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PhD by Publication

Many universities have recently introduced the ‘PhD by Publication’ method of obtaining a PhD, instead of the more conventional thesis. The availability of this option will vary from place to place, some won’t offer it at all, whilst others may only offer it to staff who have yet to achieve a PhD.

So just how is a PhD by publication awarded? Well, it varies from country to country – for instance, Scandinavian students will more commonly obtain a PhD this way, so let’s look specifically at getting a PhD by publication in the UK.

PhD by Publication in the UK

This method of gaining a PhD is relatively new, (even though getting published is important) and hence, the requirements may vary from place to place. Generally, though, instead of submitting a thesis written specifically during three/four years study with the university, you are instead required to submit a number of published papers.

In general, this method of gaining a PhD is not offered as an alternative to the standard way – it is not aimed at those starting on an academic career. It is usually offered to academics already in their career who have not yet completed a PhD. This is usually confirmed by the fact that many universities require you either to be staff, or to have graduated at least seven years ago to be eligible.

So just what sort of publications can be considered?

PhD by Publication #1 Books
Any published book that has been published (by a company, not a self-published work!) is eligible. In some cases, a single book may be sufficient by itself.

#2 Book Chapters
Chapters written for anthologies or collections of essays are suited to being used in your portfolio. However, they are often not sufficient to stand alone, so you would need other works too.

#3 Research Papers
Research papers that have been published in journals or other peer-reviewed sources.

#4 Technical Reports
More for the science side of things – published peer reviewed technical reports are eligible.

#5 Other Published Media
Other published media can be included – things such as scholarly editions of books, or architectural plans – but this will be on a case-by-case basis.

Often, with shorter works, it is necessary to submit multiple pieces – often five to seven – to complete an entire portfolio. However, in some cases, less may be acceptable. Each of the works featured in the portfolio must be linked in some manner, and they must be consistent in theme. Unrelated works will not be allowed to count towards a PhD by publication.

In addition to the portfolio of published work, the candidate is expected to have a supporting statement. This statement must critically discuss the works featured in the portfolio – discussing how they fit together, discussing their methodologies and explaining why they chose these methods, and how they feel it worked. In addition, they must point out their original contribution to scholarship – this is one of the most vital parts of getting a PhD, regardless of method.

You may be asking yourself what role the university would play other than examining the portfolio. In this case, a supervisor will assist with the portfolio, assessing whether the works submitted are cohesive, consistent and most importantly, of a high enough standard to be entered. They will also help with the supporting statement – making sure all vital information is included.

After this stage, there will be an oral examination. This will be similar to a viva , and should be prepared for as such. You will have to be prepared to defend any points made in the supporting statement. Depending on how long ago works were published (there is a time limit on when they are eligible) you may want to re-read them and ensure you are familiar both with your own work and the source material it draws on. In one sense, this may be more difficult than getting a PhD in the conventional manner as the work is not as recent, but it may also be easier in that it has already been peer reviewed and you will be aware of many possible questions and arguments.

Getting a PhD in this manner is not without difficulty, no matter how good the publications - while the submission of the portfolio and the oral examination may seem alright, the problem arises with finding a suitable place to apply. Due to the restrictions – some universities only opening to staff or alumni – you will be limited in options, and from those options, it may be more difficult than normal to find a supervisor. That said, for those who have been in academia for a while without a PhD, it may be well worth your time – take a look at our blog on the pros and cons of a PhD.


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