Guide to PhD & EdD Degrees in Science and Math

If you have an aptitude for, and an interest in, science and math, then you are fortunate to have a choice of career possibilities that are both varied and fascinating. First though, you will need to earn your academic credentials in a field where the standards are very high. This may well mean earning a PhD in Science or Math.

A PhD in Science or Math may further specialize in one of the a major branches of these areas, such as physics, earth sciences, life sciences, technology, or higher mathematics. As you pursue your PhD in Science or Math, you may find yourself specializing, depending on your area of interest and the opportunities that present themselves to you. This guide will get you started on that path, by telling you a little bit more about earning a doctorate degree in science and math, and some considerations that should go into choosing the right school to help you pursue this goal.

The Importance of PhDs in Science and Math

Different professions have different definitions for what is considered a terminal degree (i.e., the highest degree available in a given field), but in science and math, a doctorate degree is clearly the standard. You will need a doctorate to qualify for high-level jobs in just about any branch of science or math, but besides the outward credential, a doctorate in science or math is essential for giving you the body of knowledge necessary to contribute to these fields.

The study of science and math is a tradition that goes back thousands of years, and it takes a PhD in Science or Math to do full justice to the complexity of the knowledge that has accumulated as a result. A PhD in Science or Math is also important because many areas of these fields are changing all the time. To both master the complexity and keep up with new developments, access to specialized equipment, facilities, or research data may be necessary, particularly for those pursuing a PhD in Science–an extremely broad field. These are the type of resources you can expect from a PhD program.

One alternative to a PhD in Science or Math would be an EdD, if your career path is directed more toward teaching. An EdD in Science or Math combines learning about the relevant body of knowledge with information about teaching theories and techniques. Like a PhD in Science or Math, an EdD in Science or Math would be viewed as a terminal degree, and thus potentially qualify you for positions at the highest levels of the profession. PhDs tend to focus more on progressing theories in the field and growing the overall body of knowledge, whereas an EdD is more of a professional degree, preparing you to teach or administrate a PhD program.

Career Opportunities with a PhD or EdD in Science or Math

Career opportunities once you have a doctorate degree in science or math can include such high-growth areas as medicine, ecology, or technology. However, there are also many other specialties that while less prominent, may hold particular interest for you. Perhaps the best way to describe the career opportunities in science and math is to discuss them in terms of both types of jobs, and areas of specialization.

Broadly speaking, three types of job you could pursue with an EdD or PhD in Science or Math are:

  • Teaching. While a bachelor’s or master’s degree may qualify you to teach up to the high school level, a doctorate degree in science or math is necessary if you want to pursue a tenured position at any major post-secondary institution. For a teaching track, an EdD should be just as worthwhile as a PhD in Science or Math.
  • Research. Pure research is often associated with academic institutions, and may be funded by private or government grants. Despite the academic aspect of this work, a PhD in Science or Math would be more applicable than an EdD.
  • Commercial applications. There are also numerous business applications in science and math, so a PhD in Science or Math could qualify you to participate in, or even run, a research and development effort in areas such as healthcare or information technology.

Most areas of science and math offer each of the above types of job opportunities. Some of the specific fields of study you can choose for your doctorate include:

  • Astronomy and aeronautics
  • Biology and life sciences
  • Chemistry and materials
  • Computing and telecommunications
  • Earth and environmental sciences
  • Engineering
  • Applied and theoretical mathematics
  • Social sciences
  • Physics

Choosing a specialty will have a great influence on your next decision, which will be identifying appropriate graduate schools in science and math.

Finding and Evaluating Graduate Schools in Science and Math

There are many PhD programs in science and math, but certain specialties may only be offered by a few select schools. For this reason, you should be sure to include both on-campus and online PhD programs in your initial search. It may turn out that an online PhD program may be the only practical way you can bring the study of your chosen field to your geographic area.

Beyond choice of specialty, on-campus and online PhD programs each have their advantages. For certain types of hands-on research requiring advanced equipment–necessary in nearly every PhD in Science program–an on-campus program may be the only viable option. On the other hand, an online PhD program may be the most cost-effective solution, and may also be the most convenient way of earning your doctorate if you are trying to hold down a job while pursuing your studies. A PhD or EdD in Math requires less laboratory work and is better suited to the format offered by online graduate schools.

Whether you choose an on-campus or online PhD program, before you sign up you should make sure the school is recognized by an accreditation agency that meets U.S. Department of Education accreditation standards. Accreditation can have a big impact on the availability of financial aid.

Calculated Career Success

Scientists and mathematicians have made some of the most visible and life-changing contributions to human existence. They help feed the world and cure diseases. They make the cars we drive and the buildings we live in safer and more comfortable. They continue the human drive for exploration, from the depths of the ocean to the furthest reaches of space. They also make continuing advances in the computing and telecommunications fields that perhaps most define contemporary life.

If you are ready to add your talents and energy to these pursuits, a PhD or EdD in Math and Science could be the key that opens the door to your life’s work.


  • Department of Education, Accreditation in the United States
  • MSN Encarta, Science
  • MSN Encarta, Mathematics
  • National Science Foundation, Overviews of NSF Research
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