Are you considering applying for a studentship but have many questions? Firstly, let’s carefully explore what a PhD is.
The term “PhD” is often used as a synonym for any doctoral-level qualification. Doctorate degrees can often be split into two categories: MPhil and PhD.
An MPhil takes approximately two to three years to complete in most countries. Like a PhD, an MPhil consists of a research element (which is usually shorter and less in-depth than a PhD thesis, and often more akin to a dissertation undertaken at undergraduate or master’s level).
MPhil students concentrate more on interpreting existing knowledge and theory and critically assessing other people’s findings rather than producing their own research. The precise nature and definition of an MPhil can vary among institutions and countries.
Meanwhile, a PhD follows a more widely recognised and traditional path and takes approximately three years full-time or six years part-time to complete, however, it is usually longer. The journey requires students, often referred to as “candidates”, to produce their own work and research on a new area or topic to a high academic standard.
Upon completion, The successful candidate is awarded the title of “Doctor of Philosophy”, also called PhD or DPhil.
Undertaking a doctorate is a time-consuming and tiring process, and there are many different opinions on the need for doing a PhD. However, it remains a benchmark in the arena of higher education. It determines the quality, ranking, and evolution of the academic disciplines. There are still a high number of bright aspirants for the very few competitive PhD positions available at university departments.
Why pursue a PhD?
People have varying reasons as to why and when they undertake a PhD. If you are looking to pursue an academic position, such as a university lecturer or researcher, then a PhD is normally a pre-requisite.
Many people obtain a PhD as part of a partnership with an employer, particularly in scientific fields such as engineering, where their research can prove beneficial for companies.
In some cases, however, PhDs are simply down to an individual’s passion for a subject, and their determination to learn more about their field.
There are many good and varied reasons why someone does a PhD degree. From advancing knowledge, personal ambition, changing career direction, future career prospects and job market requirements and so on, but no reason is better than another. At the end of the day, what matters is that happy with your decision to do a PhD. It may give you a purpose, make your life better, and by extension, make other lives better.
However, the act of pursuing a PhD can be a complicated, time-consuming, and expensive journey. Being fully prepared, obtaining sound advice and a thorough understanding of the task at hand will help you with this journey. Your years as a doctoral student can be some of the most rewarding of your life.
Regardless of whether you decide to pursue an academic career or an industrial R&D career, at some point, you might need a PhD degree.
If you wanted to do research and if you wanted to stay in academia, regardless of whether this is in the UK, US, or European Union, you really need to have a PhD degree. Increasingly more and more people decide to do a PhD stay in their jobs or progress in their careers.
Therefore, doing the PhD program at the early stage of your career can have benefits. The key benefits include the fact that you will develop necessary skills, such as grant writing, and time management, as well as other technical skills, soft skills and transferable skills that will help you advance your future career and get the research positions that you wish.
Remember, PhD graduates are sought after in the industry due to their transferable skills and the fact that they become subject matter experts.
Another reason to continue your postgraduate degree and get a PhD is that you might have an excellent idea that you would like to explore in detail.
You may already have a background in conducting research, and you would like to have academics who already have significant experience to support you in developing that research idea, while you get a PhD degree.
Each PhD thesis must contribute to the current body of knowledge, adding new insights and solutions, and creating new knowledge. As a PhD student, you need to have a valid reason for undertaking a PhD so that it motivates you to overcome the challenges. Your PhD outcomes usually tend to bring a positive change to the world we share and have a positive impact on society. That is a great reason to start the PhD journey!
How to apply for a PhD
Application rules and methods vary for each university. The number of courses that you can apply for in a year will differ.
If you want to apply for more than one degree, you should submit a research proposal specific to each area of study you apply for.
You can also apply to various universities to enhance your chances of securing a place on the course.
What qualifications do I need?
Each PhD will have specific entry requirements and you will also need to meet a university’s general entry requirements. This may be an upper second-class undergraduate honours degree (2:1) or an equivalent international qualification. For some PhDs, you may need a master’s qualification, and you may be asked to attend an interview.
International students may also be required to prove language proficiency. This will vary across institutions so do check what level universities expect before starting your application.
Applicants should always check the specific entry requirements in a university’s online prospectus before making an application.
When should I start applying?
This will depend on when the term start date is. Most research degrees will start in September, but some courses offer additional entry points in January or May.
You can apply all year round for research degrees starting in September, January and May, and the deadlines for applying are usually one month before the course start date for UK applicants, and three months before for international applicants.
If you’re applying for funding from an external organisation, you’ll need to know that they may have different deadlines for the funding application. So, give yourself plenty of time to research your funding options, and ensure you know how long the application process takes.
Many universities offer several funded PhD opportunities and scholarships for UK and international students, and it’s always worth investigating funding routes such as research councils and other organisations, both in the UK and overseas.
In some cases, it may be possible to study a PhD by distance which means you’ll be able to learn online and have virtual meetings with your supervisor.
If this is something you would be interested in doing you should check before applying whether your university can accommodate this option.
One of the main reasons why people decide to do a PhD is to advance their understanding of the research area that they’re interested in.
It means that you recognise that there are some recent problems, which we like to call knowledge gaps or research gaps, that you would like to contribute to solving. You know that there are some challenges yet to be solved that will enhance our lives.
And more importantly, you’ve got some good ideas about how these problems can be solved. Or maybe you are just eager to dedicate your career to solving these specific challenges and finding solutions. Regardless of whether you’ve already got solutions or feel motivated to make a positive change in the world as a doctoral student, generating new knowledge is one of the key reasons to do a PhD.