Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction

The Alphabet Soup of Degrees


The ability to add letters after your name as a result of academic qualifications can lead to some strange things. Peter Coles notes that recent changes at Sussex University, renaming their doctoral degree as a PdD instead of a DPhil, mean that someone with an MA and a doctorate from there can no longer write MADPhil after their name. And those who are Fellows of the Royal Astronomical Society (FRAS) can get a rapid promotion by choosing the right mix of font sizes so they can become FRS by writing the A very small.

This all reminds me that Imperial still, as far as I’m aware, continue the tradition of adding their own unique qualifications to standards degrees despite leaving the University of London and awarding its own degrees. Those graduating with a first degree in physics, for example, still become Associates of the Royal College of Science, and those getting a higher degree, gain the Diploma of Imperial College.

I did both, so can thus claim to have both an ARCS and a DIC.


Author: davecl

Astronomy, science, science fiction

2 thoughts on “The Alphabet Soup of Degrees

  1. A mediaeval historian friend once mentioned someone he knows, “who did what someone called Philip should never do – he stayed on at Oxford to do a doctorate”.

    As far as I’m aware, this means that Oxford are the only British university left that awards DPhils rather than PhDs – York used to as well, but changed a few years ago.

    York also used to allow graduates in certain subjects to decide what their degree was called; in particular those graduating with a degree in mathematics were offered the choice between a BA and a BSc. Most opted for the BSc, but some chose the BA for various reasons – in my case a combination of factors. Firstly I was more interested in pure mathematics studied for its own sake rather than for its applications to other things, secondly I wanted to do (and subsequently did) an MSc and this way I would get more letters after my name (because the usual convention is that you only list the highest degree of each type) and thirdly… erm… sheer bloody-minded contrariness.

    I don’t know if York still allows this, but I heard a rumour it had quietly disappeared a few years back. Warwick also had this option but again it seems to have been silently abolished in recent years. The university’s senior administration were always against it, but the original head of department, Sir Christopher Zeeman, won the argument as usual. They said “you can’t just let people decide what their degree is called” and he replied “yes you can – by that point they’ll be far more qualified than any of you to say what a mathematics degree is called, and for some of them the choice is important to their souls”.

    It makes me a little sad that this sort of standardisation is happening – it makes the world a less colourful place. I’m glad to hear that Imperial still retain their college diplomas.

  2. wait, if I’d gone through the system at Sussex a few years ago I could have ended up ‘PhilD MADPHIL’? That would have been *awesome*. Know any physicists who can rustle me up a time machine? I need to rerun the last 20 years of my life….

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