In the UK most PhD programmes last for three years. Students are expected to submit a thesis within 12 months of the end of the programme (and preferably within the three year period). There are an increasing number of programmes, such as the New Route PhD scheme or the Wellcome Trust 4 year PhD scheme, which incorporate a number of taught modules into the programme which increases the length to 4 years.
This depends on where you are from, where you want to study and whether or not you qualify for funding. If you are a UK student, with appropriate qualifications (see below) then you should be able to apply for one of the many funded projects on this site. Funding in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences is often more complicated than in the sciences and engineering - see our article on PhD Study in the Arts & Humanities for more information. If you are an international student wishing to study in the UK or a UK student wishing to study abroad then visit our Funding and UK Study sections now to see whether you are eligible for any scholarships.
You can fund yourself and, if you are not a home student, you may need to do just that (at least partially). Whilst self funding can make it easier to find a supervisor, you'll still need to prove to them that you are capable of completing the PhD successfully. A new section on Self Funding will be added to FindAPhD in the near future.
The normal prerequisite for a UK research council PhD studentship is a 2(i) degree or a 2(ii) plus an appropriate Masters degree. A small number of studentships are funded by charitable trusts or by the host university which can have less rigid qualification criteria. The other possibility is a job as a Graduate Research Assistant, where you can register for a part time PhD (it may still only take three years). Keep checking back in the New Projects section of FindAPhD for the latest opportunities.
If you decide that a Masters degree would be a good first step then you should be prepared not only to support yourself during the course, but also to pay full course fees. A very small number of grants are available for Masters degrees; you will need to check this on a course-by-course basis. In certain circumstances your Local Education Authority may provide some support. Before accepting a place on a Masters course, make sure that it would qualify you for the types of PhD you're looking for. See our sister site FindAMasters.com to see what Masters courses are on offer.
Students whose first language is not English will need a recognised English language qualification. See our English Language Qualifications article for more information.
Because of the wide variety of qualifications from each country it can be difficult to find out if your qualification is considered to be equivalent to a 2(i) degree. To give you a rough idea a British 2(i) degree (referred to as an 'Upper Second Class Honours Degree' or a 'Two-One') is the second highest mark available for a British Honours Degree.
Where the US/Canadian marking scheme is used, a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.3 is usually required.
The British Council in your home country will be able to help you. Before you apply you could try asking your former course tutors or alternatively you can visit The National Academic Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom. They will give informal advice free of charge. An official 'letter of comparability', which will be accepted by employers, costs £30 (+VAT), but should not be necessary for most universities, who will assess you themselves.
It is generally the case that international students are required to have a Masters level qualification as well as a 2(i) equivalent qualification.
Yes. Many students choose to study part time, particularly when they are self-funded. It is likely that the majority of funded PhD positions will require a full time commitment.
Most UK universities require PhD students to start their studies by registering for the degree of MPhil. The student is usually required to produce a report at the end of the first year. If this report is of the required standard the students registration will transferred to a PhD.
Primarily you should look for a project which interests you. It is generally considered better to study for a PhD in a different university from the one where you did your first degree, as it will expose you to a different set of academic influences. However it is not uncommon for people to stay in the same place, either because of family commitments or because of the quality of projects on offer.
To decide whether or not to accept a place you should look at a number of factors:
The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)
The research rating of a department or school is known as its RAE rating. Most departments will publish their RAE score on their web sites or you can see the results of the whole RAE on the RAE web site. The RAE takes place once or twice in a decade and the latest RAE for which results are published is from 2008. The results can be hard to interpret and each university may choose to display them in a different light. Any department or school with 50% or more of their staff rated 4* or 3* is doing very well for itself and studying there will make you look good. It does not however mean that every research group in that department is at the top of their game. Universities have a degree of flexibility in how they are assessed for the RAE. They sometimes group departments together, so if they've got two outstanding life science departments and one not so good one they may submit all three as one unit, hiding the bad department. They can, and do, choose not to submit some of their academics for inclusion in the assessment (sometimes because they are young and haven't had time to build up a publication record or sometimes because they're not very good). The reason they go to so much effort is that a large amount of funding for the five years following the RAE is based on the result.
The Research Group
Some of the criteria upon which the RAE is graded include research publications, industrial collaborations, grant income, and numbers of research students. You can get an idea of this yourself by looking up the publications of your potential new supervisor. It is unlikely that you will know which journals are more prestigious but you can always ask around. A pretty good measure of grant income is to count the number of students and postdocs in the group. Postdocs are an invaluable source of help and inspiration, particularly in larger groups where time with your supervisor may be limited.
Having said all this, work with a younger academic at the start of their career can have many advantages. They are likely to have much more time to give to you and will be very pleased to have you as grants are hard to come by.
The best source of information on who to work for will come from your current course tutors. Academia is a small world and is highly collaborative, people know who the leaders and the stragglers are in their own fields.
At most PhD interviews you will have the opportunity to see where you are going to be working and probably be given a tour by a current PhD student. Ask them about how the team works, how often they present group seminars, how often is the supervisor absent (does it make a difference when they are). It helps a lot during a PhD if you like, or at least respect, your supervisor, bear this in mind during your interview.
PhD students used to be left at the total mercy of their supervisor. These days most departments offer some degree of support. As well as your supervisor the department should provide one or more advisors. These will be academics from the same department, their job is to check that your project is on track to get you a PhD and to listen to any complaints about your supervisor. Many departments also run seminar programmes covering research methodologies, thesis writing and other relevant subjects.
Taking these relatively new developments a step further, 4 year programmes such as the New Route PhD or many similar schemes funded by the EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC, Wellcome Trust and others, offer an even greater degree of formal training.
Most information on support and training for PhD students will be on the department's web site. If not you can ask at the interview.
Most PhD studentships begin in October. However they can start at any time of year. You should begin applying as soon as posible. Although new studentships are advertised throughout the year, competition for places gets higher and higher the closer you get to October.
The answer for scientists and engineers is only if you're asked to. Most funded projects in the UK (and particularly those on this site) have been thought up by the supervisor concerned and peer reviewed. Your job is to convince them that you'll be able to do the work. If you have your own research proposal, then you may find it very difficult to get it funded. You'll certainly need the support of a leading academic in your field of interest and even then obtaining funding in this way outside of the Arts and Humanities is unusual.
Our article on PhD Study in the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences has its own section on writing a research proposal.
International students do not generally qualify for UK Research Council funding and may be required to submit their own research proposal to the people from whom they wish to get funding. The input of a potential supervisor is recommended if it is available.
Your application should include all the usual information on qualifications and employment history. You should also list the degree modules covered in your final year and the title of any dissertations or research projects. If you're fortunate enough to have been published include the reference. In your application letter state why you are interested in the particular research project and what you enjoyed about any research you have already done. If you intend to find your own funding, make this clear in the application.
When applying from this site apply to the person indicated in the 'Enquiries To' line, unless the description of the project says anything different. You can write to the supervisor to ask for further details of the project. If you send an email make sure it is personalised, if you send a letter saying "Dear Dr Smith, Please send me an application form for a PhD in your lab with funding" you will be very unlikely to get a reply. Sending bulk emails to supervisors does not work.
It's not really for us to say what you might be asked. PhD interviews vary tremendously depending on the supervisor concerned. It is likely however that you will be asked about your third year project or any other research experience you may have.
If you have been given details of any particular references then make sure you do your best to read them. If you've not been given this info, then use the web to find relevant papers (particularly those by your potential supervisor). You are not likely to be examined on these things, but the supervisor will be looking to see that you were at least interested enough to read them.
The other question you are likely to be asked is why you want to do a PhD in general, and this PhD in particular. You should think about the answers to these questions before you go to the interview. Many people apply for a PhDs because they can't think of anything else to do. A good supervisor will try to avoid these people.
Finally, remember to find out as much as you can while you're there. Try to speak to PhD students working in your potential new lab/Department and see if you like the atmosphere. Don't be afraid to ask the PhD students about the quality of supervision. Three years is a long time to be stuck with a bad supervisor or to work in an unfriendly environment.
The million-dollar question. Past and present PhD students can fill you with tales of dread and delight. Use the menu above (right) to expore the PhD Study pages.