I came across different translations of PhD. I'm always unsure how to use those. The title itself, as lingvo states, can be translated as доктор философии. I've sometimes heard доктор наук too, which I guess is the particular title granted to any PhD studies concerning a scientific discipline. Another term that a (non-academic) Russian mentioned is диссертаця (which, etimologycally suggests it's the PhD thesis or the dissertation itself) as a translation for PhD. The last (as for me, confusing) term is "аспирантура", which again I've seen as a translation of PhD.

  • Which are the actual differences between those translations?
  • How to say in Russian "He studies a PhD" "She has a PhD" "I write a PhD thesis", and "They are studying a PhD".

I'd better begin with the easiest part - the required translations.

  • He studies a PhD. - Он учится в аспирантуре.
  • He's a PhD student. - Он аспирант.
  • She has a PhD. - Она кандидат наук.
  • I write a PhD thesis. - Я пишу кандидатскую диссертацию.
  • I write a PhD thesis. - Я пишу кандидатскую.
  • They are studying a PhD. - Они учатся в аспирантуре.
  • He has a DPhil. - Он доктор философских наук.

As far as I know, "доктор наук" doesn't have an equivalent in English, but it is one level higher than PhD. In specific fields of studies, however, it has a translation:

  • DPhil - доктор философии
  • MUDr - доктор медицинских наук
  • D.Litt - доктор словесных наук
  • D.Sc - доктор естественных наук
  • LL.D - доктор права

Analogously with "аспирантура", there exists a word "докторантура", and the student studying for their Doctor of Science degree is called "докторант" (note how alike it is to "аспирант").

Basically, the word "диссертация" can refer either to PhD or Doctor of Science thesis. If it is not clear from the context, you can add adjectives:

  • Он защитил докторскую диссертацию / кандидатскую диссертацию.

Often those adjectives are used as substantives :

  • Он защитил (что?) докторскую / кандидатскую.

The process of thesis defense is called защита докторской / кандидатской.

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(There is also a sort of sausage called "докторская", feel free to delete this picture ˆ__ˆ ).

Well, let's continue. The difference between those translations is that PhD can refer to :

  • current studies at University - then it means "аспирантура";
  • an academic degree - then it means "кандидат наук";
  • a person who is capped with that degree is also "кандидат наук";
  • a person that is currently in the middle of PhD studies - "аспирант";
  • a PhD thesis - "кандидатская диссертация";

And last - some notes on usage of those words. Don't be surprised to hear

"Он получил кандидата наук" or "Он защитил кандидата наук".

It doesn't mean that he received a person by post or that he protected a poor PhD student from bullies. It only means that he was finally assigned PhD degree ˆ_ˆ .

All degrees are used with Genitiv, so we don't say "степень кандидат наук",

but "степень (кого? чего?) кандидата наук".

  • A very good answer, but what about докторантура? Can you add something about it? – Yellow Sky May 3 '13 at 7:34
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    @YellowSky, sure, I'll think where I can put it =) – petajamaja May 3 '13 at 16:09
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    "доктор наук" does have an equivalent in English, unsurprisingly it's Doctor of Sciences (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_of_science). – fjarri May 9 '13 at 13:18
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    The funniest translation is for "академик". Since there is no concept of such creature in Western academia, Russians tend to translate this as "academician", which has a different meaning in North America – Aksakal almost surely binary May 20 '14 at 20:43

Russian academic degrees are different from those in the rest of the world. Whereas most countries have only one Ph.D. degree, Russia has two degrees “кандидат наук” (lit. candidate of science) and “доктор наук” (lit. doctor of science). There is no clear correspondence between Ph.D and these two degrees. Historically — when the “кандидат наук” and “доктор наук” degrees were introduced in Russia — “доктор наук” was meant to be equivalent to Western European Ph.D. and “кандидат наук” to be equivalent or similar to master's degree. However, nowadays many people would argue that “доктор наук” is a higher degree than Ph.D., and “кандидат наук” is more or less equivalent to Ph.D.

That being said, PhD has always been translated to Russian as “доктор философии” (not “доктор наук”, not “доктор философских наук”). The translation “кандидат наук” is incorrect. For example, if you read biographies of scientists in Russian Wikipedia, you will see sentences like

В своей докторской Гаусс впервые доказал основную теорему алгебры. (Not “В своей кандидатской Гаусс впервые доказал ...”)

В 1880 году Герц получил степень доктора философии в Берлинском университете [...] (Not “Герц получил степень кандидата наук.”)

[Даниель Рутерфорд получил] образование в Эдинбургском университете, где и получил степень доктора в 1772 году за работу под названием «De aëre mephitica» [...]

С 1992 по 1996 Тао учился в Принстонском университете под руководством Элиаса Стейна, получил степень доктора в возрасте 20-ти лет.

После окончания СПбГУ [Смирнов] был приглашен Николаем Георгиевичем Макаровым [...] в аспирантуру в Калифорнийский технологический институт, где защитил докторскую диссертацию [в 1996 году].

[Ааронсон получил] степень бакалавра теоретической информатики в Корнелльском университете в 2000 году и степень доктора философии в Калифорнийском университете Беркли в 2004 году под руководством Умеша Вазирани.

On the other hand, sometimes both Russian degrees are translated to English as PhD; and sometimes “кандидат наук” is translated as PhD and “доктор наук” is translated as “doctor of science”.

  • диссертация = dissertation or thesis
  • аспирант = PhD student
  • аспирантура = PhD program
  • He studies a PhD = Он в аспирантуре.
  • She has a PhD = Она доктор философии.
  • I write a PhD thesis = Я работаю над диссертацией

Update: To clarify my answer, if the question was — What is the Russian degree equivalent to Ph.D? — I would answer “кандидат наук”. But the question is about the proper translation of Ph.D. to Russian. And the only correct answer to this question is “доктор философии”. This translation is unambiguous since there is no “доктор философии” degree in Russia. This translation is and has always been used. I have never seen a single reputable translation that translated Ph.D. as “кандидат наук”. In general, when you translate foreign titles or degrees, you don't replace them with Russian equivalents. For example, you cannot say “Маргарет Тэтчер была президентом Великобритании с 1979 по 1990 год” even though the role of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is more similar to that of the President of Russia than that of the Prime Minister of Russia.


The question about correspondence between degrees is a difficult one. To my knowledge, there are no formal agreements between Russia and Western countries on the subject. The common sense says that кандидат наук corresponds to PhD and доктор наук to Doctor of Science. Note that the degree Doctor of Science is not the same in different European countries (and even do not exist in many).

Why the common sense says so?

  • PhD degree is obtained after 3-4 years of study (as PhD student). Кандидат наук degree is obtained after 3-4 years of study (as аспирант).
  • Formal requirements to outcome (theses/диссертация) are similar. The most common requirement is: “three good scientific papers must be published”.
  • Capacity/knowledge of a freshly graduated PhD is approximately at the same level (at least in Natural and Technical science). Russian PhD-s are accepted as post-docs in all Western countries.

Thus - кандидат наук corresponds to PhD - доктор наук could be translated as Doctor of Science but with certain reservations.

Note 1: Кандидат наук and доктор наук are commonly used but incomplete descriptions of degrees. If you need to write formally, always specify what the science: кандидат химических наук, кандидат физико-математических наук, кандидат философских наук (not the same as the letter D in PhD) and so on. The words химических, физико-математических... are taken from formal list of degrees. If you use a wrong word, the degree would sound as a joke.

Note 2: My considerations cover only the modern situation. There could not be such a simple solution for old texts. Yury cited good examples concerning translation of “old” degrees but I would apply these examples with certain reservations.

  • I added an example from 1990-s. I would be really interested in seeing a single example when PhD is translated as “кандидат наук”. – Yury May 10 '13 at 15:21
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    Yury, I do not agree with you. Even your example states "степень доктора философии" that is not "доктор наук" but a word-by-word translation of PhD. The same with other modern examples. This is the "safe way"; i.e. translation without an attempt to establish any correspondence. IMHO translation must reflect real life. If someone translates PhD (obtainable today after 3 years of study) as "доктор каких-то наук", he or she is free do it, but correctness of such translation is... – user1654 May 12 '13 at 14:21
  • user1654: My point is that one should use a word-by-word translation of PhD. This is a well-established translation that all encyclopedias, all academic literature, all translated texts etc use. It's not a good idea to invent your own translation if there is a standard one; especially, if you are not a native speaker (like the OP). I have never suggested to translate PhD as “доктор каких-то наук” (and I warned against that in my answer), so that's beside the point. (as a side note, it usually takes at least 5 years to get a PhD in the USA, but this is irrelevant for this discussion). – Yury May 12 '13 at 15:18
  • Yury, we probably must consider purpose of the translation. If we speak about "translation of general purpose" (like an article in a newspaper) the safest way is indeed доктор философии, as you say. However, I have a feeling, that initial question of this discussion is much about the correspondence. PS: I am not very familiar with educational system of USA but European PhD students have 3-4 years for their study (dependently on particular country). There is European agreement (within framework of Bologna Process) to standardize for 3 year. A Russian аспирант has 3 years too. – user1654 May 12 '13 at 16:10
  • .....However (similarly to your note about USA) majority does not finalise the study within this formal time. Of course, I speak here only about 100% studentship. I afraid, we drift out of the main subject. If you like, we can continue the discussion in a private way (chat, e-mail, and like) for mutual pleasure. – user1654 May 12 '13 at 16:10

The correct translation is кандидат наук. "Доктор наук" is higher (= D.Sci), "аспирант" is a Ph.D student.


I think it is incorrect to translate PhD as "кандидат наук" into Russian for this asserts some kind of an equivalence between the degrees. It should be translated as "доктор философии", and in my opinion this is the practice.

Your audience is most likely aware of the differences between PhD and кандидат наук degrees. Moreover, almost all Russian speaking countries are in some state of conversion to PhD style graduate studies under Bologna process, e.g. all Baltic states are in PhD style now. For instance, in Kazakhstan it will simply be misleading to refer to PhD as кандидат наук for these are distinct degrees over there.

However it is Ok to translate PhD student as "аспирант".

Dissertation is obviously translated as "диссертаця".


Still, if to be correcter, the Russian and some CIS candidate of sciences dissertaions in the social sciences consist of nearly 35000-40000 words in average. It is without the list of references,the title, appendices and the table of content. There may be something more than 48000 words in the candidate of sciences' dissertations in the social sciences in the Ukraine. It is also without the dissertation elements mentioned about. Despite the candidate of sciences dissertations are generally directed in the research of the uninvestigated or not enough investigated and narrow topics,as well as PhD dissertations are,their structure are something different. PhD dissertations may have the elements like hipotheses and conceptual framework that may roughly correspond with candidate of sciences dissertation chapter that are called "methodology". Maybe, even Russian "Doctor nauk" dissertation doesn't exceed five chapters. Therefore tne number of tasks may be in the PhD dissertation bigger than in the candidate of sciences dissertation despite similarities in the essence (character) of these tasks. Therefore, the translation of PhD in Russian as "доктор философии" is correct and is concerned with the cultural uniqueness of the Western educational culture. There are not exact equivalents for PhD in Russia and in the CIS countries and it is in many ways accepted in their population.

  • The main difference between PhD (USA) and кандидат наук is the course work. In USA you have to take 30 or so credits of PhD level classes, it's easily 2-3 years of class room. In Russia you can start working on research immediately, no course work required (except for nominal "minimum" classes). – Aksakal almost surely binary May 20 '14 at 20:50

Generally, the Russian scientific research degree "doctor nauk" is granted for investigating unresolvable and more universal scientfic topics and not for new and uninvestigated and particular scientfic problems as it is in tne case of PhD degree attainment. Therefore, PhD degree, frome these respective, more corresponds with Candidate of sciences degree. But PhD dissertation in social sciences usually is much bigger in length. If PhD dissertation consists of at least 80 000 words, the Candidate of sciences dissertation consists of nearly from 40 000 to 60 000 words. But the tasks of the dissertations and necessary demands of the individual contribution in the particular science are the same.This contribution sounds like "the scientifical novelty", which is necessary declared in the Russian and other CIS countries' candidate of sciences dissertations' introductions. The Bologna system is not applied to the post-graduate degrees, so candidate of sciences oficially and "doctor nauk" degrees are called "scientific degrees" and they are not called "academic" degrees. For the "doctor nauk" degree attainment there are needed the new resolution method for the problems which cannot be resolved by old methods.

The most correct translation in my opinion are next:

1) PhD - доктор философии из (name of science(s) in respective grammar case.

2)PhD student - учащийся (учащаяся) (or студент(студентка) в учреждении (учреждения),or департаменте (департамента) etc. на соискание ученой степени Доктора философии (из) (...) при or в (name of university, country etc., or соискатель ученой степени Доктора философии из... при or в (name of the university, etc.)

In the Russian official procedures there the copy of PhD holder certification is needed, probably, as well as there are need of any document affirming status of PhD student for the personal status clarification. Analoguous translations are useful for M.D. and other equivalents of PhD. In the case of the DSc there is also useful to clarify the content of the degree meaning (as it is in the case of informal communication) by adding an explanation concerning a country which academical degree was attained in (e.g. Я доктор философских наук, германская ученая степень).

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