You will then take continuing exams to show you should still be practicing.

So, in medicine, the MD is granted before the "dissertation" phase.

The courses in a doctorate are not there to teach you everything you need to know. They are there to prepare you to know how to learn on your own, everything you need to know.

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    It's worth noting that many country's PhD programmes have no coursework. Dec 30, 2016 at 0:54
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    It's helpful to point out that nobody considers an MD, JD, or EdD to be an equivalent degree to a PhD. This is why we have things like MD-PhDs running around. They're not intended to develop researchers, they're intended to be professional degrees.
    – David
    Dec 30, 2016 at 0:55
  • @David I agree, and I think this answer acknowledges that; importantly, the original question said "doctoral" rather than "PhD"
    – Bryan Krause
    Dec 30, 2016 at 1:24
  • @David I would disagree with the statement "...that nobody considers an MD, JD, or EdD to be an equivalent degree to a PhD". People who studied at Universities and did a doctoral degree on their own know that these degrees are not equivalent. However, I personally know several people (who did no doctoral degree) who do not distinguish between a medical doctor and a PhD. I live in Germany. It might be different in other countries. Dec 30, 2016 at 8:06
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    @daniel.neumann You're absolutely right. I was thinking of people who were in these kinds of programs.
    – David
    Dec 30, 2016 at 8:27

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