Doing a PhD

The most recognised research and academic qualification is the PhD. Most students will embark upon a PhD training after completing a Masters degree in a related subject.

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In the UK, a full time PhD lasts on average for 3 years whilst a part time PhD lasts on average for 5 years. There are exceptions in both cases.

With some PhDs, there is a taught element, often with full time students, which requires them to attend relevant classes (often in research methods and statistics). There are also opportunities in psychology to act as a lab assistant for undergraduate or postgraduate classes as part of the training.

In many institutions, the first year of a PhD is a MPhil which you then transfer to a PhD. On a PhD course, there is a midway point known as your ‘upgrade’ where you need to present one or two written chapters (or mini chapters) which the Department will read and then you have an opportunity to give a short presentation to one or two chosen people in the Department about your PhD, including the work you had presented but also the overall progress and plans. Possible benefits of PhDs are that it allows entry to some professions including ones that are in academic departments. A PhD will be a useful passport if you are interested in a lectureship or research position in a University. A PhD will also be an advantage and / or allow entry to senior research positions, both in the academic and non-academic sectors. There are clear pay benefits as well arising from the qualification.

Other benefits include greater credibility, deeper knowledge, developed skills, more experience, wider contacts, and international flexibility.

What is a PhD?

A PhD is a novel, in depth study of a specific field where the results are written up as a report or book in a series of chapters outlining the literature base, methodology, results and conclusions drawn from your work. You will have one primary supervisor and a secondary one who will guide you through the process although in reality much of work in a PhD is independent and differs markedly from MSc and BSc teaching degrees. Following submission, there is an oral examination (‘Viva’) where you will have an opportunity to defend your written thesis to two academics, who are not necessarily experts in the field, but who will be accomplished academics with knowledge, expertise and interest in your field.

Where to find PhDs

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Formally advertised PhDs may be advertised through www.jobs.ac.uk and other relevant publications including the Guardian and the BPS.

www.findaphd.com (includes professional doctorates) www.prospects.ac.uk www.nature.com/naturejobs (international opportunities) www.ucas.com (individual University websites available at this address)

When trying to find the right PhD and institution, here are some thoughts:

  • How good are the facilities?
  • What is the research reputation of the group/department?
  • Is my prospective supervisor suitable, approachable and available?
  • Will I get formal training? (techniques, seminars)
  • What topic would I like to research?
  • What useful research skills will I develop?
  • Are department systems in place if I need help?

Life post PhD

Following a PhD, many will apply for postdoctoral research fellowships or research associate positions. There is also an urgency to publish papers which may stem from their thesis in order to build up a good portfolio. Following a period in this position, many will go on to be a probationary lecturer before graduating to a senior lecturer/reader status and ending up as a professor.