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doctor of philosophy

Definition of doctor of philosophy

Word history.

1651, in the meaning defined above

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“Doctor of philosophy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/doctor%20of%20philosophy. Accessed 9 May. 2024.

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A Doctor of Philosophy or Doctorate

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More than 54,000 students earned doctoral degrees in 2016, the latest year for which figures are available, a 30 percent increase since 2000, according to the  National Science Foundation . A Ph.D., also called a doctorate, is a "Doctor of Philosophy" degree, which is a misleading moniker because most Ph.D. holders are not philosophers. The term for this increasingly popular degree derives from the original meaning of the word "philosophy," which comes from the ancient Greek word  philosophia , meaning "love of wisdom."

What Is a Ph.D.?

In that sense, the term "Ph.D." is accurate, because the degree has historically been a license to teach, but it also signifies that the holder is an "authority, in full command of (a given) subject right up to the boundaries of current knowledge, and able to extend them," says  FindAPhD , an online Ph.D. database. Earning a Ph.D. requires a hefty financial and time commitment— $35,000 to $60,000  and two to eight years—as well as research, creating a thesis or dissertation, and possibly some teaching duties.

Deciding to pursue a Ph.D. can represent a major life choice. Doctoral candidates require additional schooling after completing a master's program to earn their Ph.D.: They must complete additional coursework, pass comprehensive exams , and complete an independent dissertation in their field. Once completed, though, a doctoral degree—often called a "terminal degree"—can open doors for the Ph.D.holder, especially in academia but also in business.

Core Courses and Electives

To obtain a Ph.D., you need to take a group of core courses as well as electives, totaling about 60 to 62 "hours," which are roughly the equivalent of units at the bachelor's degree level. For example, Washington State University offers a  Ph.D. in crop science . Core courses, which make up about 18 hours, include such subjects as introduction to population genetics, plant transmission genetics, and plant breeding.

Additionally, the student must make up the remaining required hours through electives. The  Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health  offers a doctoral degree in Biological Sciences in Public Health. After core courses such as laboratory rotations, biological sciences seminars, and core principles of biostatistics and epidemiology, the Ph.D. candidate is required to take electives in related fields such as advanced respiratory physiology, advanced respiratory physiology, and ecological and epidemiological control of parasitic diseases. Degree-granting institutions across the board want to ensure that those who earn Ph.D.s have broad knowledge in their chosen field.

Thesis or Dissertation and Research

A Ph.D. also requires students to complete a large scholarly project known as a  dissertation , a research report—usually 60-plus pages—which signifies that they are able to make significant independent contributions to their chosen field of study. Students take on the project, also known as a  doctoral thesis , after completing the core and elective coursework and passing a  comprehensive examination . Through the dissertation, the student is expected to make a new and creative contribution to a field of study and to demonstrate her expertise.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, for example, a strong medical dissertation relies heavily on the creation of a specific hypothesis that can be either disproved or supported by data collected through independent student research. Further, it must also contain several key elements starting with an introduction to the problem statement, conceptual framework, and research question as well as references to literature already published on the topic. Students must show that the  dissertation  is relevant, provides new insight into the chosen field, and is a topic that they can research independently.

Financial Aid and Teaching

There are several ways to pay for a doctoral degree: scholarships, grants, fellowships, and government loans, as well as teaching.  GoGrad , a graduate school information website, provides such examples as the:

  • Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service Program, which provides full tuition and an annual stipend of $25,000 to $38,000.
  • National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, a three-year graduate fellowship that is designed to support doctoral students across 15 engineering disciplines
  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, a three-year program that provides an annual stipend of $34,000 and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees

As it does for bachelor's and master's degrees, the federal government also offers several  loan programs  to help students finance their Ph.D. studies. You generally apply for these loans by filling out the free application for federal student aid ( FAFSA ). Students planning to go into teaching after obtaining their doctoral degrees often also supplement their income by teaching undergraduate classes at the schools where they are studying. The University of California, Riverside, for example, offers a "teaching award"—essentially a stipend applied toward tuition costs—for Ph.D. candidates in English who teach undergraduate, beginning-level, English courses

Jobs and Opportunities for Ph.D. Holders

Education accounts for a large percentage doctoral awards, with elementary education, curriculum and instruction, educational leadership and administration, special education, and counselor education/ school counseling topping the list. Most universities in the United States require a Ph.D. for candidates who seek teaching positions, regardless of the department.

Many Ph.D. candidates seek the degree, however, to boost their current salaries. For example, a health, sports, and fitness educator at a community college would realize a bump in annual pay for obtaining a Ph.D. The same holds for educational administrators. Most such positions require only a master's degree, but obtaining a Ph.D. generally leads to an annual stipend that school districts add to the annual salary. That same health and fitness instructor at a community college could also move on from a teaching position and become a dean at a community college—a position that requires a Ph.D.—boosting his pay to  $120,000 to $160,000  a year or more.

So, the opportunities for a doctoral degree holder are wide and varied, but the cost and commitment required are significant. Most experts say you should know your future career plans before you make the commitment. If you know what you want to get out of the degree, then the years of required study and sleepless nights may well be worth the investment.

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Meaning of PhD in English

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  • associate's degree
  • baccalaureate
  • bachelor's degree
  • double major
  • first degree
  • Master's degree
  • second degree
  • summa cum laude

Ph.D. | Intermediate English

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phd meaning full name

What is a PhD?

  • Types of Doctorates
  • A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest globally recognized postgraduate degree that higher education institutions can award.
  • PhDs are awarded to candidates who undertake original and extensive research in a particular field of study.
  • Full time PhD programmes typically last three to four years, whilst part time PhD programmes typically last six to seven years.
  • A PhD can lead to an academia teaching role or a career in research. A PhD can also equip you with skills suitable for a wide range of jobs unrelated to your research topic or academia.

Definition of a PhD – A Doctor of Philosophy (commonly abbreviated to PhD , Ph.D or a DPhil ) is a university research degree awarded from across a broad range of academic disciplines; in most countries, it is a terminal degree, i.e. the highest academic degree possible.

PhDs differ from undergraduate and master’s degrees in that PhDs are entirely research-based rather than involving taught modules (although doctoral training centres (DTCs) offer programmes that start with a year of lecture-based teaching to help develop your research skills prior to starting your project).

In most English-speaking countries, those that complete a PhD use the title “Doctor” (typically abbreviated to Dr) in front of their names and are referred to as such within academic and/or research settings. Those that work in fields outside of academia may decide not to use the formal doctor title but use post-nominal letters (e.g. John Smith PhD); it’s unusual though for someone to use both the Doctor title and post-nominal letters in their name.

PhD vs Doctorate

A PhD and a professional doctorate are both research-based terminal degrees.

However, where a PhD focuses on original research mostly around theoretical concepts, a professional doctorate focuses on examining existing knowledge to solve real-life, practical problems.

While there is much crossover between the two, a PhD is generally better suited for an individual to wants to advance the knowledge and understanding in their field, and a professional doctorate degree is better suited to a working professional who wants to better be able to apply knowledge and understanding to their field.

What Are the Entry Requirements for a PhD?

To be accepted on to a PhD programme, students usually need to hold at least a high ( 2:1 and above ) undergraduate degree that is related to the field of research that they want to pursue. A PhD candidate may also be expected to hold a Master’s degree , however, this does not mean you must have one, as it is still possible to enrol into a PhD without a Master’s .

Self-funded courses may sometimes be more relaxed in relation to entry requirements. It may be possible to be accepted onto a self-funded PhD programme with lower grades, though these students typically demonstrate their suitability for the role through professional work experience.

Whilst a distance learning project is possible , most PhD candidates will carry out their research over at least three years based at their university, with regular contact with two academic supervisors (primary and secondary). This is particularly the case for lab-based projects, however, some PhD projects require spending time on-site away from university (e.g. at a specialist research lab or at a collaborating institution abroad).

How Long Does a PhD Take?

Typically, full-time PhDs last 3-4 years and part-time PhDs last 6-7 years. However, at the discretion of the university, the thesis writing-up period can be extended by up to four years.

Although most doctoral programmes start in September or October, they are generally much more flexible than taught-courses and can start at any time of the year.

How Much Does a PhD Cost?

Tuition fees for UK and EU students vary between £3,000 and £6,000 per year, with the average tuition fee of £4,712 per year for 2023/24 programmes.

Tuition fees increase considerably for international students, varying between £16,000 to £25,000 per year, with an average tuition fee of £19,600 per year .

Nonetheless, most students will secure PhD funding in the form of studentships, scholarships and bursaries to help pay for these fees. These funding opportunities can either be partial, which cover tuition fees only, or full, which cover both tuition fees and living expenses.

UK national students can also apply for Doctoral Loans from Student Finance England if they are unable to secure funding.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

What Does a PhD Involve?

To be awarded a PhD, a doctoral student is required to produce a substantial body of work that adds new knowledge to their chosen field.

A PhD programme will typically involve four key stages:

Stage 1: Literature Review

The first year of a PhD involves attending regular meetings with your supervisors and carrying out a search on previously published work in your subject area. This search will be used to produce a literature review which should set the context of the project by explaining the foundation of what is currently known within the field of research, what recent developments have occurred, and where the gaps in knowledge are. In most cases, this will be an extension of your research proposal should you have produced one as part of your application. The literature review should conclude by outlining the overarching aims and objectives of the research project. This stage of setting achievable goals which are original and contribute to the field of research is an essential first step in a successful PhD.

The supervisor is the main point of contact through the duration of a PhD – but remember: they are there to mentor, not to teach, or do it for you . It will be your responsibility to plan, execute and monitor your own work as well as to identify gaps in your own knowledge and address them.

Stage 2: Research

The second year (and prehapse some of your third year) is when you work on your research. Having identified novel research questions from your review of the literature, this is where you collect your data to help answer these questions. How you do this will depend on the nature of your doctoral research: for example, you may design and run experiments in a lab alongside other PhD students or visit excavation sites in remote regions of the world. You should check in regularly with your supervisors to update them and run any ideas or issues past them.

Have the structure and chapters of your thesis in mind as you develop and tackle your research questions. Working with a view of publishing your work will be very valuable later on.

Stage 3: Write up of Thesis

The next key stage of a PhD is writing a doctoral thesis , which typically takes from anywhere between three months to one year. A thesis is a substantial body of work that describes the work and outcomes of the research over the previous two to three years. It should tell a detailed story of the PhD project – focusing on:

  • The motivations for the research questions identified from the literature review.
  • The methodologies used, results obtained, and a comprehensive analysis and discussion of the findings.
  • A detailed discussion of the key findings with an emphasis on the original contributions made to your field of research and how this has been impactful.

There is no universal rule for the length of a PhD thesis, but general guidelines set the word count between 80,000 to 100,000 words.

For your thesis to be successful, it needs to adequately defend your argument and provide a unique or increased insight into your field that was not previously available.

Stage 4: Attending the Viva

A viva voce , most commonly referred to as just a ‘ viva ‘, is an interview-style examination where the PhD student is required to engage in a critical appraisal of their work and defend their thesis against at least two examiners. The examiners will ask questions to check the PhD student has an in-depth understanding of the ideas and theories proposed in their thesis, and whether they have developed the research skills that would be expected of them.

The viva is one of the final steps in achieving a PhD, and typically lasts at least two hours, but this duration can vary depending on the examiners, the university and the PhD project itself.

Once you have done the viva – you’re on the home stretch. You will typically be asked to make some amendments to your thesis based on the examiner’s feedback. You are then ready to submit your final thesis for either:

  • PhD – If you pass the requirements you will be awarded a PhD degree (most common outcome),
  • MPhil – If you failed to meet requirements for a PhD, you may be downgraded to an MPhil degree (uncommon outcome),
  • Fail – No award is given, typically for cases of plagiarism (extremely uncommon outcome).

What Is It Like to Undertake a PhD?

We’re often asked what it is like to undertake a PhD study. Unfortunately, this isn’t a simple answer to this question as every research project is different.

To help give insight into the life of a PhD student, we’ve interviewed PhD students at various stages of their programmes and put together a series of PhD Student Interviews . Check out the link to find out what a PhD is like and what advice they have to offer you.

What Are the Benefits of A PhD?

A PhD is the highest globally recognised postgraduate degree that higher education institutions can award. The degree, which is awarded to candidates who demonstrate original and independent research in a particular field of study, is not only invaluable in itself, but sets you up with invaluable skills and traits.

Career Opportunities

First, a PhD prepares you for a career in academia if you wish to continue in this area. This takes form as a career in the Higher Education sector, typically as a lecturer working their way to becoming a professor leading research on the subject you’ve studied and trained in.

Second, a PhD also enables the opportunity for landing a job in a research & development role outside of the academic environment. Examples of this include laboratory work for a private or third sector company, a governmental role and research for commercial and industrial applications.

Transferable Skills

Finally, in possessing a PhD degree, you can show to employers that you have vital skills that make you an asset to any company. Three examples of the transferable skills that you gain through a PhD are effective communication, time management, and report writing.

  • Communication – presenting your work in written and oral forms using journal papers and podium presentations, shows your ability to share complex ideas effectively and to those with less background knowledge than you. Communication is key in the professional environment, regardless of the job.
  • Time management – The ability to prioritise and organise tasks is a tremendous asset in the professional industry. A PhD holder can use their qualification to demonstrate that they are able to manage their time, arrange and follow a plan, and stick to deadlines.
  • Report writing – Condensing three years of work into a thesis demonstrates your ability to filter through massive amounts of information, identify the key points, and get these points across to the reader. The ability to ‘cut out the waffle’ or ‘get to the point’ is a huge asset in the professional industry.

Aside from the above, you also get to refer to yourself as a Doctor and add fancy initials after your name!

What Can I Do After a PhD?

One of the most desirable postdoctoral fields is working within independent Research and Development (R&D) labs and new emerging companies. Both industries, especially R&D labs, have dedicated groups of PhD graduates who lead research activities, design new products and take part in crucial strategic meetings. Not only is this a stimulating line of work, but the average salaries in R&D labs and emerging start-ups are lucrative. In comparison, an undergraduate with five years of experience within their given field will, on average, likely earn less than a new PhD graduate taking on a R&D position.

It’s a common misunderstanding that PhDs only opens the door for an academic career such as university lecturers and training providers. Although obtaining a PhD opens these doors, the opportunities extend far beyond educational roles. In fact, recent data from the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) indicates only 23% of PhD graduates take a position in educational roles . This low percentage is primarily because PhD graduates have a wide range of skills that make them suitable for a broad spectrum of roles. This is being seen first hand by the increasing number of PhD graduates who are entering alternative roles such as research, writing, law and investment banking.

How Do I Find a PhD?

We appreciate that finding a PhD programme to undertake can be a relatively daunting process. According to Higher Education Student Statistics , over 22,000 PhDs were awarded in 2016/17 within the United Kingdom alone. Clearly there are a huge number of PhD programmes available. This can sometimes be confusing for prospective doctorates, particularly when different programmes are advertised in different places. Often, it is difficult to know where to look or where to even start. We’ve put together a list of useful sources to find the latest PhD programmes:

  • A great place to start is with our comprehensive and up-to-date database of available PhD positions .
  • Assuming you are still at university, speak to an existing PhD supervisor within your department.
  • Attend as many postgraduate open days as you can. Whilst there, speak to current PhD students and career advisors to get an awareness of what PhDs are on offer.
  • Visit the postgraduate section of university websites and the PhD Research Council section of the UKRI website.

Browse PhDs Now

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Definition of Ph.D. noun from the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary

  • acquire/get/lack experience/training/(an) education
  • receive/provide somebody with training
  • develop/design/plan a curriculum/course/program/syllabus
  • give/go to/attend a class/lesson/lecture/seminar
  • hold/run/conduct a class/seminar/workshop
  • moderate/lead/facilitate a discussion
  • sign up for/take a course/classes/lessons
  • go to/start preschool/kindergarten/nursery school
  • be in the first, second, etc. grade (at school)
  • study/take/drop history/chemistry/German, etc.
  • finish/drop out of/quit school
  • graduate from high school/college
  • be the victim/target of bullying/teasing
  • skip/cut/ ( informal ) ditch class/school
  • cheat on an exam/a test
  • get/be given a detention (for doing something)
  • be expelled from/be suspended from school
  • do your homework/a project on something
  • work on/write/do/submit an essay/a dissertation/a thesis/an assignment/a paper
  • finish/complete your dissertation/thesis/studies
  • hand in/turn in your homework/essay/assignment/paper
  • study/prepare/review/ ( informal ) cram for a test/an exam
  • take/ ( formal ) sit for a test/an exam
  • grade homework/a test
  • do well on/ ( informal ) ace a test/an exam
  • pass/fail/ ( informal ) flunk a test/an exam/a class/a course/a subject
  • apply to/get into/go to/start college
  • leave/graduate from college (with a degree in computer science)/law school
  • study for/work towards a law degree/a degree in physics
  • major/minor in biology/philosophy
  • earn/receive/be awarded/get/have/hold a master's degree/a bachelor's degree/a Ph.D. in economics

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phd meaning full name

  • April 2, 2024
  • Academic Advice

What Does Ph.D. Stand For?

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Ever wondered why someone with the title “Doctor of Philosophy” isn’t necessarily pondering the mysteries of existence like Descartes or Nietzsche? That’s because the term encompasses many disciplines beyond its traditional confines. Whether it’s exploring the mysteries of the cosmos, deciphering intricate economic systems or unraveling the complexities of human behavior, a Ph.D. can be earned in any field ranging from science and economics to humanities and beyond. 

In this article, we’ll explore the multifaceted world of Ph.D. studies, beginning with the fundamental question: What does Ph.D. stand for? 

Beyond merely defining the acronym, we provide crucial information to assist you in determining whether pursuing this advanced degree aligns with your goals, aspirations and intellectual passions.

Meaning of Ph.D.

A Ph.D., short for Doctor of Philosophy, is an esteemed academic degree marking the pinnacle of in-depth study and innovative research in a specific area of expertise. Attaining a Ph.D. involves not just a broad mastery of the field at large but also acquiring specialized knowledge and insights into a distinct facet of that discipline.

For instance, pursuing a Ph.D. in literature involves acquiring a thorough understanding of literary theory and criticism while also focusing deeply on a particular literary period or genre, such as Victorian literature, postcolonial literature, or contemporary poetry. This process ensures that Ph.D. candidates achieve a comprehensive grasp of their broader discipline while also cultivating an expert-level specialization.

Education Requirements for a Ph.D.

In order to pursue a Ph.D. program, you must first fulfill some education prerequisites. Both a bachelor’s degree and often a master’s degree serve as essential stepping stones toward this advanced academic pursuit.

Bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree is a fundamental requirement for individuals who aspire to pursue higher education, including Ph.D. studies. Although having a major directly related to the intended Ph.D. field is not mandatory, it can undoubtedly provide a beneficial foundation for handling advanced coursework. Therefore, aligning undergraduate studies with future graduate pursuits can significantly ease the transition into more advanced academic pursuits, ensuring a smoother progression through graduate coursework.

Master’s degree

To be eligible for Ph.D. programs, candidates typically need to have completed a master’s degree. The duration of a master’s degree program can vary depending on whether a student is enrolled part-time or full-time, but typically it lasts between one and three years. 

Maintaining a high GPA during master’s studies can improve your chances of getting into a Ph.D. program. Generally, a GPA of 3.0 or higher is seen as favorable. However, this can vary based on factors like your field of study and the program’s competitiveness.

How Long Does a Ph.D. Take?

The typical duration of a Ph.D. program ranges from five to six years, yet this timeframe can vary significantly depending on the academic field and individual circumstances.

Several factors play a pivotal role in determining the length of Ph.D. studies. Firstly, the depth and breadth of the research project can significantly influence the timeline. The dissertation phase, which involves original research, data analysis, and presenting your findings, often requires a considerable amount of time. Secondly, the availability of funding and resources is crucial. Access to financial support and adequate research facilities can either speed up the process or cause delays.

Moreover, specific program or institutional requirements, such as compulsory coursework, teaching commitments, or comprehensive exams, may affect the overall timeline. These obligations can increase the academic workload, potentially prolonging the time necessary to fulfill all degree requirements.

The Process of Obtaining a Ph.D.


The process of obtaining a Ph.D. is a journey that involves passing through various milestones and academic achievements, each contributing to the culmination of advanced scholarly expertise. Let’s go through some of the steps below: 

Completing coursework

Coursework is a foundational step in the Ph.D. process, helping students cultivate profound subject-matter expertise and establish essential knowledge within the field. These courses equip students with the requisite theoretical framework and shape potential dissertation research topics.

Completing one or more doctoral residency experiences

Doctoral residencies provide a structured platform for refining research skills, receiving guidance, and engaging in scholarly discourse. Often conducted virtually, these experiences allow students to focus on specific study and dissertation preparation activities while fostering connections with faculty and peers for invaluable mentorship and collaboration.

Passing a comprehensive assessment or exam

The purpose of the comprehensive examination process is to comprehensively evaluate the student’s depth of knowledge in their area of specialization and their familiarity with the published research within the field. Additionally, the examination verifies whether the student possesses the critical thinking and analytical skills required for dissertation research.

Developing and completing an independent research project

The dissertation is a comprehensive written document that typically consists of five chapters and addresses a unique question or problem within the field. Faculty experts and the ethical review board play integral roles in assessing the rigor and ethical aspects of the research project, ensuring scholarly integrity and adherence to ethical guidelines.

Seeking approval of your completed dissertation manuscript

The approval process entails evaluation by a faculty committee and the school dean, culminating in a final defense where students defend their research, analysis, and conclusions. Meeting specific professional standards, as applicable to the field, is often a requirement before the publication of the approved dissertation, marking the culmination of the Ph.D. journey.

Career Opportunities for Ph.D. Holders

Ph.D. holders are equipped with a wealth of specialized knowledge and advanced skills, opening doors to many career opportunities that vary depending on their field of study. The roles they can pursue encompass a wide range of leadership, managerial, research, academic, and consulting positions, such as:

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5 Reasons to Get a Ph.D.

The decision to pursue a Ph.D. is a significant one that holds the potential to shape both your career trajectory and personal growth. Here are five compelling reasons why pursuing a Ph.D. may be worth considering:

Become an expert in the field

One of the primary motivations for pursuing a Ph.D. is the opportunity to become an expert in a specific field. Obtaining expert-level knowledge allows you to contribute significantly to your chosen field while providing you with a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. 

You can make a difference through research

The true value of a Ph.D. lies in the potential to make a positive impact through research. Across various fields, impactful research has the power to drive innovation, solve pressing societal challenges, and advance human knowledge. Whether it’s discovering new treatments for diseases, developing sustainable technologies, or understanding complex social phenomena, Ph.D. research has the potential to change the world for the better.

Broaden your job opportunities

In today’s competitive job market, a Ph.D. can set you apart from the crowd. While it’s highly relevant for academic careers, a Ph.D. also opens doors to diverse opportunities in industries ranging from technology and healthcare to finance and government. Employers value the advanced research, analytical, and critical thinking skills that Ph.D. holders bring to the table, making them highly sought after in various professional settings.

Increase your salary potential

Earning a Ph.D. can lead to significant financial benefits in the long run. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics , Ph.D. holders typically command higher salaries and have lower unemployment rates. While the journey toward a Ph.D. may require dedication and perseverance, the potential for increased earning potential is a compelling incentive for many aspiring scholars.

You can reach your full potential

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of pursuing a Ph.D. is the opportunity for personal growth and development. Along the way, you’ll acquire valuable skills, including resilience, problem-solving, and effective communication, that will serve you well professionally and personally. By pushing yourself to tackle complex problems and overcome obstacles, you’ll reach your full potential not only as a scholar but also as an individual ready to leave their mark and make a meaningful difference in the world.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, Ph.D. programs are indispensable components of the academic journey for individuals seeking to enhance their expertise, enrich scholarly knowledge, and pursue fulfilling careers in academia, industry, and beyond. 

As you reflect on your academic and professional aspirations, consider the transformative potential of pursuing a Ph.D. program tailored to your passions and ambitions. So, dare to delve deeper, embrace the challenge, and pursue this path of intellectual discovery and personal growth.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is a ph.d. harder than a master’s degree.

While both degrees require significant dedication and effort, a Ph.D. typically involves more extensive research and independent study, making it a more demanding academic pursuit than a master’s degree.

Which is higher: Ph.D. or doctorate?

A Ph.D. lies within the category of doctorate degrees, so one is not inherently higher than the other.

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“M.D.” vs. “Ph.D.” vs. “Dr.”: Are They Synonyms?

Quick: when you hear the word doctor , what do you picture?

Most would probably describe someone in a white lab coat with a stethoscope hanging around their neck or someone in medical scrubs—someone you would seek out if you have a deep cut that needed stitches.

That word doctor , however, is a title assigned to many who don’t come close to that description, many of whom you wouldn’t want stitching up that cut. Take your English professor, for instance. No offense, Dr. Barrett. 

It can all be a bit confusing, which is why it’s important to know who and why someone might be called a doctor , as well as what all those initials and abbreviations after their name mean. Here we break it all down.

What does Dr. mean?

Let’s start with doctor or D r . for short. While the first definition of the word is “ a person licensed to practice medicine,” that doesn’t mean you want to take medical advice from anyone who calls themselves a doctor . There are many looser definitions of the word that follow and, frankly, make things a bit confusing.

For example, the third definition is older slang for a “cook, as at a camp or on a ship,” while the seventh entry is “an eminent scholar and teacher.” Bugs Bunny didn’t help matters either by plying anyone and everyone with his famous greeting,“What’s up, doc?” 

The term doctor can be traced back to the late 1200s, and it stems from a Latin word meaning “to teach.” It wasn’t used to describe a licensed medical practitioner until about 1400, and it wasn’t used as such with regularity until the late 1600s. It replaced the former word used for medical doctors— leech , which is now considered archaic. 

WATCH: When Did The Word "Doctor" Become Medical?

Physician vs. doctor : are these synonyms.

While the term physician is a synonym for doctor , it’s typically used to refer to those who practice general medicine rather than those who perform surgery, aka surgeons . 

A quack , on the other hand, is defined as “ a fraudulent or ignorant pretender to medical skill.”

What does M.D. mean?

Moving on to initials that carry more weight than a nod from Bugs, let’s look at M.D.s .

M.D. , which can be used with or without the periods ( M.D. or MD )  is the designation for a medical doctor. This is earned by attending medical school (typically a four-year program after completing at least one undergraduate degree, plus a residency program), and learning to diagnose patients’ symptoms and offer treatment. 

The initials M and D stem from the Latin title  Medicīnae Doctor. There are many different types of doctors, with different specialties, but if you have a physical ailment, visiting a doctor with the initials M.D. is a good place to start.

Specialty doctors may add even more initials to their title, such as DCN (doctor of clinical nutrition), DDS (doctor of dental surgery), or countless others they acquire with additional training. To make things even more confusing, some may add abbreviations from medical associations they belong to, such as FAAEM (Fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine). 

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What does Ph.D. mean?

As for Ph.D. , this stands for “doctor of philosophy.” It stems from the Latin term Philosophiae Doctor.

You can get a Ph.D. in any number of subjects, from anthropology to mythological studies. It’s not an easy feat, however, as to earn one, you must do original research and write a dissertation . 

Ph.D. vs. M.D .: are these synonyms?

There are two big differences between Ph.D. s and M.D .s. When it comes to medicine, M.D.s can prescribe medications, and Ph.D.s can’t. And yes, it’s possible to be both an M.D. and a Ph.D. In fact, some med schools offer programs in which you can achieve both simultaneously. 

You can also get a professional doctorate degree in a number of fields. For example, you might receive a doctorate of education, an  Ed.D . 

So, in a nutshell, both M.D.s and Ph.Ds can be referred to as doctors . If you’re looking for someone to treat what ails you physically, then you want at least an M.D. following their name. If you want to dig deep into a subject and get advice from someone who has done their own research and who likely knows the latest and greatest developments in a particular area, then you’re probably looking for a Ph.D. And if someone has both, even better—depending on your needs, it may be just what the doctor ordered.

Want more synonyms? Get Thesaurus.com’s sizzling synonyms right in your inbox! 

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How to Correctly Use the Titles Dr. & PhD With a Name

How to Reference a Person With a PhD

How to Reference a Person With a PhD

When someone has earned a Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., degree, that person is subsequently referred to as “doctor” in formal speech. The same is true of a person who is a medical doctor, psychologist, dentist or veterinarian. In formal speech, that person should be referred to as “doctor.” However, the rules are different in written form when addressing someone who is called “doctor” in formal speech. In written form, the titles “Dr.” and “Ph.D.” are not interchangeable.

Determine the Type of Doctor

First, you should identify what type of doctor you are addressing. Doctors of medicine and psychology, doctors of dentistry and doctors of veterinary medicine must be addressed differently in comparison to academic doctors who have earned a Doctor of Philosophy doctoral degree. Be advised that there are different types of doctoral degrees. A Doctor of Philosophy degree is just one kind of doctoral degree. There’s also, for example, a Doctor of Education doctoral degree and a Doctor of Psychology doctoral degree. The titles associated with the various doctoral degrees are not interchangeable. Only a person who has earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree should be addressed as Ph.D.

Addressing a Doctor in Writing

Place the title of “Dr.” before the name of a person who is a doctor of medicine or psychology, doctor of dentistry, or doctor of veterinary medicine. For example Dr. George Ross. Always write the word “doctor” in its abbreviated form when it goes before the person’s name. Never write, for example, Doctor George Ross. Do not combine the title of “Dr.” with any other title even if the person could appropriately be addressed by a different title. Never write, for example, “Dr. George Ross, Ph.D.,” even if the person is a medical doctor who has also earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree. Pick one title. Do not use the “Dr.” title when referring to someone who is solely an academic doctor.

Put a comma followed by the title “Ph.D.” after the name of a person who has earned a Doctor of Philosophy doctoral degree. For example Stacey Childs, Ph.D. Do not combine the title of “Ph.D.” with any other title even if the person could appropriately be addressed by a different title. For instance, even if the person being addressed is a doctor of medicine who has also earned a Ph.D., never write, for example, Dr. Stacey Childs, Ph.D. Pick one title. Do not use the “Ph.D.” title when referring to someone who not earned a Doctor of Philosophy doctoral degree.

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Maya Austen began freelance writing in 2009. She has written for many online publications on a wide variety of topics ranging from physical fitness to amateur astronomy. She's also an author and e-book publisher. Austen has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from the New England Institute of Art and currently lives in Boston, Mass.

RIT graduate pursues Ph.D. across time zones

Nastaran Nagshineh is shown with other faculty in a small room where she defended her thesis.

Nastaran Nagshineh, center, defended her Ph.D. thesis at RIT in April. Faculty from RIT’s Rochester and Dubai campuses served on her thesis committee and include, from left to right, Kathleen Lamkin-Kennard, Steven Weinstein, Nathaniel Barlow, and David Kofke (a professor at the University at Buffalo). Mohamed Samaha participated remotely and appears on the video screen behind the group and alongside Nagshineh’s picture.

Nastaran Nagshineh is one of the first Ph.D. candidates to bridge RIT’s Rochester and Dubai campuses. Her accomplishment creates a path for future students at the university’s international campuses.

Nagshineh completed her Ph.D. in mathematical modeling while working full time as a mathematics lecturer at RIT Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, teaching as many as five classes a semester. She described her Ph.D. journey as “an exercise in perseverance” due to competing demands and long days. Rochester is eight hours behind Dubai, and the time difference meant many late-night classes and meetings.

“I saw this collaboration as an opportunity, rather than as a challenge, because my primary adviser, Dr. Steven Weinstein (RIT professor of chemical engineering), and my co-adviser, Dr. Mohamed Samaha (RIT Dubai associate professor of mechanical engineering), both have the same area of research interest,” she said. “They both worked toward my success.”

Nagshineh is one of 67 RIT Ph.D. students who defended their thesis this academic year and who will earn their doctorate. RIT awarded 63 Ph.D. degrees in 2023.

In 2020-2021, RIT’s Graduate School met and surpassed the university’s goal of conferring 50 Ph.D. degrees during an academic year. That number will continue to grow as students cycle through the seven new Ph.D. programs that RIT has added since 2017, said Diane Slusarski , dean of RIT’s Graduate School.

Meeting these goals puts RIT on a path toward achieving an “R1,” or research-intensive designation, from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Learning. RIT is currently ranked as an R2 institution . Many factors go into changing a university’s status, including research investment and maintaining a three-year average of 70 Ph.D. degrees awarded per year, according to Slusarski.

“We have met the goals of the strategic plan, and now we look forward to contributing to the research innovation in the future,” Slusarski said. “We want to help the new programs thrive and win national research awards.”

RIT’s emphasis on high-level research is seen in Nagshineh’s Ph.D. work. She applies mathematical modeling to the field of fluid dynamics. Her research has been published in top-tier journals and has gained notice, said Weinstein, her thesis adviser.

Weinstein describes Nagshineh’s accomplishments as “a testament to a fantastic work ethic and commitment” and is inspirational to younger students at Rochester and Dubai.

“The collaboration between RIT Dubai/Rochester has continued,” he said. “Another paper was submitted a few weeks ago with Mohamed Samaha and Nate Barlow (RIT associate professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistics) as co-authors, as well as Cade Reinberger, a younger Ph.D. student in my research group.”

Mathematical modeling is one of RIT’s newer Ph.D. degree programs, and Nagshineh is among its earliest graduates. The program has doubled in size since it began accepting students in 2017, Slusarski said. This past fall, the mathematical modeling program had 35 students, with two graduating this year.

Altogether, RIT has 13 Ph.D. degree programs currently enrolling 438 students, with computing and information sciences accounting for the largest with 117 students. RIT’s other Ph.D. programs include astrophysical sciences and technology , biomedical and chemical engineering , business administration , color science , electrical and computer engineering, imaging science , mechanical and industrial engineering , microsystems engineering , and sustainability .

New programs in cognitive science and physics will launch in the fall.

The growth in RIT graduate education—with more than 3,000 master’s and doctoral students—reflects a demographic change in the student population, Slusarski said. “We have a higher percentage of women in the graduate programs than we have for RIT undergraduate programs.”

RIT’s graduate programs enroll 42 percent women, according to Christie Leone , assistant dean for the Graduate School.

Nagshineh, who also holds an MS in electrical engineering from RIT Dubai, welcomes her role as a mentor to other women students on both campuses.

“As a young woman in an Arabic country, the power of women is often underestimated and undervalued, and I hope to serve as a role model to female students, especially those that question their path,” Nagshineh said.

She plans to continue in her career as a professor and a researcher. “I would like to pursue a research program where I can advise my own students and teach them more deeply.”

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Party’s over … Jeff Daniels as Charlie Croker A Man in Full.

A Man in Full review – skin-crawling Trump satire is a worthy Succession replacement

Jeff Daniels rages as a crooked real-estate mogul staring into the abyss of bankruptcy in this lavish take on Tom Wolfe’s novel. It’s just a shame the swearing can’t compete with the real deal

A Man in Full is largely about dicks. Metaphorical, mostly, but with the occasional real one popping up to cause trouble here and there.

The biggest metaphorical dick in this six-part Netflix adaptation by David E Kelley of Tom Wolfe’s satirical novel is Charlie Croker (Jeff Daniels). He is a good ol’ boy, Atlanta born and raised, turned real-estate mogul who has enjoyed swinging his appendage all over the state for his many years on the rise. Shortly after his lavish 60th birthday, however, he is summoned by the bank for what he thinks will be a simple refinancing meeting, only to find that they are calling in the nearly $1bn of loans they have made to him. Why? Because, explains banking head Harry Zale (Bill Camp), who could not be enjoying this more, “I am talking to a shithead about one of the worst cases of mismanagement I’ve ever seen.” The bank reckons too much has been spent on private jets, lavish 60th birthday parties and – above all – a private quail plantation for hunting and not enough on actual business. Croker is technically bankrupt. The party, and the quail hunting, is over.

Also at the meeting and barely able to keep his grin of satisfaction to himself is Croker employee turned nark Raymond Peepgrass (Tom Pelphrey, producing an absolutely skin-crawling performance throughout). It’s not all fun and games for him though, as his own (actual) dick has recently impregnated a young eastern European woman (“Also, I let him put it in anus”) who now wants $700,000 to compensate for the inconvenience of giving birth to his son.

Among the others involved and/or invested in Croker’s impending fall are his first wife Martha (Diane Lane, most recently seen in Feud: Capote vs the Swans and cementing here her welcome mid-life career resurgence), whose assets may not be as disentangled from her ex-husband’s as she had hoped, Martha’s best friend Joyce (Lucy Liu) who becomes a vital part of a second plot strand emerging slightly later on, and – most harrowingly – his receptionist Jill Hensley (Chanté Adams) and her husband Conrad (Jon Michael Hill). They are Black, and when Conrad becomes caught up in a police brutality case, his situation – aggravated by the furiously racist judge overseeing it – rapidly descends into nightmare. Charlie provides the pair with one of his lawyers, Roger White (Aml Ameen) and with other help, but as he is further distracted by his own problems, the Hensleys only suffer more.

White has his own problems too. His old college pal Wes Jordan (William Jackson Harper) is the mayor of Atlanta and running for office again, this time against a dangerous Maga-esque candidate, who could win. Unless the rumours that he sexually assaulted a women back when he used to pal around with White’s boss are true … Could Roger dig around and see if Charlie knows anything he could use? An unethical thing to do, sure, but it’s for the greater good of Atlanta, and its Black population especially.

With Kelley at the helm and Regina King directing, it was hardly in doubt that a smart, propulsive drama would unfold and A Man in Full is very much that. And, of course, although Charlie Croker is a better man than Trump (and, fictional or not, a deeper and more nuanced character), the tale of a man who has built most of his overvalued empire on confidence, bullying and bluster rather than sound business sense is timely. Though (possibly unlike Trump) Daniels’ Croker is not quite unpleasant enough to have you rooting for a painfully humiliating financial demise; you feel you won’t be shedding many tears if it comes to pass.

If, however, as seems likely, A Man in Full is Netflix’s attempt to capture the post-Succession audience, it may have a way to go. The new series is a solid, satisfying thing but it lacks a true satirical edge and it lacks flair. Every line in Succession was whetted to the finest edge and the whole thing was fired by an extraordinary rage, fierce intelligence and a profound knowledge of its characters and the world in which their real-life counterparts live. A Man in Full is a fine adaptation of Wolfe’s novel, but even the plentiful invective (“Time to take a Clydesdale piss on that man’s head”) cannot measure up to that side of Jesse Armstrong’s creation. A Man in Full is workmanlike in comparison. But perhaps that’s invidious. Standing alone, it is more than good enough.

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There's a new COVID-19 variant called FLiRT: Here's what you need to know about it

phd meaning full name

A new set of COVID-19 variants , nicknamed FLiRT, has been detected in wastewater surveillance, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From April 14 through April 27, the variant, labeled KP.2, makes up about 25% of the cases in the United States, according to the CDC. That makes it the new dominant variant in the country, overtaking JN.1. The JN.1 variant , which spread globally over the winter, made up 22% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. in the same two-week span.

KP.1.1, another FLiRT variant that is circulating, made up about 7.5% of COVID-19 cases in that two-week span, according to CDC data.

Megan L. Ranney, dean of the Yale School of Public Health, told WebMD that FLiRT has some concerning features , like changes in the spike protein, which play a role in helping SARS-CoV-2 colonize the body and make people sick.

According to the CDC, only 22.6% of adults reported having received an updated 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccine since September 2023. Data also shows that vaccination coverage increased by age and was highest among adults 75 and older.

“We’ve got a population of people with waning immunity, which increases our susceptibility to a wave,” Thomas A. Russo, chief of infectious disease at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo, told WebMD.

"The CDC is tracking SARS-CoV-2 variants KP.2 and KP.1.1, sometimes referred to as 'FLiRT,' and working to better understand their potential impact on public health," the agency said in an emailed statement to USA TODAY Wednesday.

"Currently, KP.2 is the dominant variant in the United States, but laboratory testing data indicate low levels of SARS-CoV-2 transmission overall at this time. That means that while KP.2 is proportionally the most predominant variant, it is not causing an increase in infections as transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is low," the CDC said in the statement.

New COVID-19 guidelines: CDC shortens COVID-19 isolation period. What to know about new guidelines

Symptoms of COVID 'FLiRT' variant

According to the CDC, there are "no current indicators" that KP.2 would cause more severe illness than other strains. The agency said it would continue to monitor community transmission of the virus and how vaccines perform against this strain.

The "FLiRT" variant reportedly has similar symptoms to those from JN.1 which include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • "Brain fog" (feeling less wakeful and aware)
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (upset stomach, mild diarrhea, vomiting)

The CDC notes that the list does not include all possible symptoms and that symptoms may change with new variants and can vary by person.

In general, the agency says, people with COVID-19 have a wide range of symptoms , ranging from mild to severe illness. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure.

Latest COVID guidance from the CDC

In March 2024, the CDC updated its COVID-19 guidance so people who test positive for the virus will no longer be directed to isolate at home for five days.

Health officials announced a new policy focusing on actions people can take to reduce spreading a variety of common respiratory viruses, such as influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19. Those actions include staying home when sick, staying up to date with vaccines, practicing good hygiene and improving indoor air quality.

The change marked the first time the agency has revised its coronavirus guidelines since 2021. It is intended for people and employers, not for hospitals or nursing homes that have separate guidance, the CDC said.

CDC officials called the change a streamlined approach that’s easier for people to understand and more in line with circulating respiratory viruses that spread the same way and have similar symptoms. 

Contributing: Eduardo Cuevas, Adrianna Rodriguez, Ken Alltucker, Mary Walrath-Holdridge and Mike Snider

Gabe Hauari is a national trending news reporter at USA TODAY. You can follow him on X  @GabeHauari  or email him at [email protected].

Donald 'Von ShitzInPantz' has now formally been entered into the public record at Trump's hush-money trial

  • Testimony in Donald Trump's New York trial was delayed Thursday by more gag-violation arguments.
  • "Everybody can say anything they want except for President Trump," his lawyer said.
  • Trump's lawyers flagged Biden's "stormy weather" and Michael Cohen's Donald "Von ShitzInPants" cracks.

Insider Today

Another week, another contempt-of-court hearing for former President Donald Trump — and this one was a doozy.

On Thursday morning, prosecutors at Trump's Manhattan hush-money trial argued that he violated his gag order last week when he made four on-camera statements attacking witnesses and the jury.

Things got weird when his defense attorney Todd Blanche complained that Trump must remain silent about witnesses and jurors while his opponents get to say "anything they want."

That's when President Joe Biden and Donald "Von ShitzInPants" made their bizarre cameo appearances on the official trial record.

Biden "mocked President Trump," Blanche told the judge, quoting into the record a joke the president had made Saturday at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner .

"Donald has had a few tough days lately. You might call it stormy weather," Biden quipped in a very apparent reference to Stormy Daniels, the porn star at the center of the hush-money trial.

"President Trump can't respond to that" by criticizing Daniels, Blanche said Thursday to the judge, state Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan.

Likewise, Trump's personal attorney turned nemesis, Michael Cohen, can take whatever potshot he chooses, Blanche told the judge. 

But Trump must remain silent, Blanche added, even when Cohen mocks him as Donald "Von ShitzInPantz," a favorite insult on Cohen's podcast and his account on the social-media site X.

Blanche proceeded to read that colorfully worded, offending post into the record as Trump sat listening at the defense table.

"This one says, oh my, ShitzInPantz," Blanche recited as he entered a screenshot of the post into the court record as Exhibit 64 — without any objection from prosecutors.

The official court stenographer duly followed along, typing the phrase into the court record as "shits in pants."

"Keep whining and crying and violating the gag order you petulant defendant," Blanche continued, quoting Cohen.

"Your attacks of me stink of desperation," Blanche continued, flipping to another social media post. "We are all hoping that you take the stand in your defense."

Hey Von ShitzInPantz…your attacks of me stink of desperation. We are all hoping that you take the stand in your defense. pic.twitter.com/FVsWbRnNkB — Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) April 22, 2024

"Everybody can say anything they want except for President Trump," Blanche complained to the judge.

He read a few more Cohen posts into the record, along with screenshots entered as court exhibits. Again, Trump was required to remain seated to his left, listening and looking at the screenshots.

They included this direct Cohen taunt: "Keep messing with me Donald and I won't send any money to your commissary."

Last week, Cohen pledged to stop talking about Trump on X for as long as a month, until after his testimony in the trial is over.

Now, "Michael Cohen has gone on TikTok, nightly," and makes money from it, Blanche told the judge.

Please don’t forget about the witnesses…we also matter! https://t.co/raWyfmDk7o — Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) April 16, 2024

Merchan has already found Trump in contempt of court for gag violations.

On Thursday, he fined the GOP frontrunner $9,000 for nine online attacks on witnesses and jurors.

The judge did not immediately rule on the four additional Trump statements now before him.

Prosecutors are asking that Trump be fined another $4,000, the maximum allowed, for the four on-camera statements he made last week.

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Contempt of court is punishable under New York law by as much as 30 days in jail per violation. The district attorney's office has not asked for jail.

However, prosecutors and the judge have warned that jail may be appropriate if there are future violations.

He's done it again

Trump continued to complain about the gag order at the end of the court day. Answering a question from Business Insider in the hallway outside of the courtroom, he said he couldn't respond to testimony earlier in the day from Stormy Daniels's lawyer Keith Davidson because he was "under a gag order."

"It's a very easy question. The easiest question so far," he said. "But I'm not allowed to testify because this judge is totally conflicted, has me under an unconstitutional gag order."

"Nobody has ever had that before, and we don't like it, and it's not fair," he continued. "Other people are allowed to do whatever they want to us, and I'm not allowed — as a presidential candidate, and a leading candidate, the Republican party nominee, and the one who's leading Biden by lot — and I'm not allowed to talk."

Christopher Conroy, one of the prosecutors, told the judge as Thursday morning's hearing began that Trump wasn't adhering to the order.

"He's already been found to have violated the order nine times, and he's done it again here," he said, referring to Trump's earlier statements about jurors, Cohen, Daniels, and former National Enquirer owner David Pecker .

Conroy was asking for $4,000 in new fines for Trump's most recent batch of four statements.

In one of the challenged statements, Trump said: "That jury was picked so fast." He also claimed the jury was "95% democrats."

Trump made that statement on Thursday, Conroy noted, "hours before he had a hearing here relating to his previous allegations."

In another challenged statement, from April 25, Trump praised the start of Pecker's testimony.

"He's been very nice," Trump told reporters of Pecker.

"This is classic carrot and stick," Conroy told the judge about a witness who "was going to be testifying an hour later."

This was Trump warning, "I have a platform," Conroy said, "so be nice." 

In his other challenged statements, Trump called Cohen "a convicted liar" and condemned his lack of credibility.

Trump's gag violations have been "persistent and escalating," the prosecutor told the judge.

"His statements are corrosive to this proceeding and to the fair administration of justice," the prosecutor added.

'Not a man that needs protection'

The judge showed skepticism toward Blanche's argument that Trump "can't say anything."

"You're saying he can't respond to what President Biden said?" the judge asked Blanche at one point, his voice sounding incredulous. "There's nothing in the gag order that says he can't," the judge told Trump's lawyer.

But the judge also appeared sympathetic to Blanche's complaints that Cohen and Daniels enjoyed the protection of a gag order while having carte blanche to attack Trump — and continue to do so.

"They're not defendants in this case," Merchan said. "I can't extend a gag order to them. I just don't have the authority."

Merchan can, however, remove Cohen from the gag order's protection, something the judge suggested last week he would consider.

"They're all similar," Blanche said of Cohen's relentless jabs at Trump. "They're over the top about his character, about his candidacy."

The lawyer added of Cohen: "This is not a man that needs protection from the gag order."

This story has been updated.

Watch: Trump dozes off at the start of his hush-money trial

phd meaning full name

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Guest Essay

What Does African Rejection Mean for the U.S.?

Young protesters holding the flags of Niger and Russia while sitting on the roof of a car.

By Cameron Hudson

Mr. Hudson is a senior fellow in the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The forced withdrawal , announced last month, of more than 1,000 U.S. Special Operations troops and drone operators in Niger and Chad should raise the alarm for Washington. In Africa, our policy of strengthening security partnerships rather than supporting democracy has not worked. The United States needs a new approach.

The troops had been dispatched there as a key part of America’s effort to confront terrorism, and the pullout follows the governments’ demands for new rules and regulations on U.S. military operations.

Russia, and increasingly Iran and other countries, are already stepping in to exploit a growing power vacuum in the region. That should be yet another reason for America to change course. Africa is less secure and less democratic today than when the United States sent those forces a decade ago. Given the rising influence of these other nations, that current is certain to speed up.

With Washington now forced from the front line of fighting terrorism in the region, it has the opportunity of taking a different approach: directly helping African countries deal with their economic and social problems by pushing for inclusive governance and stronger institutions. A commitment to promoting democracy, once pejoratively called nation-building, is often the first thing to go when the United States becomes ensnared in responding to local crises, as it had with terror threats in the Sahel, a semiarid area south of the Sahara.

U.S. officials would do well to remember that Africans are choosing their partners to advance their own interests, not America’s. If African governments are deciding to align themselves with Moscow over Washington, we should try to understand why rather than castigating them.

For many Sahelian leaders, choosing a strong ally is a simple matter of trying to stay in power. Moscow’s military support, offered under the guise of counterterrorism, helps. Here, Washington cannot and should not compete.

But other leaders are motivated more by a desire to diversify partnerships and to get the best deal when building infrastructure, improving education and agriculture, and extracting ores and minerals.

The roots of Washington’s worry about security concerns in the wider Sahel region emerged in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks. Weak governance and crushing poverty were seen as accelerants for a potential jihadist problem. But it was only in 2012, when extremist groups that were linked to Al Qaeda began seizing control of cities across northern Mali, that U.S. troops arrived in the region.

Since then, however, these jihadists have not displayed nearly the threat to U.S. interests that our level of military involvement would suggest. Instead, they preyed on fragile governments across the Sahel. Civilian leaders were unable to roll back the threat and failed to bring services to, or provide government control of, their countries’ increasingly populous and poor hinterlands.

The result is a region very different from the one the United States met when it first began sending security trainers and sharing sensitive intelligence in 2012. Six military governments and a host of new Russian military outposts now dot the region .

Along with the news last month of the U.S. forced departures from Niger and Chad , two countries the United Nations has said are on the front lines of the “global epicenter of terrorism,” the junta-run states of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have expelled France, the former colonial power.

To be sure, losing a military foothold in Niger and Chad makes it harder for the United States to monitor jihadists across a dozen African countries and to track human smuggling, drug trafficking and the illicit flow of arms, all of which are destabilizing the continent. U.S. military officials are already fanning out across West Africa, looking for new hosts for its drones.

But beyond the tactical losses, the withdrawal represents a genuine strategic loss for Washington.

Countries including Russia and Iran have seen an opportunity in Africa to make gains in great, and not-so-great, power competition. Every country from which France, and now the United States, have departed has welcomed Russian military advisers, mostly in the form of Moscow’s successor to the Wagner Group, Africa Corps. Russian forces can now move freely across friendly African states from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

One day soon, Moscow hopes to add warm-water ports on the Red Sea and even the Atlantic coast of Africa. These can be used to supply its growing military presence across the continent and export Africa’s prized mineral resources. Iran has similarly spied an opening to break its diplomatic isolation and turn a profit, eyeing purchase agreements with Niger’s state-linked uranium company and selling advanced weapons to Sudan’s army, helping to fuel that country’s yearlong civil war.

U.S. officials routinely frame this struggle for influence as a new Cold War. That view makes Washington no friends in African countries, where officials believe that America isn’t really interested in them beyond not wanting to lose ground to rivals. The message that Gen. Michael Langley, the head of the U.S. military’s Africa Command, delivered to Congress in March is a case in point. “A number of countries are at the tipping point of actually being captured by the Russian Federation,” he said, “as they are spreading some of their false narratives.” His message suggests a view in Washington of African nations being unwittingly duped.

Rather than escalating this competition any further, Washington should reassess the actual jihadist threat to U.S. interests and weigh the ultimate cost of security partnerships with countries lacking in democratic institutions. It should now reflect on whether the tools it has favored for so long — intelligence sharing, military training and weapons supplying — really make sense in weak and desperately poor states.

Washington has long struggled to strike a balance between protecting its position and advancing democratic values in Africa. For it to succeed, it must recognize that in this era of geopolitical choice, it can no longer dictate the terms of its partnerships with African states. If it does, it will find itself increasingly alone and unable to advance either its interests or its values on this increasingly strategic continent.

Cameron Hudson is a senior fellow in the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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