What Is An Honorary Doctorate? – Can An Honorary PhD Be Called Dr:?


As I and other PhD students have wondered: is there a way to earn a doctorate without the coursework? The dream, yes. But, like all dreams, it is possible to wake up to an honorary doctoral degree. 

An honorary doctorate is a degree that is conferred from a college or university that recognizes the exceptional social worth of a single person.

This person’s achievements may have a local or global significance–some are big names others are local heroes. This worthy person, due to their fantastic communal, usually entrepreneurial or academic, achievement is often offered the degree after they’ve orated a commencement speech at a university convocation or college graduation.

Here are some famous examples: Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Bill Nye and many other notable names. But don’t stress. If the prospect of publicly speaking in front of thousands isn’t for you, not all honorary doctorates are required to make commencement speeches. 

This post was written by a recent PhD student in…(it is anonymous to keep the discussion frank) on behalf of Dave Maslach. This is part of the R3ciprocity project (Check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback software). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and research folk by providing a real and authentic look into doing research. It provides solutions and hope to researchers around the world. For more on this topic and to see what Dave has to say, watch this video:

Can an Honorary PhD be Called Dr.?

While certainly not the traditional route, recipients of honorary doctorates will and should be referred to as doctors. Most terminal degrees, doctoral degrees in any field, require completion of course credits, a culminating project and usually years of blood, sweat and tears (read this post to determine if a traditional PhD is right for you).

Honorary doctorates, however, earn their degree through an outstanding achievement, which also includes years of blood, sweat and tears but take fold outside the walls of said university or college.

Nevertheless, the outstanding work they’ve produced is so valuable to communal life that the institution of higher education, whose first function is foremost social, uses their accrediting power to bestow powerfully social individuals with the title: Doctor of Philosophy, or, in other words, a thinker whose thinking or actions inspired other humans. 

If You Already Have a PhD, is it Possible to Earn an Honorary PhD? 

Certainly. There are no restrictions on the amount of degrees one may hold. It simply comes down to how much effort, and, in turn, how much recognition your effort is rewarded (read this post to see which degree matches your efforts).

In most cases, when one has been bestowed with an honorary doctorate by one institution of higher learning, others will follow. This is inline, of course, with a basic social law: If others are doing it, others will follow. Same holds true for institutions (who are considered persons under the law).

Once a single institution of higher education awards you with an Honorary Doctorate, rest assured other institutions have now bookmarked you as a potential person of interest who is worthy of an honorary doctorate. There is no limit to the amount of educational degrees one can add to their resume and legacy. 

Does it Matter Where I Get My Honorary Doctorate? 

Similar to the factors one weighs as they choose the right outfit to wear before they leave the house, some options are better than others. Depending on both the history and namesake of the university or college, the honorary doctorate will weigh differently.

In other words, if your degree is decreed with Ivy lettering like Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, etc., the honorary doctorate will be of a more prestigious rank. The prestige will determine how others value the degree that you earned.

Despite the ranking though, a person who earns an honorary doctorate adds a special weight to their degree due to the unconventional nature of securing one of the most respected titles our society has to offer. So while rank should be considered, if one is offered an honorary doctorate, be sure to listen and follow your dreams and go get it. Despite the rank, earning your honorary doctorate is one the highest rewards our society has to offer. 

What Happens After an Honorary Doctorate?

After an honorary doctorate is procured, most continue in their professional capacities, unless they’ve already retired. The prestige will most likely open new doors and opportunities. Communal groups, social organizations, businesses, corporations, schools and other social institutions will most likely reach out to you.

Much like the commencement speech, other organizations will look to and ask the earner of an honorary doctorate to give a speech at their given function. Honorary doctorates usually earn their degree later in life, so the usual day-day hustle and bustle will not be as much of a factor for the usual earner of the distinguished award. Hence why many honorary doctorates will go on to give major speeches or visits at impressive venues in front of accomplished people.

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