Short for Doctor of Philosophy, a PhD is a postgraduate degree that usually follows after a master’s degree. A PhD requires a submission of a thesis or dissertation comprised of extensive and original research, focused on a specific area within a field of your choice.

What does it involve?

Typically taking three to four years of full-time study to complete, a PhD involves a numerous stages and activities including:

  • Completing a literature review of your chosen field
  • Carrying out original and in-depth research
  • Collecting and writing up your results in the form of a thesis, typically around 100,000 words
  • Defending your thesis in an oral exam

During a PhD, the university will assign students a supervisor to provide support from start to finish. Their role will be to read drafts, discuss your work and provide advice and expertise within your broader academic field.

It is important to remember that although they can provide advice and guidance, your supervisor isn’t a teacher. You will be the one conducting your own learning through your research.

Where can you do a PhD?

Just like undergraduate and master’s degrees, you can apply to do a PhD at any university across the UK providing they are running the course you are looking for. As expected, there may be specific grade requirements needed to study for your PhD at a certain institution. This may be in relation to your master’s degree grade, or whether you hold a bachelor’s degree with a minimum grading of a 2:1, relevant to your proposed PhD subject.

When choosing where to study, many students research the reputation, facilities, course structure, employer connections and academic support available at each university.

Another influential factor on deciding where to do your PhD may be the tutors and academic staff at each institution. As you will be appointed a supervisor, it would be beneficial to look into how recognised the staff are in their academic field, what work they have published and whether they have a lot of industry experience. Studying your PhD at a university with staff who have a lot of knowledge and expertise in your chosen field will greatly benefit your learning.

What opportunities does a PhD provide?

The most natural progression following a PhD is usually a transition into an academic role. However, it is important to acknowledge the line doesn’t stop there, there are a whole host of opportunities that exist outside of teaching and education.

Six months after graduating, aside from 23.1% of graduates finding themselves in educational professions, 28.9% are in science professions, 9.1% in legal, social and welfare, 7% in business HR and finance, and 7.8% in other associate or technician positions. This presents that the majority of PhD graduates go on to non-academic professions.

Whichever career you decide to go into following your PhD, it is important to demonstrate to employers how the skills you have learnt from an academic environment can translate into the world of work. Examples of common transferable skills from a PhD include:

Analysis and problem solving

Due to the nature of a PhD you will be able to design, plan and carry out research, identify and solve problems, make sense of a large amount of information, and form independent conclusions.

Leadership skills

Conducting research will have required you to run several different meetings and or group discussions, explain concepts and theories to others and possibly navigate unfamiliar environments.

Project management

Essentially a PhD is one huge project. Within this one big project, you will have had several smaller projects which will have required management and attention to ensure completion. You will have learnt how to prioritise work, set goals and be flexible with your workload.

Written and verbal communication

You will have exercised your writing skills through your thesis and dissertation, alongside preparing any materials or information for focus and discussion groups. In such meetings and groups, you will have also developed your verbal skills by communicating with both small and large groups of people throughout your PhD.