What it takes to become a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

So you are considering doing a PhD in the UK... 

But what will you actually need to do to become a Doctor of Philosophy once you have been accepted onto a doctorate program?

To solve this mystery for you, we'll tell you in a few basic steps what it takes to successfully add the title 'Dr' to your name!

 

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Choose an appropriate research topic

Although you need to write an initial proposal outlining your plan of research in order to get accepted on to a PhD course, it is highly likely that your actual research plan will change considerably once you have started the programme. This is because initially your PhD proposal just needs to demonstrate that you can think as a researcher and connect the information in a plausible way. Once you have started your course you'll actually have to work out various technical details and devise a research plan that will (hopefully) succeed. Your university will usually allow you to develop this more comprehensive research plan during the first term of your PhD studies.

Establish a regular meeting schedule with your supervisor

In order to ensure that your research is progressing along the right path, you will need to arrange regular meetings with your supervisor. Different supervisors have different styles and prefer different meeting frequencies, but in general the more regularly you meet with your supervisor the better.

Attend seminars and lectures relevant to your PhD topic

Although as a PhD student you won't usually be required to attend lectures and pass specific taught modules, it is advisable that you attend seminars and lectures at your department and elsewhere at the university that are relevant to your PhD topic. This will make you aware of any cutting-edge research currently going on in your field and will help you to plan your own research.

Pass the first year examination

If you get accepted to a PhD program, you will initially be registered as a probationary PhD student. This means that your registration as a full-time PhD student will be conditional upon making satisfactory progress by passing your first year report. For those unfamiliar with academic language, first year report is an academic essay (it may vary from between 5,000–10,000 words dependent on the subject/department/university) describing your research to date. You'll usually need to submit your first year report by the end of your first year of studies, and after it has been approved by your supervisor and faculty advisor the university will register you as a full-time PhD student.

Make yourself work constantly

After you have passed the first year report, you will feel relieved and your “PhD stamina“ may suddenly relent somewhat. You must somehow overcome this sudden loss of inspiration and keep pushing yourself to constantly work towards completion of your research plan. This means that you will need to make yourself write regularly and remain focused on your research at least five days a week during term time.

Read plenty of journal articles

As a PhD student, you will constantly need to read new journal articles within your field to keep your research on the right path and to acquire the necessary knowledge to help you correct any potential difficulties. One journal article for breakfast and one for dinner – that's how the typical daily meals of a PhD student look!

Attend relevant conferences

If your research is progressing well and during your second or third PhD year you have already accumulated some findings that you want to share with the world, the easiest way to do so will be by attending an academic conference. Attending conferences is highly important for those who want to become academics because this is where you will meet other renowned researchers within your field, make connections, and put your name “on the map“. 

Write a thesis

PhD thesis is the core part of your PhD course and the basis for your assessment. Your thesis will need to show that you were able to accomplish your research plan devised at the beginning of your studies and that you were able to overcome most of the difficulties that appeared throughout your research. The length of your PhD thesis may vary according to your discipline, and in most cases it will be graded by your supervisor and an external examiner. Read our top tips on writing a postgraduate thesis for further information.  

 

Pass the VIVA

To become a doctor, you will need to orally defend your PhD thesis/dissertation in front of a group of examiners – and this BIG examination is known as viva. Depending on the outcome of your viva, your examiners will tell you whether you have earned your PhD or not or there are some corrections you need to make before receiving your postgraduate degree.

Publish

If you want to become an academic, it is important that you publish your research results in a high quality journal. Although it is not required that PhD students in the UK publish a journal article during their studies, many supervisors will tell you that your PhD is all about the publishing! In the world of academia, getting a PhD will not matter much without publishing a journal article because only publishing will open the door of the academic world for you.

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