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What is a PhD?

We get you oriented with the highest academic qualification you can achieve at university. Yes, that's right, it's time to take a look at the PhD degree.

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When drawing up a list of your academic ambitions it’s only natural to have your eye on the highest level you can achieve. Aiming to reach the pinnacle of any endeavour is a mix of trepidation and excitement and in the world of higher education, this is what a PhD represents. A PhD is the top qualification that can be earned by any student at a university. We take a closer look at some of the key components of PhD study and what it takes to earn the title of Doctor. 


How is a PhD different from other degrees?

A PhD stands for a Doctor of Philosophy and is the highest academic qualification that can be obtained. The purpose of doctoral study is for a student to make a unique, original and meaningful full contribution to a field of academic study, whether this is in medicine or literature. 


What sets a PhD degree apart from all other degrees at university is that students are required to conduct independent research and submit a thesis with their findings. Very few PhD degrees have any taught components which means that the assessment of a student’s work lies solely on the quality of their research and the validity thereof. 


PhD theses are examined by both internal and external examiners, with some universities requiring students to formally present their work for critique and scrutiny in front of a panel. For many PhD degrees, there is no mark attached to the outcome, with either a pass or fail being awarded by examiners. This is accompanied by detailed feedback and comments and in some cases a recommendation of the award of the degree with merit. 


Explore your PhD options at these universities in the UK:



How long does a PhD take?


Studying for a PhD degree is a labour of love. The minimum amount of time it takes to complete a doctoral qualification full-time is an average of three to four years. If studied on a part-time basis this is extended to four to six years. 


Different universities have specific policies around registration, extensions and completion times for PhD studies so students are always encouraged to check to assess if the timelines are realistic. 


What are the entry requirements for a PhD?


To qualify to study for a PhD you will need to have completed both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Usually, this would need to be in a field or subject that is related to the area of research you wish to focus on. 


Universities can be quite strict on the entry requirements for PhD degrees and so having a good academic record, with a minimum of a 2:1, B-average or average no lower than 65 per cent will stand you in good stead. 


Sometimes if you have been working professionally for several years these skills and your knowledge may be taken into consideration in the absence of a master’s degree. However, some universities will insist that you have a Masters by Research or Master of Philosophy degree before admitting you.  


Discover some of the postgraduate degrees on offer at these universities in Canada:



What does PhD study involve?


The short answer is lots of writing and research. Taking on a PhD project can be generally thought of as being divided into stages. First is the development of a research proposal. The purpose of the proposal is to create a comprehensive and viable plan for your research. This includes timelines, deadlines, your methodology, the theories to be used and the type of literature you will use. 


Once you have a proposal submitted and approved, you move into the collection, collation and examination of information. Whether this is conducting interviews, working with data or analysing materials you’ll spend a lot of time working through it. You could even find yourself putting together some chapters for your final thesis during this phase. However, there is often much re-visiting, revising and editing of these at a later stage. 


As you move towards the final phase of a PhD you’ll begin to write up tour results, draw on theories and other research to present your findings and conclusions. This is a crucial time to be interacting with your supervisor, going over your work and writing numerous versions of chapters. 


The last, and most nerve-wracking, part of a PhD is preparing your thesis for submission and examination. This involves lots of last-minute checks and making sure everything is as near to perfect as possible. Once you have submitted, it’s time to face your examiners, sometimes this takes the form of a presentation and interview. 


Want to study for a PhD in the USA? Find out what’s on offer from these institutions:



What to do after a PhD?


Achieving a PhD is a sign that you have developed a key set of skills and competencies that will serve you well in many contexts. Where you decide to use these skills may depend on the area of your research. For example, if you have studied a PhD in a professional field such as medicine or engineering it can be incorporated into your career. 


For some professions, it’s a prerequisite that you hold a PhD qualification, for example, clinical psychologists and other medical professionals. If you have designs on working in academia or as a researcher then having a PhD will also be important. 


One of the most important ways of ensuring success after having studied a PhD is to ensure that you can communicate to prospective employers how the skills you have gained, such as creative thinking or problem-solving, can benefit them in the role you wish to pursue. The good news is that statistics reveal more than 85 per cent of PhD graduates manage to secure employment a year after graduation. 


Discover more about the different types of qualifications you can pursue at university including bachelor’s degrees, master’s qualifications and professional degrees. Don’t forget you can also start searching for your ideal course with our course matcher


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