PhD Study in the UK
What is a PhD?
A PhD is the highest degree awarded at universities in the UK. Study is based around a substantial research project on an area of academic interest, typically up to 100,000 words in length, written as a thesis which then must be defended in an oral examination at the end of the programme. Students are assigned a supervisor and the duration of a PhD is typically three years full-time and six years part-time.
Very few research degrees feature taught modules, and as such a student is expected to take more responsibility for their work and schedule.
PhD entry requirements
UK universities are free to admit anyone to a PhD programme, with admission generally conditional on the prospective student having successfully completed an undergraduate degree with at least upper second-class honours, as well as a masters degree. English language ability will need to be proved and a minimum IELTS score of 7.0 is generally required.
There is usually a first-year assessment to remain in study and the thesis is submitted at the end of the completed programme.
PhD research proposal
A research proposal (example) is required by all students when applying to study a PhD. The proposal should clearly address the research you wish to undertake, how you will do it, and why it is important. The proposal must be accepted by a panel of experts before your programme can begin.
Other types of PhD
- MPhil (Master of Philosophy)
If you wish to study a PhD, you may first need to begin an MPhil and then transfer to a PhD programme after 12-18 months. An MPhil is also a qualification in its own right and is generally thesis-only, lasting one year full-time and two years part-time. The thesis must present the results of a study and research and be a maximum of 60,000 words.
Students choose to study an MPhil is the proposed research has insufficient scope for a full PhD.
- MRes (Master of Research)
An MRes is an advanced postgraduate research degree within the areas of art, humanities and social sciences. Some PhD’s require an MRes qualification before beginning a PhD proper, and the student is required to complete a 40,000 word dissertation.
An MRes is a good test to see if you enjoy conducting your research without fully committing to and finding funding for a full PhD.
- Professional Doctorate
Professional doctorates are similar to a PhD but are intended to advance professional practice, rather than improve academic ability. Common professional doctorates include law, education, business, engineering and medicine.
How much does a PhD cost?
Funding and researching a PhD can be expensive, with EU students paying up to £6,000 per year, and international students more.
It is rare for a PhD student to not be supported by some form of bursary, grant or scholarship though, and many universities and research councils provide monetary support for part or all of a PhD programme.
How do I apply for a PhD?
Once you have decided on an area of research and have looked into how you will fund your study, there are a number of documents required when submitting your application. They can include: