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What is a PhD?

A PhD is a postgraduate degree. It stands for ‘Doctor of Philosophy’ and is one of the highest academic qualifications you can achieve.

Courses involve both research and academic learning where you take on a significant amount of independent work.

For most PhDs, you’ll research for, write and publish an extensive thesis on a specialist subject area.


How long is a PhD? 

PhDs courses usually last between three to four years if you study full-time. Students often extend their thesis deadlines and finish the work in their fourth year. If you study part-time, courses can last six or seven years. 

Courses can begin anytime throughout the year, though most studentships (doctorate scholarships) start in September or October.


What qualifications do you need for a PhD?

You usually need a good second-class (2.1) undergraduate honours degree in a relevant subject area, or equivalent. Many courses also ask for a master’s degree. 

When applying, you may need to demonstrate an ability to conduct research. This could be by showing your experience of independently working on a research project. You’ll probably also have to submit a research proposal that outlines what you’ll be studying.


How is a PhD taught?

There’s very little teaching involved in a PhD degree. Your course may begin with five or six hours per week of classes where you learn about research methods and techniques. Aside from this, you’re in control of your studies, though you’ll receive some guidance from an academic tutor.


How is a PhD assessed?

PhD students are assessed mainly by a thesis, and a closed oral examination where examiners ask questions about the thesis. 

Degrees are usually graded as pass or fail.


What skills do you learn during a PhD?

As well as subject-specific skills, you develop transferable skills such as: 

  • Organisation 
  • Research 
  • Work habits 
  • Project management 
  • Critical thinking 
  • Written communication 
  • Presentation


How much does a PhD cost? 

Fees vary widely between courses and institutions, but are commonly between £3,000 and £6,000 per year for UK students. International students often pay more. 

Many degrees are partly or fully funded, and lots of students receive scholarships and bursaries. UK Research Councils provide universities with grants of around £4,000 per year for each funded PhD student.


PhD degree facts

Some new PhDs are more vocational and offer practical experiences as well as research. These are designed for those looking to advance their careers. 

When applying for a PhD, you show the university that you’re the right person for an advertised position, or that you’d be suitable to complete your research proposal. 

Find out what scholarships you can apply for