What is a PhD Degree?


Aarushi Jain
Updated on Jun 25, 2023 03:54 PM IST

For Indian students interested in pursuing a PhD abroad, the opportunity to engage in cutting-edge research, collaborate with renowned professors, and obtain a global perspective is appealing. Since foreign degrees are increasingly recognised in India, getting a PhD abroad might improve professional opportunities for aspirants.

What is a PhD Degree?

All About Pursuing PhD Abroad: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine. With these words in mind, pursuing a PhD abroad becomes a tempting option for those looking to shape their future through advanced academic endeavours. Studying for a PhD abroad provides a unique combination of intellectual/personal development, cross-cultural experiences, and worldwide networking.

It provides students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in cutting-edge research work and collaborate with eminent experts in famous research institutes with various resources. In this post, we look into the transforming experience of pursuing a PhD abroad, revealing the benefits, differences between PhD in India vs PhD abroad, admission requirements, top fields of study and universities that come with this exceptional educational pathway.

About PhD Degrees

In almost all fields of study, a PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is the highest level of academic achievement. It is an honorary/doctorate degree awarded by universities to individuals who have exhibited remarkable skills and made substantial contributions to knowledge in a specific field of study.

A PhD degree often requires several years of rigorous research, independent study, and academic inquiry under the supervision of a faculty adviser or supervisor. They are required to conduct substantial and original research, known as a dissertation or thesis, that adds to the body of knowledge in their discipline.

PhD programmes demand students to have a comprehensive understanding of their subject matter, as well as critical thinking and advanced research capabilities. The path to a PhD entails challenging coursework, literature reviews, data gathering and analysis, experimentation, and academic writing on the topic of study of choice.

Are You Planning to Study Abroad?

Why Study PhD Abroad?

As you narrow down your research interests, you may discover that just a few universities in your native country provide PhD programmes in your subject or field of study. Applying for PhD programmes abroad will provide you with additional possibilities for both programmes and possible faculty. Here are some strong reasons to obtain a PhD in another country:

  • High-Quality Education: Many prestigious and global universities and research institutes across the world provide cutting-edge facilities, resources, and faculty members. Studying abroad gives access to an excellent education as well as exposure to a variety of viewpoints, boosting intellectual growth and broadening knowledge horizons.

  • Plethora of Options for Research: Pursuing a PhD abroad opens up a larger range of research options and partnerships. It enables students to collaborate with prominent experts in their area, conduct interdisciplinary research, and have access to cutting-edge facilities, all of which can improve the quality and impact of their research work.

  • Worldwide Networking: Studying PhD abroad allows you to connect with students, researchers, and professionals in your field of research from all around the world. Interacting with students and academics from many cultures and backgrounds promotes cross-cultural understanding, cooperation, and idea sharing. These relationships may be extremely beneficial for future collaborations, job opportunities, and gaining a broader perspective on research.

  • Embracing a New Culture: Studying PhD abroad will provide you with a global perspective. You will encounter fresh ideas, instructional approaches, and academic cultures. You could even get the chance to learn a new language. 

  • Better Funding and Scholarships: PhD students are treated as employees rather than students in several European countries, including France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Norway. Hence, they receive a monthly stipend to complete their PhD. Besides that, many universities and funding organisations provide scholarships, fellowships, and financial help to international students pursuing a PhD abroad. These options can help to reduce the financial strain and make studying abroad more affordable.

  • Career Advancement and Opportunities: A PhD from a prominent international university can improve one's employment opportunities both within and outside of academia. It exhibits competence, specialised knowledge, critical thinking ability, and research skills, all of which are highly sought by employers in a variety of industries. Internships, industry partnerships, and exposure to various career paths are also available when studying abroad.

Difference Between PhD in India vs PhD Abroad

One of the most important aspects to consider for a PhD is whether to pursue it in India or abroad. Pursuing a PhD in India allows you to do research that is linked with national interests, contribute to the country's growth, and maybe benefit from scholarships or financing available only to Indian universities. On the other hand, pursuing a PhD abroad offers up a universe of possibilities. Let's look at a table that illustrates the significant distinctions between earning a PhD in India and doing a PhD abroad to help you analyse your alternatives.

Differentiating Factors 

PhD in India 

PhD Abroad

Admission Requirements

A master's degree in a related discipline is normally required for a PhD in India.

A master's degree may be necessary, however, there may be exceptions for PhDs abroad. 

Research Focus

The focus is on national research priorities.

Provides a wider range of research opportunities.

Funding Opportunities

Limited financial possibilities, frequently depending on PhD grants in India.

There are other financing alternatives available, including research grants for PhD students studying abroad.

Research Facilities

Diverse, although maybe limited in some disciplines.

Modern facilities and resources are provided.

Duration of Program

In India, PhD programmes typically last 3-6 years.

PhD programmes abroad typically take 3-5 years to complete.

Career Opportunities

Positions in academia, business, and government research.

Career options in academia, industry, and other fields abound.

Quality of Supervision

The quality of supervision depends on the institution and the supervisor.

A strong focus is placed on effective supervision and mentorship.

Types of PhD Programmes Abroad

There are different types of PhD programmes offered abroad, each geared to a certain academic subject or research interest. Here are some most common PhD programmes available abroad:

  • Traditional PhD: This is the most common type of PhD programme, with specialisations in sciences, humanities, social sciences, and engineering. It includes conducting independent research, taking courses, and writing a dissertation under the supervision of a faculty adviser.

  • Integrated PhD: This programme integrates master's and doctorate courses, allowing students to earn both degrees quickly. It is frequently seen in natural sciences, engineering, and certain social sciences.

  • Part-time or Distance Learning PhD: These programmes are designed for people who want to pursue a PhD while still working or going to school. They provide study schedule flexibility and allow students to do research remotely with frequent visits to the host university.

  • Professional Doctorate: Individuals seeking advanced degrees in professional subjects such as medicine (Doctor of Medicine), business (Doctor of Business Administration), law (Juris Doctor) and education (Doctor of Education) can consider obtaining a professional PhD. These programmes frequently emphasise applied research and practical competence.

  • Joint PhD: A joint or double PhD programme is one in which two or more universities or research institutions from different nations collaborate. Students divide their research and study time among the participating universities and are granted a combined degree. 

Top Fields of Study to Pursue PhD Abroad

The most appropriate subjects of study to pursue a PhD abroad are determined by a variety of factors, including individual interests, professional aspirations, and current research and academic trends. However, certain subjects continuously rank among the top for PhD students studying abroad:

  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics): This includes computer science, engineering, physics, mathematics, chemistry, AI, IOT, biology, biotechnology, etc. 

  • Medicine and Health Sciences: Medical research, public health, pharmacology, and biomedical sciences remain attractive areas for earning a PhD abroad. 

  • Business and Management: PhD studies in business administration, management, finance, consumer behaviour and digital marketing are in high demand due to their potential for professional progression and the corporate world's need for specialised skills.

  • Social Sciences: Doctoral or PhD programmes in psychology, sociology, economics, political science, and anthropology are in high demand. They entail performing studies on human behaviour, society, and policy to provide insights into complicated social challenges.

  • Environmental Sciences: With rising worries about climate change and sustainability, areas like environmental science, ecology, and renewable energy are attracting students who are passionate about tackling global environmental issues.

Admission Requirements for Pursuing PhD Abroad

The eligibility criteria or the admission requirements for pursuing a PhD abroad differ based on the country, university, and programme you choose to study in. There are, nevertheless, certain basic requirements that most universities look for in international applicants. The following are the most common admission requirements for pursuing a PhD abroad:

  • Educational Qualifications: Typically, a master's degree in a suitable field of study is required for admission to a PhD programme abroad. 

  • Academic Transcripts: Official academic transcripts of your past academic records, including grades and courses, are usually required. These transcripts demonstrate your academic success as well as the necessary education in the appropriate subject.

  • Strong Research Proposal: A well-defined research proposal defining the topic, aims, research technique and importance of the proposed research is frequently necessary. The research proposal exhibits your capacity to conduct independent research while also adding to the corpus of knowledge in your discipline.

  • Language Proficiency: It is necessary to be fluent in the language of teaching. For non-native English speakers, most colleges need confirmation of language competency via standardised examinations such as the TOEFL/IELTS/PTE Academic/Duolingo, etc. Similarly, if the PhD programme is offered in a language other than English, fluency in that language is required.

  • Standardised Exams: Certain countries or universities may require candidates to take specialised admission exams for their area or field of study, such as the GRE or GMAT, or any other subject-specific assessments.

  • Statement of Purpose: A statement of purpose is required to describe why you want to pursue a PhD abroad, your research interests, and how the programme corresponds with your academic and professional aspirations. It is an opportunity to demonstrate your enthusiasm, commitment, and research goals.

  • Letters of Recommendation: Strong letters of recommendation from academic or professional sources who can judge your capacity for doctoral-level research and ability to work independently are necessary. 

Top Universities for Pursuing PhD Abroad

There are several famous universities and research institutes worldwide that provide PhD programmes in a variety of fields of study. According to the QS World University Rankings, the following are some of the top universities renowned for their research and PhD programmes abroad.

Field of Study/Research

Top Universities for PhD Abroad

Engineering and Technology

Natural Sciences

  • Harvard University

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • University of Cambridge

  • Stanford University

Medicine and Health Sciences

Business and Management

Social Sciences 

  • Harvard University

  • University of Oxford

  • Stanford University

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Environment Sciences

  • Harvard University

  • Wageningen University & Research

  • University of Oxford

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology

It would suffice to say that pursuing a PhD abroad provides skilled researchers with several prospects for academic and personal advancement. It gives them access to a variety of study contexts, international partnerships, cutting-edge research facilities/infrastructure, and a global network of academics. Lastly, it has the potential to widen perspectives, improve job chances, and generate an engaging academic experience.

For more queries and counselling, feel free to reach out to our study abroad experts at abroad@collegedekho.com!

Wondering Which University to Select for a PhD Abroad?


Which is the best country for PhD?

There is no single ideal country for pursuing a PhD abroad because it is highly dependent on individual preferences, research interests, and programme options. Countries with strong research infrastructures and academic reputations, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada, are attractive candidates.

How can I get PhD abroad?

To pursue a PhD abroad, begin by researching universities and programmes that are relevant to your research interests. Prepare a solid application that includes academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, a research plan, and (if necessary) standardised exam scores. Obtain money through scholarships, grants, or assistantships, as well as meet any language competence requirements.

Do you get paid for studying PhD abroad?

Yes, students or researchers are often paid for studying PhD abroad. Scholarships, fellowships, grants, and teaching/research assistantships are common forms of financial assistance for PhD candidates studying abroad. This financial help frequently includes tuition and a stipend to meet living expenses.

Is a foreign PhD valid in India?

Yes, a foreign PhD is widely recognised and accepted in India. However, it is recommended that your degree be examined for equivalent by the Association of Indian Universities (AIU), as various colleges may have different standards for acceptance.

Is it hard to get a PhD abroad?

Yes, due to fierce competition and strict admission standards, obtaining a PhD abroad might be difficult. However, it is feasible for determined and competent individuals with rigorous preparation, a solid academic background, research experience, and a well-crafted application, along with tenacity and dedication.

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