What Does it Take to Get a Real Degree?

If you are thinking that the requirements for James White's doctorate are perhaps something less than rigorous, you may also be wondering what the requirements are for a regular Masters or Doctorate. While the requirements differ from school to school and from program to program, I will outline the requirements for an advanced degree.

Typically a Masters degree requires 30 credit hours; a doctorate requires around 54 credit hours. Most universities require that a certain number of hours be in residence at that university. A Masters degree usually requires two or three years to complete; a doctorate requires three to five years to complete. Most programs require a certain number of core courses—methods classes, foundational issues, etc.—and sometime foreign language skills are also required. Of course students are required to take electives, specializing in their chosen field.

When the coursework is completed—depending on the program—a comprehensive examination may be administered. This is often based on a reading list that is separate from texts read for courses, although there may be some overlap. The examination may be written or oral.

Sometime during the second year of studies, the student must select a thesis or dissertation topic. This is usually done in close consultation with his graduate advisor. The thesis or dissertation is a major scholarly work and is intended to make a contribution to the field of study. A thesis or dissertation usually runs at least one hundred pages and often much longer. The student is expected to do original research.

A thesis or dissertation must then be submitted to a sort of ad hoc committee of professors—usually, but not always, from his own university. The members of the committee read the work and then perform an extensive, exhaustive examination. This is the thesis or dissertation defense. The actual defense may take several hours. There are few rules—committee members may ask any questions they please. In my own case a member of my committee asked,

Suppose it is five years down the line. One of your students comes to you and says, "I just read your thesis. So what?" How do you reply?

For the record and in the interest of full disclosure, my Masters thesis is titled "Eros and Thumos in Plato's Laws" and is available from Brigham Young University through inter-library loan. (As if anyone would want to read that thing.)

Upon successful completion of the thesis or dissertation defense, copies of that document are prepared and signed by committee members. Copies are deposited in the university library and in the appropriate department. At this point the requirements for the degree are met and the degree is awarded.

Does James White Have a Genuine Doctorate?
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