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How To Get A PhD

How to get a PhDDo you want to study a PhD? Studying a PhD is a big commitment in terms of time and money – but is
thoroughly worthwhile if it's the right path – and the right time – for you. 

So, let’s take a look at how to get a PhD.

Are you ready to do a PhD?

The usual first step in gaining a PhD is to have a relevant undergraduate degree completed to a sufficiently high enough quality. You will usually also have had to complete a masters level degree in a related subject with a substantial piece of research included.

Studentship or yet-to-be-funded PhD?

PhDs in the UK are funded in two ways and funding is fairly similar around the world. One is through studentships which are part of larger research projects. The other way is by choosing your own topic of research and finding funding or providing funding yourself. And once you have been accepted onto a PhD you are eligible to apply for one of our Postgrad Solutions Study Bursaries worth £500.


Find a supervisor

If you are self-proposing your PhD, then you will have to write your research proposal, find an institution to support you during your research and an academic to supervise you. This is a difficult process and requires you to have spent time networking and meeting other people in the same field of research as you. It's vital to your prospects of completing your PhD to find a supervisor and institution that you will work well with.

Apply for your studentship

Studentships for doctorates are advertised on university websites and places where other academic jobs are advertised such as the Times Higher Education website in the UK. Applications for these PhD studentships are in many ways similar to job applications and are usually very competitive – like the ones at the University of Oxford

Complete your MRes or MPhil

Most universities require their PhD students to complete a Masters by Research or an MPhil in the first year and then progress onto a PhD. This provides proof that the PhD student is academically able to research and provide original thinking. It also means that if the student decides that after their first year a PhD is not fthe right path, then they will still leave with a good qualification. 

Will you study full time or part time?

Another decision is whether or not to study for the PhD full or part time. Most PhD candidates study full time, particularly because if they opt for part-time study it will make a three- or four-year process take eight years! This is a serious time commitment. Many students who are self-funding their PhD may undertake their PhD on a part-time basis before they get more funding in place. 

Is distance learning for you?

Many PhD students are undertaking their research by distance learning. This can often make their researching much easier as they can live near to the source of their research and then keep in contact with their supervisor online. This way of studying is not usually available for those undertaking their PhD through a studentship but is perfect for PhD candidates who do not need to regularly attend their institution. 

Do your research

Researching into a PhD will involve many steps including reviewing all the literature written about your chosen research subject and then getting down to the intricacies of gathering the data. Obviously, how you do this will depend greatly on your research subject – and this is something that you need to give a lot of consideration. 

Writing up your thesis & dissertation 

Your thesis is your argument and conclusions you have come to after reviewing the research already done on your subject and your own research. It depends on your subject area as to whether you have been writing as you go or have to write it up fully after all of your research has actually taken place. Once your PhD research has been written up you will have around 70,000 to 100,000 words. 

Do you have any additional responsibilities in your department?

Whilst they are doing all of their researching and writing many PhD students take on additional responsibilities in their department. This can include helping professors and lecturers with their classes or marking and evaluating undergraduate work. If you are undertaking your PhD in the UK, then you will find there are regulations that govern what you must be paid for by the UK Research Council. In other countries some PhD students can often be asked to undertake a variety of tasks without payment. 

PhD Viva

A PhD Viva is where the PhD student presents, discusses and defends their PhD thesis with fellow academics. Some students find this an intimidating prospect whereas others are excited about the possibility of discussing their PhD with professionals who are truly interested in their research. There is no set time limit for a PhD viva – they can last anything from one to three hours.

Countries with the highest number of PhD Graduates in 2014

This table illustrates the countries with the highest number of PhD graduates in 2014 – and how many PhD graduates they had.

PhD Graduates by Country



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Postgrad Solutions Study Bursaries