October, 2014

Demanding and often the gateway to careers in academia, a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD/DPhil) is the highest level of degree that a student can achieve

Usually, only those who achieve at least a 2:1 at undergraduate level can apply for Doctorate courses. Many programmes will also require you to hold a Masters degree. In short, the qualification suits only those who have the credentials and commitment to build upon an already excellent academic track record.

Getting onto a PhD

A PhD course is largely based on independent study, so you will usually have to submit a research proposal before being accepted. This will outline exactly what you’re looking to investigate and the methodology you will use.

Successful applicants may then be asked to register for a Masters of Philosophy (MPhil) degree. After one or two years of study, you and your work will be transferred to a PhD programme, providing you can show that you’ve made expected advances on the course. If it’s decided that you’ve not shown enough promise to complete the full PhD, you'll be offered the opportunity to finish your MPhil.

To find an MPhil or PhD that interests you, search postgraduate courses.

Types of PhD

Full-time courses usually last three years; part-time courses usually last six. Over this time, you must conduct original and significant research in a particular field or subject. Your department and an academic supervisor will guide you, with the end result being the submission of a publication-worthy thesis of up to 100,000 words long.

Another option is the NewRoute PhD, a four-year course which allows students to learn different methods of research. These build students' transferable skills, with training time balanced alongside independent study.

Although some Doctorates include taught components, accreditation is nearly always through this independent research project. Despite other programmes involving a mixture of research projects and teaching, the PhD is still awarded mainly on the quality and originality of the argument that is put forward as a result of your investigation. This ability to research independently and honestly, critically analyse and display intellectual maturity is highly valued within both academia and the workplace.

You will also be encouraged to continuously share your findings and ideas with other academics, rather than make a major breakthrough or discovery. Initiatives such as presenting work at conferences also offers the additional benefit of gaining expert input that can help give your thesis greater gravitas.

It is also possible to study a Professional Doctorate which is geared towards students of more vocational subjects, such as education and engineering, and have teaching at their core. They are often favoured by those aiming for a career outside of academia and are usually supported by employers, who may offer students financial support. To find courses in your area, see Find a Professional Doctorate.

Course fees

Course fees in the UK vary, but the average PhD costs students from within the European Union (EU) between £3,000 and £6,000 per year. However, for non-EU students, fees can be considerably higher.

Scholarships and loans are widely available, however. The UK's seven Research Councils provide funding opportunities for selected projects. PhD studentships or assistantships are also common. These are a great way to undertake supported study while gaining valuable work experience, as they involve a mixture of research and teaching.

Finally, you are often eligible for a discount in fees if you study at the same institution where you completed a previous degree. However, the downside is that you may miss out on gaining new academic influences.

Find sources of funding at funding postgraduate study.

Job prospects

Many students who undertake a PhD do so to gain the necessary qualification to become an academic or an industry researcher. With or without funding, many PhD students often continue to carry out research, teach their subject and publish their work. For more information about what a PhD can lead to, see your PhD, what next?

Long-term career prospects are particularly excellent if you have a PhD. Employers will value not just your knowledge, but also the key skills that you'll have honed, such as researching, discipline and presentation.

A PhD will often be time consuming, life-changing and shouldn't be considered lightly. However, if you possess the necessary skills and passion to succeed, it can be an inspired choice.

To find a research opportunity, search for a PhD.