It's graduation season, and the campus is filled with the happy faces of relieved undergraduates. There are also joyous faces who are a little bit older: the doctoral students who are "being hooded".
The PhD is the senior doctorate in US academe, the highest degree given. Other doctorates are considered "professional degrees": think MD, or JD. The recipients, while very accomplished, are more likely to pursue a profession at a high level of expertise. The Doctor of Philosophy is a research degree, with its traditional purpose academic. In my field of science, a PhD takes 5-8 years, rarely less, sometimes more.
Research students don't live on the academic clock, they live on the timing of the laboratory. One finishes when one finishes, which is seldom in graduation season. I did not "walk" the graduation ceremony when I finished my doctorate. In my 17 years as a professor, I have graduated a number of PhD's under my supervision, and none of them has walked either. Graduation seems more about the undergrads, the timing was bad, and our celebration has occurred at the thesis defense. But this year it was different.
As you know, academic regalia is mediaeval in origin, with a nod towards the ecclesiastical. It is a bit like wearing a sweltering tent, but it is impossible not to feel stately while wearing it.
In the US, Doctors' robes used to be basic black , but many universities now have the option of distinct colors. Regardless of the color of the robe, however, you can always identify the degree of the wearer by the length of the academic hood (4ft long for all doctors) , the width of the velvet around the neck (widest for doctors) and the colors. The velvet color around the neck specifies the degree: dark blue for PhD (regardless of field), dark green for MD, light blue for Ed. D (Education); pink for DMus (Doctor of Music), for example. Inset into the back are satin chevrons with colors of the university: blue and gold for the University of California, green and gold for the University of Oregon, and even plaid for Carnegie, etc. A few universities break with this system but most follow it.
In some universities, the transition of the young student to the community of scholars is achieved by having the advisor meet the student in a formal ceremony in full regalia. The student, wearing her doctoral robes, carries the doctoral hood over her arm and presents it to her dissertation advisor, who unfolds it and drapes it over her head: "hooding".
My current university takes this very seriously, and two of my students are nearly finished. This entitled them to walk in this year's PhD hooding ceremony, where each new PhD was met and hooded by their advisor. So I enveloped myself in The Tent that is my own regalia, choked by my long hood and with my tassselled tam set at a rakish angle, and processed into the auditorium with my fellow faculty, where we waited to walk up and meet our students in order. Although the University rules sternly advised PLEASE DO NOT HUG OR KISS YOUR STUDENT DURING THE CEREMONY, I couldn't resist giving them each a hug after I looped the heavy blue velvet around their necks.
And I will remind them that the title "Doctor" comes from the Latin docere, which means: to teach.