Distance Learning / Online PhDs

So, you’ve decided you want to do a PhD – but there’s a problem. You’re tied down in some way. Perhaps it’s a job, a partner, or children, or simply that you just don’t want to go back to university in the way everyone thinks of postgraduate study as involving.

Well, these days there’s no need to – many universities offer distance learning PhDs! There are plenty of reasons as to why some people choose online postgraduate study and recently, it’s becoming more and more available. It is still somewhat obviously limited by subject ­ – a PhD in which you’re required to be doing lab-based research is unlikely to be possible via distance learning, but one in which you’re studying Classics? Almost certainly fine! And the great thing is it means you can study your PhD from literally anywhere!

Search for PhD Courses

Of course, online study isn’t suited to everyone, so before committing you need to make sure that a distance learning PhD program is right for you. You’ll have to be self-motivated, used to managing your time and confident that your current environment is suited for study. Still think it’s the right choice?

Then let’s take a look at...

PhD by Distance Learning

What are the main differences between doing a PhD by distance learning, and one in which you remain on campus? Well, you might be surprised to find out there’s not as many as you think. Unlike undergraduate degrees, where there’s a whole host of lectures, tutorials and classes going on, a PhD is much more self-driven.

As a PhD is research-based, rather than taught, it’s entirely possible to do in a completely different city to your university. The big differences are the environment – you’ll have less access to university resources (such as on-site libraries), a lack of in-person contact with other students perhaps doing similar topics, and you may miss out on relevant seminars. In addition, much of your communication with your PhD supervisor may be done by phone, email or other online methods.

With that said, many universities will require you to spend some time at the university – not a lot, but it’s worth bearing in mind. Many universities these days will also have online resources, meaning you should be able to access plenty of things via the internet, but certainly difficult to track down sources may require travelling!

On the note of supervisors, it’s important to remember that just because you’re doing a distance learning PhD program, doesn’t mean you can just choose anywhere. You’ll still need to ensure the department is good at the area you want to work in, and that you find a supervisor that is suited to you. Although you may not have to have in-person meetings with them, you still need to ensure that it’s someone whose research interests match yours and that you’re comfortable working with. 

Another thing to remember is that you will still have to pay fees. Though distance learning may cut down on your expenses somewhat – the lack of having to move, the possibility of keeping a current job, and so on – you will have to budget accordingly.

A distance learning PhD will still impact on your life significantly – you will have to devote the same amount of hours to research as you would doing at onsite course, and you’ll have to be responsible for your own time.

Common misconceptions about studying a distance learning PhD program

There are a lot of common misconceptions about studying a distance learning PhD, and we detail them further here. However, let’s take a look at two major ones:

#1 Employers won’t consider degrees done by distance learning

Any distance learning PhD program from a particular university will be accredited from that university in an identical manner to someone who studied the PhD on campus. Whilst it may once have been the case that people would have looked at this suspiciously, more and more employers are recognising the worth of online study – and, especially in academia, no one will look twice at the fact your PhD is done via distance learning. You can even spin it in your favour, pointing out the massive amount of organisation it took!

#2 Distance learning means you miss out on student/supervisor interaction

We’ve discussed this briefly before, but most PhD students wouldn’t be seeing their supervisor constantly. Emails and phone communication are becoming more and more popular, and should serve you well for keeping in touch. You can also arrange to visit them occasionally if you do want a meeting with them, and just go up for the day.

So that’s our look at doing a distance learning PhD, we also have some really useful information on distance learning in general as well as studying PhDs.


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