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What to Expect From a PhD

Last Updated:

16th March 2016

First Published:

31st May 2013

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PhD expectations

Your PhD will be unlike many of your previous academic experiences. While you will be attached to a University, the majority of your learning will be self-funded. It is academically challenging, occasionally isolating and requires a lot of self-motivation, but for the right candidate it can be a phenomenally rewarding experience.

 

What Should You Expect From Your Course?

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A PhD qualification is predominantly research-based and students will be responsible for their own learning and development. Knowledge is less acquired from class-room based teaching and more from critical reading and experimentation.

In terms of course structure, a PhD will be significantly different from your Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree. It should take from 3-4 years and will culminate in a thesis which outlines what you have learnt from your specific research area.

Your thesis will be a document containing approximately 80,000 words (although this will depend on your specialism) and it will be broken down into chapters. Ideally students should have some of their research published throughout their course of study.

Each student will be given a supervisor who will monitor their progress and (occasionally) give feedback on the research.

 

What Should You Expect from Your Tutors?

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Your supervisor will be there to guide and support you as well as provide you with a sense of direction throughout your PhD qualification. What they are not expected to do is spoon-feed you information.

A supervisor’s feedback on your thesis will often be critical, and come the submission period, your supervisor should play a key role in helping you present your research in an original manner.

Given that there isn’t much contact time in terms of lectures and seminars, it is important that your tutor remain in regular contact with you, and you should arrange meetings as often as possible to discuss your project.

Normally the relationship between student and supervisor is a smooth process, but occasionally problems may arise. If this is the case, you should mention it to a pastoral advisor at your University.

 

What Will Be Expected of You?

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Your tutor will expect you to work hard and be enthusiastic about your research and thesis. They will be very busy people, with work of their own to do, so it is important that you respect their time and contribution to your project. If you arrange a meeting then make sure you turn up, and if you’ve a deadline looming then ensure that your work is submitted on time.

Sometimes a supervisor may also be working on their own research projects. If this is the case, then they may allow students to help them with their research while being careful to ensure that it doesn’t impact upon their studies. It doesn’t often happen, but a supervisor should not simply expect their student to assist – it isn’t a compulsory part of your PhD!

 

What About Your Social Life?

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While you’re studying for your PhD, your research and thesis will be the focus of your existence and you will, most probably, spend most of your time carrying out research.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to have a life outside of your PhD - it is important to socialise with fellow students and old friends, but you should be aware that at this level, you shouldn’t expect to have the same student experience that you did during your undergrad or at Master's level.

 

Next Step: Search for PhD courses 

 

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