What is a PhD?

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Last Updated:

03rd June 2013

First Published:

31st May 2013

PhD study

 

A PhD (or Doctor of Philosophy) is an academic research degree that acts as both a gateway and an introduction to the world of research and academia. PhDs typically last for three years (although some allow for an optional extra fourth year) and culminate in the completion of a thesis (a lengthy, in-depth research publication on your PhD topic of choice).


PhD Entry Requirements


When it comes to entry requirements, PhDs are different from many other types of postgraduate qualification. Although you will still need a solid undergraduate qualification and a Master’s degree before you embark on a PhD, the application process is often a lot less formal. Sometimes it will be a case of finding an academic who shares your field of interest, and then contacting them to see if they’d be interested in mentoring you (this process would probably take place before you make a formal application to the university).


Structure of a PhD


PhD study revolves around the gradual completion of a thesis over a 3 – 4 year period. Your thesis will be a large body of work (usually divided into chapters) that will require a great deal of research, writing and editing before it’s finally finished. Although you will normally have periodical review sessions with your assigned tutor, the majority of your time will be filled with self-motivated work and research. A typical 3-year PhD might look something like this:


1st Year – Initial research into your given topic; narrowing down your focus and beginning your first chapters.

2nd Year – Continuing research and working through the main body of your thesis (interspersed with optional seminar teaching).

3rd Year – Completion of a draft version of your thesis, followed by a detailed edit and redraft (again with optional extra activities like the teaching of seminars and/or the organisation of academic conferences).


Note: the above is only a guide, designed to give you an overview of what your PhD might look like – the important thing to remember is that the structure will be fairly flexible and by no means set in stone.

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