Earning your doctoral degree is a big undertaking. For engineers, there is also a big decision involved: whether to pursue a traditional Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree or a Doctor of Engineering degree, also called the D.Eng. or Eng.D. degree. There are many similarities between these two paths. Both are considered terminal degrees, or the highest level of academic study available. Both the Ph.D. and the D.Eng. can help you advance your career. In either degree path, you should expect to complete challenging and in-depth studies into an engineering discipline, including research. However, the differences between these degree paths are significant. If you choose the Doctor of Engineering degree over the Ph.D. path, you will see benefits such as a focus on professional practical application that leads to more industry job opportunities as well as differences in the timing and length of time it takes to earn the degree.
Professional Vs Research Focus
The biggest difference between the Doctor of Engineering and Doctor of Philosophy degrees is that the Eng.D. is a professional degree, while the Ph.D. is a research degree. A traditional Doctor of Philosophy focuses on engineering theory and scholarship, heavily emphasizing original research work that can take years.
A professional doctorate, sometimes called an applied doctorate, focuses on developing specialized skills for practical application in the engineering workforce. If you want to move up into a leadership position, you might choose to earn a Doctor of Engineering degree in engineering management. A Doctor of Engineering in manufacturing can be beneficial if you are one of the more than 578,000 engineers working in the manufacturing industry, which is the top employer of engineers, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. You could also seek a Doctor of Engineering degree in an engineering discipline such as biomedical, civil, electrical, chemical or mechanical engineering. Any professional doctorate in engineering degree will focus on analyzing and applying research and theory to solve real-world industry problems.
That isn’t to say that students in a Doctor of Engineering program can get out of doing research. In fact, depending on your engineering school, you might need to submit a dissertation that presents original research for your Eng.D. degree just as you would for a traditional Ph.D. degree. However, the outcome of earning an Eng.D. degree isn’t preparation for a career in theoretical research, but rather the cultivation of technical leadership skills.
Some Doctor of Engineering programs culminate in a portfolio that consists of the students’ plans, prototypes, user manuals, computer simulations and patent applications.
Job Opportunities Outside of Academia
Historically, Ph.D. degrees in engineering were meant for engineers who were seeking tenure-track academic or industrial research careers. Engineers working in private industry and the corporate sector were the ones who would pursue a Doctor of Engineering degree. This terminal degree would allow engineers to teach at the college level, but more typically, it prepared them for advancement to highly technical engineering practice roles or leadership opportunities. Now, though, the differences between a professional doctorate and a Ph.D. in terms of career outcomes are not as clear-cut, as some Ph.D. graduates work in the private sector and some colleges and universities hire candidates with an Eng.D. degree. Generally, though, if conducting new research is what most appeals to you, the Ph.D. is the more appropriate career path, while students eager to move up in industry roles find the Doctor of Engineering degree to be more beneficial.
Another distinction between the two degree paths is the source of research funding. Ph.D. projects are often funded by grants, while an industry or public sector organization might provide the funding for research done by Doctor of Engineering students.
Differences in Timing and Duration of Degree
The time it takes a student to earn a degree, and the time when an engineer begins his or her doctoral studies, also differentiate the Eng.D. from the Ph.D. degree. Generally, a professional doctorate degree in engineering takes at least three years of study but less time than a Ph.D. program takes. Ph.D. programs often take three to five years to complete, but they can take longer. In fact, CBS News reported that the average student takes more than eight years to complete their Ph.D. degree. Additionally, students pursuing a traditional Ph.D. degree often start their graduate coursework early in their career, potentially pushing back their entry into the workforce. Students in a Doctor of Engineering program are often mid-career, with a good deal of work experience under their belts already, and are using graduate school to help them advance to senior-level roles.
The length of time it takes to earn your doctoral degree matters in part because so many students who begin pursuing a doctorate degree in engineering never complete their studies, according to U.S. News & World Report.