4 routes to getting a Doctorate

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
October, 2018

Studying a standard PhD by thesis isn't the only means of getting a Doctorate degree. Here are four other ways to achieve this prestigious qualification

Integrated PhD

This four-year qualification, also known as the New Route PhD, involves studying a one-year research Masters degree (MRes) before progressing onto a three-year PhD.

Offered by a selective consortium of universities across the UK, integrated PhDs are supported by the government and the British Council. Visit the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) website for information on research and funding for different types of PhD.

The integrated PhD exposes you to a combination of taught materials, practical experience and advanced research. This allows you to learn subject-specific methodologies while building the transferable skills that will enable you to become a leader in your chosen profession.

Institutions can also develop personalised integrated PhD programmes to meet each student's needs. For example, universities may offer you the opportunity to gain a postgraduate certificate (PGCert) in Learning and Teaching (CiLT) - perfect if you're considering a career as a higher education lecturer.

Professional Doctorate

Geared primarily towards current professionals in vocational sectors such as healthcare, teaching and education, and engineering and manufacturing, this type of Doctorate includes a significant taught component and, therefore, a smaller research project.

Professional Doctorates are often taken on a part-time basis and can last anywhere between two and eight years. Like their standard PhD counterparts, they usually begin in October or January.

While you won't typically be looking to get an academic job, your research is expected to contribute to theory as well as professional practice. Projects often revolve around a real-life issue that affects your employer.

Several professional Doctorates, such as the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (DClinPsy), are accredited by a professional body - for instance, the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the British Psychological Society (BPS) - and may also lead to a professional qualification.

Common titles for graduates of professional Doctorate degrees include:

  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Doctor of Education (EdD)
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of Engineering (EngD).

Unlike many professional Doctorates, the EngD is typically offered as a full-time course and is aimed at young engineering graduates with little or no professional experience.

PhD by publication

This route involves submitting previously published work - such as books, book chapters and journal articles - which together form a coherent body of work and show evidence of an original contribution to a particular field of study.

It is often taken by mid-career academics who have not had the opportunity to undertake a standard Doctorate degree.

Generally, a minimum of between five and eight published pieces are required, but this varies between institutions and depends on their length. The published work will be assessed to the same rigorous standards as a traditional PhD by thesis.

You must also provide a written supporting statement, which can range from 5,000 to 20,000 words, and present your work to an academic committee. A supervisor will assist you with selecting which publications to submit and with the supporting statement.

Some universities accept only their own graduates for a PhD by publication, while others restrict this route to their academic staff. In general, you should have graduated from your first degree at least seven years ago to be eligible.

Distance learning PhD

As PhDs are based primarily on independent research rather than time spent in lectures and seminars, distance learning is a viable route for many students.

If you have family or work commitments, or are an international student, this gives you the chance to undertake a PhD without having to live close to your chosen university. It is also a good option if the subject you're researching or access to archive materials require you to be based in a specific location.

For the most part, you will be in touch with your supervisor by phone, email or Skype. However, you'll generally need to attend university for one or two weeks of each academic year for meetings and to receive training in research skills. Your final examination will also be undertaken on a face-to-face basis.

Distance learning PhDs are available at a growing number of UK universities, and you can usually register as a full or part-time student. The level of fees you pay varies between institutions - some charge the same as for a standard PhD while others offer a reduced rate.

Check that any funding you plan to apply for is available to distance learning students, as this is not always the case.

Search for distance learning PhDs.

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