find your perfect postgrad program
Search our Database of 30,000 Courses
How To Get A PhD
Do 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.
Let’s take a look at how to get a PhD.
Are you ready to do a PhD?
The first thing you need to ascertain is whether you are ready to study 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, preferably with a substantial piece of research included.Find your PERFECT PHD
Can you fund your PhD?
PhDs in the UK are funded in two ways, and this pattern of funding is fairly similar around the world.
The first way to fund your PhD is through PhD studentships, these are part of larger research projects. In the UK there are seven research councils in the UK that can provide this type of funding for PhD students, these are:
- Arts and Humanities Research Council
- Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
- Economic and Social Research Council
- Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
- Medical research Council
- Natural Environment Research Council
- Science and Technology Facilities Council.
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.
Applying for a PhD 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. They are usually very competitive.
Find a PhD 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 the success of completing your PhD that you find a supervisor and institution that you will work well with.
To gain a place on a PhD course you are likely to have to attend a PhD interview.
At the PhD interview your potential supervisor(s) will ask you a number of questions to enable them to get to know you better and have a good understanding of your area of interest and research and ascertain whether you’d be a good fit for the PhD program.
The PhD interview will also give you the opportunity to ask questions about the program, department and university to make sure it’s the right place for you to undertake your doctoral studies.
Complete an MRes or MPhil firss
Most universities require their PhD students to complete an MRes (Masters by Research) or an MPhil (Master of Philosophy) in the first year and then progress onto a PhD. This provides proof that the PhD student is academically capable of high-level research and original ideas.
It also means that if after their first year the student decides that studying a PhD is not the right path for them, they will still leave university with a good qualification.
Choose your PhD study mode
Another decision that you will have to make to get a PhD, is whether to study full time, part time or via distance learning.
One of the main influencing factors in this decision is the amount of time the mode of study makes completing the PhD take.
Full- or part-time PhD study
Most PhD candidates study full time, this is mainly 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.
However, many students who are self-funding their PhD may undertake their PhD on a part-time basis before they get more funding in place so they can work alongside their studies.
Distance learning PhD
Many PhD students choose to undertake their PhD via distance learning.
This option can make the actual researching much easier, as the student can live near the source of their research while keeping in contact with their supervisor online.
Studying a PhD via distance learning is not usually available for those undertaking their PhD through a studentship as they will usually being lab work and have other academic obligations at their university department.
However, it is suitable for PhD candidates who do not need to regularly attend their institution.
Research your PhD subject properly
Researching into a PhD will involve many steps including reviewing all the literature written about your chosen research subject and exploring the intricacies of gathering the data that will ultimately form the basis of your research.
How you gather your research will depend greatly on your research subject – and this is something that you need to give a lot of consideration.
Writing up your PhD research
The PhD thesis is the research project that results from your research argument, data compilation and any conclusions you have come to after reviewing all of your research.
It will depend on your subject area and your research methods as to whether you have been writing your PhD thesis as you go, or if you have to write it up fully after all the research has taken place.
Once your PhD thesis has been written up it is likely to be between 70,000 and 100,000 words long.
Do you have any additional responsibilities?
Whilst researching and writing up your PhD thesis, many PhD students take on additional responsibilities in their academic department. These responsibilities can include helping professors and lecturers with their classes, or marking and evaluating undergraduate work.
If you are studying 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 be asked to undertake a variety of tasks without payment.
If you are an international student studying your PhD in the UK, there may be limitations as to how much work you can undertake whilst living in the UK on a student visa. It’s important to check what your restrictions are, so you don’t break the terms of your student visa.
A PhD viva is an oral exam that takes place at the end of the PhD program, during which the PhD student will present, discuss and defend 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, but to ensure success it’s imperative that the student knows their work inside out and is fully prepared for the viva.
The word ’viva’ is a shortened form of the Latin term ‘viva voce’ which means ‘live voice’.
Different ways of getting a PhD
There are several different ways to study a PhD – here is a summary of them.
1. PhD by Thesis
A PhD by Thesis is the most common way to study a doctorate program, and this will take three to four years to study full time at university and up to eight years if studied part time. Throughout your studies you will be supported by a PhD supervisor who will be there to advise you while you are writing your research-based thesis, which will be between 70,000 and 100,000 words long. Upon completion of the thesis, you will need to defend your research in front of a panel of academic experts in an oral examination known as a viva.
2. Integrated PhD
An Integrated PhD usually takes four years of full-time study. This timeframe includes studying a one-year MRes (Masters of Research) as part of the Integrated PhD program. Integrated PhDs are a particularly good idea for students who haven’t previously undertaken much research-based academic work, as essential research skills can be learnt whilst studying the MRes. The research undertaken during the MRes can then be used as the basis for the PhD research project.
3. PhD by Publication
A PhD by Publication is a postgraduate research degree based on previously published pieces of work, for example journals and articles. These are submitted by the student as a body of work. In addition to this, the student needs to demonstrate evidence of original thought and unique contribution to their specific field of study with an extensive supporting statement. A PhD by Publication is often the chosen PhD pathway by mid-career academics that didn’t undertake a PhD before embarking on their career. Some universities only accept academic staff or their own graduates for a PhD by Publication.
4. Distance Learning PhD
Online PhDs provide students with a good, flexible option as there is no need for relocation for their doctorate studies. As a large proportion of any PhD course is spent doing independent study and research, unless regular access to a science lab or other specialised facilities is necessary, PhDs are ideally suited to distance learning, with students able to maintain regular contact with supervisors online. Distance learning PhDs are a good option for people with family or work commitments, or for international students who want to study their PhD at a particular university without the upheaval or expense of moving overseas. When studying an online PhD, it is likely that the student will have to be onsite at the university for a few days each academic year to meet with their supervisor and get any necessary training.
5. Professional Doctorate
Professional Doctorates are aimed at professionals working in vocational sectors, for example those working in healthcare, education and engineering. Professional Doctorates are often accredited by a professional body, making them a great way to advance your career path. Professional Doctorates tend have a greater taught element and a smaller thesis than other types of PhD and will lead students in a career-focussed direction rather than along an academic pathway.
What countries have the most PhD graduates?
Universities on countries all over the world offer PhD programs. This table illustrates the countries with the highest number of PhD graduates in 2014 – and how many PhD graduates they had.