What is a PhD?

In Career, General, University by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

If you want to go to university or even if you are at university already, you may have your career path fully planned out. You may know exactly what you need to do and what qualifications you need to have in order to achieve your end goal. However, you may not be quite sure yet about your end goal, or even your next steps after university and that is completely fine. Whether or not you feel that you are completely sure of what you want to do, it is a good idea to look at your options for the future. A PhD could be a potential option for you!

In short, a PhD is a postgraduate degree that is at the highest level of study in the UK. It is a type of doctorate degree. It is the level above a master’s degree, although it is not always necessary for you to have obtained a master’s degree before getting a PhD. Normally, a PhD will last about 3 or 4 years if studied full time or 6 or 7 years if studied part time. For domestic students, each of these 3 or 4 years, will generally cost about £3000 to £6000 depending on the university and the course itself.

Continue reading for more information about what a PhD is, what it involves and how you can get one. If you are considering taking a PhD, or are simply considering your postgraduate study options, then this article will be useful to you.

What Does PhD Stand For?

If you have any interest in higher education at all, it is likely that you have heard of a PhD. Although you may find that you may find that you actually know quite little about it.

The first thing you need to know is that the term PhD comes from Latin as it is an abbreviation of the term “philosophiae doctor”.  This simply means Doctor of Philosophy, which is another way that the degree may be referred as. For more on this look here.

In the UK (particularly at universities such as Oxford but sometimes also at Sussex or York), a PhD can also be referred to as a DPhil. This is simply an abbreviation of the term “Doctor of Philosophy” and so it is exactly the same as a PhD. Although, some feel that having a DPhil qualification rather than a PhD could put them at a disadvantage as the term is not particularly used outside of the UK. For more information about a PhD compared to a DPhil look at this article.

How Do You Get a PhD?

A PhD is a type of postgraduate qualification this means that you will have to have a bachelor’s degree, or some other kind of undergraduate degree to be able to even apply. As a PhD is also a level 8 qualification in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or a level 12 in the SCQF levels of Scotland. It is at the highest level of qualification that you can achieve in education in the UK. For more information about the levels of qualification in England, Wales and Northern Ireland look here and for more information about the SCQF levels look here.

Due to this the entire process of meeting the entry requirements for a PhD course let alone actually obtaining the qualification can be quite complex and lengthy.

Do You Need a Master’s Degree?

Typically, a university’s entry requirements to a PhD will include a master’s degree as well as a bachelor’s degree at 2:1 (this means that the student who have got about 60% as their final grade). Although this offer can be higher or lower and include a master’s degree or not depending on the university and the course itself. If you aren’t quite too sure about what a 2:1 is it may be a good idea to check out this article for more information about the undergraduate grading system.

However, some universities will only require you to have a bachelor’s degree at 2:1. This option could be good for you as it saves both time and money. As the pathway to actually getting a PhD is quite lengthy (especially if you also have to get a master’s degree) then applying for a PhD without already having a master’s degree could be the best option for you. For more information about this option look here.

Alternatively, you can also apply for an Integrated PhD. An Integrated PhD is a qualification that combines a one-year master’s degree, which you would study in your first year, with a three-year PhD, which you would study from your second year. Due to this, the qualification generally last four years when studied full time instead of the typical three years and about 7 years part time instead of the average 6. For more information about an Integrated PhD and the differences between it and a normal PhD check out this article.

Benefits of a Master’s Degree for Getting a PhD

While it is possible to get a PhD without a master’s degree, it may be a good idea to get one first. This is because it can make the application process a lot easier, especially as many of the other candidates will have done a master’s degree. This could lead an admissions team to feel that they are more qualified for the position as they have more qualifications.

Also, it can help you see if you’re ready to commit to a project as intense and time consuming as a PhD. As it is also generally a research project (which a master’s degree can be or it can be taught), it can give you the opportunity to adjust to having such a large workload that you will need to complete by managing your own resources and your own time effectively. As a master’s degree is slightly shorter and less intense than a PhD, this could be incredibly useful for you.  For more information about why a master’s degree could be a good idea look here.

What is a Master’s Degree?

A master’s degree is once again a type of postgraduate qualification and it is something that you can do after getting an undergraduate qualification. However, unlike a PhD it is not a level 8/ level 12 qualification, so it is not the highest form of education in the UK. However, it is quite close to it as it is one down from a PhD as a level 7 qualification (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland or a level 11 qualification according to the SCQF levels (in Scotland). You can look here and here for more information about these rankings respectively.

In the UK, a typical master’s degree will last one or two years if being studied full time and between three and four years if being studied part time. This, of course, will mostly depend on the area of study as some subjects may be more in depth than others. Also, this will depend on whether the master’s degree is research-based or if it is mainly taught.

Postgraduate degrees (including master’s degrees) can vary exceptionally in price. The average for a postgraduate degree is £11,000 per year (based mainly on full time study) but the range can be from £4,900 to £30,000 per year. For more information about these tuition fee estimates as well as postgraduate funding in general look here.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD?

In the UK, normally a PhD only lasts 3 or 4 years if studied full time but if studied part time they can last up to six or seven years. For more information about how long a PhD lasts look here.

Although there can be some exceptions, for example with Integrated PhDs which last about a year longer if studied full time or about two years longer if studied part time as mentioned above. This is also rather different to other countries such as the US, where PhD have more of a taught element and so will typically last about six or seven years when studied full time. For more information on this check out this article.

A Timeline to Get a PhD

The entire pathway to get a PhD can be quite vast. This is because a PhD is at the highest level of education and academic qualification that you can achieve in the UK. As the level of academic qualification increase so does the level of specification and depth that the subject is studied in. Due to this, the start of the pathway to getting a PhD is at GCSE study, where you begin to specify your academic journey by choosing certain subjects and dropping others.

GCSEs- 2 or 3 Years

Your GCSEs are an extremely important part of your education and so it is no wonder that they are also an important part of the pathway to getting a PhD. This is particularly due to the fact that compulsory GCSEs such as English and Maths tend to be requirements for all other forms of further education as well as jobs. Other than that, the options you choose whether they are STEM based subjects or humanities can also have some determination of what you can study later on. For example, to be able to study a language at A-Level it typically compulsory for you to have studied and passed the GCSE. This is similar for other subjects too.

A-Levels- 2 Years

While A-Levels aren’t the only post-GCSE option, they create a much more direct pathway to getting a PhD. This is because with A-Levels you choose fewer subjects than you would have studied at GCSE and so you will be able to go into greater depth within the subject. This can be particularly evident for the A-Level courses in maths and science subjects. This is because they will more directly build on what you already know while also providing you with completely new information. For example, in A-Level Maths, you will still learn about trigonometry, which you would have already studied at GCSE, but these will be in more detail (and even harder) than before.

Bachelor’s Degree- 3 or 4 Years

A bachelor’s or undergraduate degree is where the pathway towards getting your PhD becomes most clear. This is because with your undergraduate degree you choose the subject that you want to focus on. At this level, students choose only one or two, or on rare occasions maybe even three subjects that they want to study. This is much less than at any previous level and so it allows them to focus much more on it.

You are also normally able to tailor your academic university experience to better fit you. This is possible due to optional modules that are available to study on most university courses. These optional modules can vary not only depending on the degree that you have chosen, but also on the university itself and what professors they have as specialists on a specific subject area.

Master’s Degree- 1 or 2 Years

In many ways, a master’s degree is very similar to a PhD. This is because they are both postgraduate qualifications that a student may opt to study to further develop their understanding about a more specific subject area. Master’s degrees also give the student more independence in their studies which in a way can more directly prepare them for the independence they will experience during their PhD.

While not always the case, a master’s degree is also often an entry requirement for PhD study. This makes it one of the most essential steps on the pathway to getting a PhD. For more information about PhD entry requirements check out this article.

On top of that, some master’s degrees such as a Master of Research (MRes), or a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) will allow students to essentially carry out a smaller version of a PhD. For more information about the differences between these two qualifications look at this article. These research project master’s degrees arguably directly set students up to study a PhD and to create a slightly longer and more in-depth research project to turn into a thesis and submit for their PhD qualification.

PhD- 3 or 4 Years

The PhD itself is makes up only a very small part of the cumulative time that it takes to get a PhD. However, as it is the highest level of education possible in the UK, it is no doubt also the most intense step in the path to obtaining a PhD qualification. This is due to a combination of factors that increase as the level of education does. These factors include the level of independence, the level of detail and the level of difficulty. All of which are at peak level when you take a PhD.

After up to 15 years of your chosen education (depending on how long it takes you to complete each of these qualifications and if you do others or not), the hard work will have finally paid off as you will hopefully have got your PhD.

What Do You Do During a PhD?

What you actually do when studying your PhD can be split into three stages, based on the 3 years of an average full-time studied PhD. For more information about what occurs in each year of PhD study in the UK look at this article and for a more detailed timeline of a PhD look here.

The First Year of PhD Study

In year one, students will normally discuss their research proposal with their supervisor and create a plan to complete this. This will normally be done as early as the first month. For the rest of the first year, students will typically complete a literature review. This is a piece of academic writing that, like a film or book review, provides both a brief synopsis of the work as well as an in-depth evaluation of it. For more information about what a literature review is and its purpose look at this guide.

The Second Year of PhD Study

In the second year, students will typically begin to start building their thesis. In the UK, a thesis is the unpublished work that is submitted for a doctoral degree, such as a PhD. For more information about theses at PhD level look here. They can be similar to dissertations which are undertaken by undergraduate and master’s degree students. As they are both long essays that are focused on a specific topic.

The terms “thesis” and “dissertation” can also at times be used interchangeably, but many UK universities note that with a “thesis” the research carried out is “new research” that the student carried out by themselves. For more information about theses, dissertations and the differences between the two check out this article or this article, as they both provide further detail. Also, for more about dissertations look here.

The Third Year of PhD Study

In the third year of study (or in both the third and fourth years if the course lasts 4 years), a student will have to focus on writing and completing their thesis, as well as completing any research that needs to be done. After they submit their thesis, a student will undertake a three-hour long exam called the viva voce. The viva voce is a Latin term, meaning living voice. In this exam, students will have to orally defend their research against two examiners. For more information about this exam check out this article.

What Can You Get a PhD in?

As a research degree, a PhD has quite a vast range of subjects that it can be taken in as long as that subject can be turned into a thesis. Due to this, it is available in many subjects from sciences to arts and humanities. Look here to see the 10 most popular subjects for PhD study on the UK.

How Much Does a PhD Cost?

In the UK, a PhD can be quite a hefty sum at an average rate of between £3,000 and £6,000 each year for domestic students. Although, this is still less costly than an undergraduate degree that is typically priced at either £9000 or £9250. It is also less than some other countries, such as the US, where the average PhD is priced at a range between $28,000 and $40,000. Moreover, you are hardly expected to fund your PhD studies yourself as barely any PhD students are self-funded and there are many ways for you to gain funding for your PhD. For more information about PhD costs and funding check out this article.

PhD vs Doctorate

As the terms PhD and “doctorate” can often be used interchangeably it can be quite difficult to tell what the difference between them is and even if there is a difference between them at all.

Are PhDs and Doctorates the Same Thing?

While it is safe to say that a PhD and a doctorate degree are similar things, they are not actually the same thing. This is because a PhD is a type of doctorate degree. As a doctorate degree is the umbrella term for several qualifications including a PhD, it is okay to use the terms interchangeably when referring to a PhD. Although, it is also important to make note that a doctorate degree can also refer to several other degrees, you can click on this article to see a few examples. For more information about a PhD vs a doctorate degree check out this article.

There are two main types of doctorates: the research-based doctorate and the professional or applied doctorate. The research-based doctorate is the category a PhD falls into and so they are generally all considered to be PhDs (regardless of the actual abbreviations). The other type of doctorate, the professional or applied doctorate has a larger focus on the application of the subject in a real-word context. For more information about both these types and doctorate degrees in general look here.

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