DLitt et Phil vs. PhD pros and cons

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by Matt R, Jan 27, 2006.

  1. Matt R

    Matt R New Member


    Due to miscommunication, I was told that one could earn a PhD in Health Studies through UNISA (University of South Africa). However, as I made my final preparations to apply, I learned that the degree would indeed be “DLitt et Phil”. With some recently added info on the UNISA website I also learned that the Health Science department was formerly the Nursing Science department and that all faculty members are nurses. The latter does not concern me greatly, as long as someone is willing to help me with my osteoarthritis and exercise related thesis. It is after all health related and a doctoral level nurse might offer unique insights that I had not considered as an exercise physiologist.

    However, the DLitt et Phil is a concern since I am in the United States. I understand that this degree is well known in ZA and is not considered a lesser degree than a PhD. From what I understand it does seem to be more associated with ‘arts’ than with ‘science’. Indeed, at UNISA the PhD is awarded for students that enter with a Master of Science with the exception of the Health Science department. Why they make this distinction is not clear.

    I have discussed the pros and cons of UNISA’s DLitt et Phil with doctoral level colleagues in the US and they have advised against it, only because I would have to explain what it is for the rest of my career and thus it would be less utilitarian for career advancement as a research scientist.

    So . . . any opinions on (1) DLitt et Phil vs. PhD; and (2) other Health Science PhD programs in ZA, Australia, the UK, etc?

    My employer has agreed to cover my UNISA tuition – about $2k per year. So if I come back to them with a program at 3 times the cost of UNISA that could be an issue in itself. I have contacted Charles Sturt, but so far no one seems interested in my research topic. Back to square one on my search.

  2. CLSeibel

    CLSeibel Member

    I would encourage you to contact the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria:


    I am a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Theology and have had a very positive experience with this institution.
  3. Matt R

    Matt R New Member

    Thanks for the tip!

    It took some digging, but I did find this list on U of Pretoria site you so kindly provided, so will follow-up to see if can apply to Sports Science or perhaps one of the other programs.

    Philosophiae Doctor (PhD)
    Fields of study
    Anaesthesiology, Anatomical Pathology, Anatomy, Chemical Pathology, Community Health, Dentistry, Epidemiology, Environmental Health, Family Medicine, Health Systems, Human Genetics, Human Physiology, Internal Medicine, Medical Immunology, Medical Microbiology, Medical Nuclear Science, Medical Oncology, Medical Physics, Medical Virology, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Orthopaedics, Paediatrics, Physiotherapy, Pharmacology, Psychiatry, Public Health, Reproductive Biology, Reproductive Biology: Andrology, Urology, Sport Science, Sports Medicine.

  4. Matt R

    Matt R New Member


    I would be very interested in hearing more about your experience with U of P. How difficult is it to study from abroad, how responsive are the faculty and staff, how often if ever do you have to travel to Pretoria, etc. Their website looks much more professional vs. UNISA's for what that is worth.

    I have e-mailed the contact person for PhD's so we will see what happens!

    Thanks again for pointing me in this direction.

    Matt Rogers
  5. Bruce

    Bruce Moderator

    The DLitt et Phil is indeed a "goofy" degree title in the United States, but I would be willing to bet that it would be deemed exactly the equal of a Ph.D. by almost anyone in academia.

    I would go with the school that offers the most in regards to support, your research, faculty interest, etc., and not worry too much about the degree title.
  6. Zoyd Wheeler

    Zoyd Wheeler New Member

  7. Matt R

    Matt R New Member

    Good points

    Thanks for the great feedback. I am keeping the UNISA option open in case there truly is not a better fit out there. I will keep everyone posted on the search. Right now I am hoping Pretoria will offer the PhD in Sport Science but they have not yet responded to my e-mail (it is the weekend after all).
  8. ebbwvale

    ebbwvale Member

    The Doctor of Letters is perhaps more well known out of the USA, but wouldn't there be scientists in the US that come from universities outside the US and may have this degree ?

    I would imagine in a global business and scientific world that a large percentage of academia is multi-national in background at the more well known universities. I did some ad hoc research on higher degrees held at the Uni of Queensland in Australia some years back and found that most of academia there had higher degrees from outside Australia, mostly from the UK and the US.

    The emphasis is now, perhaps, on the stature of the institution rather than the nomenclature of the award. It would also be helpful if there was a high profile academic involved with the faculty where the research was conducted.

    My inclination would be to focus on the faculty and the stature of the institution rather than the degree title. South Africa seems to provide a good education at an excellent price. I am unaware of their current medical prowess, but some years ago they pioneered heart transplants so they must have had a healthy research tradition.
  9. Matt R

    Matt R New Member

    Great opinions here from everyone, and very much appreciated and respected.

    I should provide a bit more insight on the nomenclature issue. I have friends that earned doctorates in biomechanics or exercise physiology and were awarded EdD - doctor of education - rather than PhD. The reason? 'Exercise Science' was part of the 'Physical Education' department at their schools. Physical Education was under the School of Education, ergo, EdD (even though one could earn a BS and MS degree at most).

    Unfortunately academics are often too ready to judge by the nomenclature rather than the accomplishments. These folks did "PhD" class work, dissertations, etc. but are assumed to have studied "PE teacher stuff" because of the EdD. Yes, they can get around this limitation but it would be easier not to have to deal with it. Given the bias in our field against what is perceived as a non-scientific education degree, I can guess that the same limitations would exist for what is perceived as a non-scientific arts degree (DLitt et Phil).

    Again, I agree that this is not an insurmountable limitation, but given the fact that I will work just as hard on my thesis and likely do the same project either way, why not earn a PhD and avoid the hassels if at all possible. The search goes on . . .
  10. CLSeibel

    CLSeibel Member


    Greetings! My experience with Pretoria has been quite positive. All of the administrative and academic personnel with whom I have interacted have been quite helpful and quite timely in responding to my enquiries. The university is constantly upgrading the features that they make available online to help make matters more efficient for students (e.g., registration, chat forums, online payment, account information, academic records, etc.). Now, I would have to qualify my comments by saying that my experience has been colored to a large degree by the very wonderful people in the Faculty of Theology who have helped to make matters smooth for me. Thus, I can't vouch for what is going on in other faculties. However, I would urge you to keep pursuing it.

    As a student of the Facultly of Theology, no travel to Pretoria has been required of me thus far. I have had the opportunity to meet with my professor on American soil on two separate occasions. I am expected to defend my dissertation, but have recently learned that it would be possible for me to do this by video conferencing. I likely will take advantage of this option so that I can afford to travel there for graduation.
  11. Matt R

    Matt R New Member

    response from U of P


    It sounds wonderful at U of P; I'm so glad you found such a great program. Thanks for the insight. I think saving the trip to SA for graduation is a great idea and hopefully I could pull that off as well. Time to renew the passport!

    I did get a response from the Health Science department and, well, you have to be a medical doctor for those PhD programs (MD PhD sort of thing).

    Good news, however; they forwarded my e-mail to the Sport Science/Biokinetics department housed in Humanities (that I had not found on the website before) and it looks like they do have PhD (or "D Phil"). Here is the link for anyone interested:


    There isn't much information on post-graduate degrees, other than that they are offered, so I am awaiting a response from that department. Keeping my fingers crossed, but will continue looking about in the mean time.

    Thanks again for such great insight from everyone on the 'what's in a name' dilemna.

    Matt Rogers
  12. CLSeibel

    CLSeibel Member

    If you haven't already had a chance to do so, while you await further information from the university, you may be interested in reviewing the appropriate "yearbook" (catalogue) information in PDF format. The link below will provide you access to the humanities yearbook, as well as the general regulations that apply to all postgraduate programs.


    Hope that's helpful.
  13. Matt R

    Matt R New Member


    Yes, this is very helpful! Per the yearbook, a DPhil in Human Movement Sciences is offered. This looks promising, and more in line with my previous masters degree and my research interests.

    Interesting that similar degrees are offered through the medical school (for medical doctors), e.g., Sport Science, but that Human Mvmt Sci is in Humanities (but hey, human movement, humanities - it fits!).


  14. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    I'm glad to hear this! How long would you say it's taking you to do your PhD there start to finish? Do you correspond regularly with your thesis chair (or whatever they call it) to ensure you stay on track?


  15. little fauss

    little fauss New Member

    Now if a person lands a "DPhil" from a foreign institution, can they not call this a "PhD" in the U.S., as both are precisely the same thing in every respect, even what they're called: "Doctor of Philosophy", just with a different letter arrangement?
  16. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    Good one. The degree itself isn't "PhD" or "DPhil"; it's "Doctor of Philosophy" or the Latin equivalent. If that's so, shouldn't one be able to abbreviate it any way desirable so long as it's genuinely indicative of the actual degree name?

    Having said that, if my alma mater used DPhil, I'd respect that tradition. I mean, Oxford uses that, and it's not like they suck. :) So does South Africa's University of Johannesburg, less prestigious than Oxford, perhaps, but still respectable.

  17. CLSeibel

    CLSeibel Member

    Should I happen to complete and submit my thesis within the timeframe being encouraged by my "study leader", it would amount to almost exactly three years from when I began the process. Graduation would come roughly three and a half years after my initial enrollment.

    My correspondence with my study leader is rather frequent, although the frequency of these contacts varies from month to month depending on where we are in the process. He has been quite encouraging and a valuable resource. I also have had opportunity to meet with him at Princeton, NJ, on two separate occasions, and have spent roughly 16 hour of face-to-face time with him in that setting.

    Another encouraging thing with Pretoria is that all recent doctoral grads have been required to submit electronic copies of their theses to the library. Thus, you can get on the library website and access the theses that have been submitted over the last couple of years. When I am feeling frustrated about my own lack of progress or focus, I simply pull up the thesis of someone who has successfully completed a doctorate in my department. This consistently encourages me and provides me reassurance that my work is of an appropriate standard to one day earn me the title of "Dr." as well.
  18. Matt R

    Matt R New Member

    Hi folks,

    Just a quick update; my search is ongoing. I heard back in general from U of Pretoria and then sent a specific e-mail to the right person in the department. That was a few weeks back. No response.

    Ditto for several other SA universities including the more prestigious Cape Town (in terms of Exercise Science reputation). One helpful South African professor (from another university) who had responded to my info request recommended UCT. This was without my mentioning UCT, so it was a nice endorsement. I followed up by asking what she thought about UCT vs. Zululand (Unizul) given that Unizul was ready for me to apply. She recommended I await the reply from UCT, nothing against Unizul but that it is not as well known.

    I think perhaps the quick replies and enthusiastic response I received from the professor at Unizul, who offered to sponsor my application, etc, may trump the 'prestige' of other schools soon. Afterall, it is hard to apply to a school that has not offered a response.

    Opinions? Thanks!


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