Doctoral Training Programme guide

This Doctoral Training Programme guide takes you through the key differences with a PhD. While searching through PhD options, you may have come across doctoral training programmes. You may also read about Doctoral Training Partnerships or Centres for Doctoral Training.

What is a DTP (Doctoral Training Programme)?

A doctoral training programme (DTP) is usually a funded PhD course. Research Councils, charitable trusts and other major funders often award these studentships to Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs). CDTs are partnerships that run across several universities with a unified goal to work on joint research topics. CDTs often link up with industry partners. These industry links have the double benefit of supporting the funding and giving the research candidates experience in industry while they complete their PhD.  

A doctoral training programme follows a clear four-year structure, unlike a PhD or DPhil. The first year focuses on training the candidate’s research skills to prepare them for the next three years, armed with stronger methods and skills. The next three years are very research intensive. Let’s break these differences down further below:   

The research topic for a Doctoral Training Programme

As DTPs are funded by Centres for Doctoral Training, candidates will focus on a pre-determined research question. This means the topic is set by the institution. Unlike a self-funded PhD where the researcher works towards their own proposal, a Doctoral Training Programme will guide the researcher to work within a framework of a wider, central proposal. 

DTPs give less choice than in a traditional PhD. However, it's worth noting that although a self-funded PhD offers you more freedom with your proposal, the finished thesis rarely stays close to the original question.

If you are set on a particular subject, perhaps a self-funded PhD is the best route for you. However, if you’re open to a wider topic within a set field and looking for a framework to research within, it would be worthwhile exploring a DTP.  

Subjects you can study as part of a Doctoral Training Partnership:

Seven Research Councils, along with Innovate UK and Research England, are responsible for funding in the UK . The groupings are in subject area and it's worth spending some time checking through their individual sites for guides and links to doctoral training programme funding.

How long is a DTP?

As a guide, a Doctoral Training Programme normally lasts 4 years, sometimes called 1+3. You'll complete a structured first year, followed by 3 years of research.

It’s worth considering that while this is longer than a PhD, DTPs are fully funded. Do consider whether the additional year will impact your future plans.  

A structured first year

On a Doctoral Training Programme, you would build your research skill and methods through a mixture of lectures, seminars, symposia, and practical sessions. Centres for Doctoral Training work together with the university’s Graduate School to prepare students for transferable skills such as qualitative and quantitative research methods and communication. These skills will carry you through the next three years and beyond academia. You will have the opportunity to focus on weak spots you didn't focus on in your undergraduate degree. 

As universities recruit several DTP candidates each year, you will find that the first year cohort of researchers all train at the same time. This allows the university to really nurture you as a new researcher. You'll be doing this while training with peers.  

A competitive application process

Doctoral Training Programmes often offer a competitive stipend, an annual maintenance grant (sometimes tax free) and fees are paid directly to the university, so there is less administration for the successful candidate.  In 2023/24, the minimum stipend is £18,622, paid in regular instalments. Because of the financial support, applying to DTPs is a highly competitive process.  

If you're applying to a DTP, you will be expected to submit an application form and CV, as well as sit an interview and a written or practical test. Interviews can vary from being with an individual to a large panel. It’s important to prepare for every interview of course! But if you're applying to a DTP, it’s worthwhile spending some time rehearsing interviews with a group of friends and working on the transitions between a written test and an interview, so that you're not under pressure on the interview day.

Difference between other PhDs and a DTP 

To summarise all of the points above:

  • Almost all DTPs are fully funded, often with a competitive stipend. Some even offer additional funding for a research training support grant.
  • Applications to a DTP can be extremely competitive, so if you’re thinking of applying to one, spend time on your application, brush up your interview skills and work on a few tests before your interview rehearsals.
  • The first year of a DTP will see you join a cohort of other students, and you will form a research community. If group projects and directed learning are not for you, then perhaps consider a traditional PhD. However, if you’re keen on a transition from your masters to research degree, a DTP may have the perfect balance for you. 

Next steps

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