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PhD Study - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is a PhD for me?

It depends! What would you like to research? What type of training do you want and what are your future ambitions? A PhD is first and foremost a period of research training and an intellectual challenge. Does this sound appealing to you? On a secondary level, a PhD can also be a springboard for specialist expertise, a rite of passage or a job credential. What it means for you will depend on which opportunities you seize, whether you keep an eye on `the Big Picture', what sorts of relationships you form and so on.

How long does a PhD take?

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 Four year PhD scheme, which incorporate a number of taught modules into the programme: increasing its length to four years.

How much will it cost me?

This depends on where you are from, where and what you want to study and whether or not you qualify for funding. For indicative fees and other costs (such as bench fees), search our database and then consult individual institutions’ websites.

Funded projects are available on a competitive basis, but be sure to check the eligibility criteria. Search our database and select the funding status which suits your circumstances.

Can I fund myself?

It is possible to fund your PhD, whether you are applying for grants to create your own package of funding, are using personal funds or a combination of both. Self-funding is not always easy and will require careful financial planning. Remember, unless your research is mostly desk-based, there may be additional costs such as photocopying, research materials, software, access to facilities and travel. Having your own funding is also no guarantee of a PhD place. You will still need to fulfil entry requirements and to find a supervisor willing to take you on.

What qualifications do I need?

A Masters degree, or its international equivalent, is often required for entry onto a PhD and this is usually the case in arts and humanities subjects. In the sciences, however, students can sometimes progress directly to a PhD after their undergraduate degree. In addition to any postgraduate requirements, you’ll also need to demonstrate good performance during your undergraduate degree. An upper second class bachelors degree is generally the minimum entry requirement. If you think you may need to complete a Masters prior to your PhD you can visit our sister site to see what courses are on offer.

If your PhD is not conducted in your first language, you’ll have to provide evidence of proficiency through a language test.

Is my qualification 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.

Can I study part-time?

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.

What is an MPhil?

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 and may undertake a more informal internal examination of this material as part of their upgrade process. If their work is judged to be of the required standard the student’s registration will transfer to a PhD.

How do I decide where to study?

Primarily you should look for a project which interests you. Sometimes, it is considered better to study for a PhD in a different university from the one where you did your first degree, as this 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.

How do I approach prospective supervisors?

Identifying the best supervisor is an essential part of the search for your future PhD. You'll need to do some research and plan how you best approach potential supervisors. To learn the ‘Golden Rules’ for making that first contact, read our article Choosing a supervisor.

When should I apply?

In the UK and in most countries around the world, PhD studentships begin in September/October. However, funded and self-funded PhDs can start at any time of year. You should begin applying as soon as possible. Although new studentships are advertised throughout the year, competition for places gets higher the closer you get to October.

Do I need to write my own research proposal?

The answer for scientists and engineers is only if you're asked to. In these subject areas 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 difficult to get it funded. Pre-defined projects and studentships are less common in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences areas and you will likely find yourself producing your own research proposal. In this case you'll certainly need the support of your prospective supervisor (if you’ve established one) or another leading academic in your field of interest.

For further advice, read our articles on PhD Study in the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (which cover proposal writing and choosing a good research project). There’s also a handy guide to writing a Good Postgraduate Research Proposal here.

What should I put in my application?

Your application should include all the usual information on qualifications and employment history. You should also list the modules covered in the final year of your undergraduate degree and the title of any dissertations or research projects. If you're fortunate enough to have been published, include the reference. In your covering 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 otherwise. You can also email the project supervisor to ask for further details. If you do, make sure your message is personalised; sending bulk emails to supervisors does not work.

Who should I ask to provide a reference for my application?

References will be an important part of your application and will have as much bearing on the decision to admit you as your academic background, research proposal and/or personal statement.

What happens at a PhD interview?

You may be asked to attend an interview (face-to-face or via tele-/videoconference), especially if you are applying for a studentship.

What's it like to do a PhD?

The million-dollar question! Past and present PhD students can fill you with tales of dread and delight. See our guide for more information.

Is there an average PhD week?

The short answer is: probably not! How you manage your time over the week will depend on a number of factors. Read more.

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