Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

U.S. professional doctorates/educational comparison U.S./Sweden

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I have long been annoyed by the use of “doctor” to refer to physicians (cf. [1]) and the U.S. “professional doctorates” awarded to graduating medical and law students.

These are awarded for what in many other countries are first degrees* (where a doctorate is supposed to be a terminal degree), until some point of the 20th century the normal U.S. degree was called a bachelor, there are real U.S. (research) doctorates earnable by those already having a “doctorate”, and they are not recognized as doctorates in e.g. Sweden and Germany. Indeed, lacking a major thesis, they do not even reach the master’s degree in terms of academic/research level (but might or might not, depending on circumstances, be a heavier degree from other view points, through the greater overall amount of time normally spent).

*With pleasant side-effects like a less time and cost needed to get the degree, a longer working life, and greater availability of degree holders.

The “logic” behind the misapplication of “doctor” appears to be that these are degrees (in the U.S.) requiring a previous bachelor (possibly in an entirely unrelated field…) and being longer than a master. However, this just does not make it so: If someone earns a bachelor in math and then spends three years studying law, how can the law degree be a stronger qualification than a two-year master in math earned by the same person in a parallel universe? (This even discounting issues like the hardness of a field and the practical level of education.)

To make a comparison between a typical J.D., my own Swedish education (while noting that I have no “doctor” anywhere on my diplomas), and someone following roughly my path with less ambition:

Age* J.D. Less ambitious version of me What I did
18/19 First year of college** Doing one more year of high school Ditto, but adding a fair bit of college math***
19/20 College, now internationally considered university level First year of university Ditto, but with an increased course load
20/21–21/22 Last two years of college => Bachelor More university Ditto, but with an increased course load, notably two semesters of business classes
22/23–23/24 First two years of law school More university, graduating with a “civilingenjör”**** Ditto; mostly as an exchange student in Germany
24/25 Third year => J.D. Looking for a job or working hard Ditto

*Ages are tricky, seeing that a typical year of study includes a birthday somewhere and that things look different depending on when in they year someone is born. I give the age at the beginning and end of the year of study based on my own birth month (January). I assume a straight forward progress with no repeated years, sabbaticals, pauses to gather work experience (without studying in parallel), …

**The first year (sometimes even two years) of U.S. college is typically considered equivalent to high school in e.g. Sweden and Germany. Looking at my own high school program (“N”: Natural science, usually considered the most academically challenging and math heavy) a comparison with a U.S. high school degree would require upper-end amounts of A.P. classes; and it might be better to skip directly to a comparison with an associates degree.

***Note that this was real college math—not the equivalent of A.P. “college” math (cf. the previous footnote). Strictly speaking, I had my biggest math period age 16/17, but I want to keep the overview simple.

****A degree in engineering translated as a master’s degree, and the equivalent of the more well-known German “Diplomingenieur”. The latter has, with the Bologna system, been replaced with the sequence bachelor–master as separate degrees. (Sweden has not made the corresponding switch.) As an aside, my specific program (“F”: Engineering Physics) is a bit exceptional through being light on actual engineering and heavier on math and physics.

As can be seen, even a regular civilingenjör comes close to matching the length of study of a J.D., and factoring in the hardness of the field, the (at least then) less devolved academic standards in Sweden, and the inclusion of a full master’s thesis, the civilingenjör should likely be rated higher. In my case, I had an overall credit count that puts me ahead even in terms of effectively achieved length of study—with my second master (computer science; around age 30; not included above) very considerably so. Now, where is my “doctor of engineering”?

I note that a Swedish law degree is about as long as a civilingenjör, and likely leaves the Swedish lawyer better qualified than his U.S. counter-part, since more of his time is actually spent on law topics.

While I recognize that law study can be very taxing in terms of the amount of reading and the information needed to be kept in a single head (at least for the duration of the examinations), I find it hard not to consider a J.D. a bit of a “Mickey Mouse” degree in comparison to my own education or even a Swedish law degree, let alone a real doctorate.

(The M.D. might fair a bit better through being a year longer than the J.D., depending on the exact contents of the four years, but is still not something that has me quaking in my boots—and is still shorter in terms of medicine study than its Swedish non-doctor counter-part.)

Written by michaeleriksson

December 8, 2017 at 7:42 am

4 Responses

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  1. […] (on whom I did a bit of reading), appears to be very well qualified*, having not just a J.D., a pseudo-doctorate that all too often is the terminal degree of jurists, but additionally a real doctorate.* His […]

  2. […] year of a U.S. college is high-school level from a Swedish or German perspective. Cf. e.g. parts of an older comparison ([2]) of my own education with a U.S. J.D. […]

  3. […] Master, thesis included. I compare the progress of my own studies with a U.S. J.D in an older text ([3]), which might be a useful […]

  4. […] *Note that a Germany physician, unlike a U.S. one, is not awarded a pseudo-doctorate for having completed med school. The German medical doctorates are earned separately, as an additional qualification, and they are, at least nominally, real research doctorates. (There is some concern that they fall well short of the “Ph.D. level” in practice, but it is still a step up from the U.S. M.D.) Also see a comparison of a J.D. with my own education. […]

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