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What is a PhD?

A PhD is one of the most popular postgraduate and high level academic degrees, standing for Doctor of Philosophy. Unlike taught Master’s degrees, the PhD is an academic research degree that acts as both a gateway and an introduction to the world of research and academia. This means there is quite a bit of difference between how most undergraduate and Master’s degrees are taught compared to PhDs. 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

PhD entry requirements are different from many other types of postgraduate qualification. You will need a solid undergraduate qualification and a Master’s degree before you embark on a PhD, but 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. 

PhD Funding

As with any posrgraduate degree, a PhD costs quite a lot of money, but there are various route that students can take to help pay for course fees and living costs. This includes the Doctoral Loan introduced by the government in 2016, scholarships and bursaries from universities, or receiving funding from research councils, charitable organisations or employers.

Go to: How to fund a PhD

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:

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

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

PhD Year 3 – 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).

Next: Search for PhD Courses


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