MPhil / PhD

PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy (sometimes called DPhil) and is the most common type of doctoral study, although there are others (please also see Professional, Specialist or Taught Doctorates).
Doctoral Research
A Doctorate requires you to complete a thesis on a substantial piece of supervised research that is judged by the examiners to make an original contribution to existing research and knowledge in the subject. In the UK most PhDs are examined by thesis and a viva voce, but there are other routes to a PhD both in the UK and more commonly in Europe, including a PhD by publication of a sufficient number of academic papers in a specific area published in peer reviewed journals.
Skills Training
A PhD is the first key stage if you are intending to pursue an academic research career, but it is also a qualification valued in its own right in many professional areas. UK Universities' PhD programmes should now provide not only an academically rigorous experience but should also equip you with a range of research, transferable and career related skills. This training should be provided by your University, and is likely to vary by institution and by discipline: it is often delivered through a central research office or Graduate School.
The PhD Process
Generally, you will register first for an MPhil, and after a specified period of time, you will transfer to a PhD, providing you have met certain academic criteria and reached a certain stage in the research process, as defined by your University. This transfer process is usually formal and typically takes place approximately one year to eighteen months after you start your MPhil.
The MPhil/PhD process usually takes a minimum of 3 years full time study and many Universities now require students to complete within 4 years, including the writing up process. Most funding lasts for 3 years only although some is available for up to 4 years with certain conditions. Part time PhDs usually take a minimum of 4 years and Universities may set a maximum of around 7 years.
The Research Project
The research project is a key factor in choosing where to study your PhD.
In arts and humanities subjects, and some social sciences subjects, you are usually required to submit a research proposal when applying for a PhD, following initial discussions with a potential supervisor in the Department where you wish to study. You will need to make sure that your proposed research project will be suitable for doctoral level study, and that the University can provide you with supervisors with appropriate expertise. PhD students in these disciplines tend to work independently rather than in a research group.
In science, engineering and technical disciplines, you are more likely to see specific projects advertised, either with funding or without. These may be part of a wider research project the potential supervisor is funded for. PhD students in these disciplines are most likely to work as part of a research group, with other PhD students, postdoctorates and academics.
You will work with a supervisor and you may also be part of a research group - more usual in science and engineering subjects. You may also be part of a cohort of PhD students if your PhD is delivered through a Doctoral Training Centre. Your working relationship with your supervisor is very important.
At the end of your PhD, after you have submitted your thesis, you will usually have a PhD viva, which is an oral examination on your thesis with one or two examiners, usually academics from your own university, and from another university to provide balance. This generally lasts a couple of hours and should be an interesting discussion about your research and your thesis, between yourself and the examiners. At the end of it, or soon after, you will be told if you have passed, or passed with 'minor corrections' (this is most common), or if there is more work you need to do before resubmitting your thesis. The successful completion and award of a PhD is a reason for great celebration!
Think Postgrad:
Undertaking a PhD represents an enormous commitment and does not suit everyone, however attractive the prospect of gaining a doctorate may seem. You are advised to discuss all aspects of the PhD with potential supervisors before applying, and if you are unsure whether it is right for you, to consider taking a Masters with a substantial research element first, to give you an indication of whether you enjoy research and can imagine yourself working on a project for 3 or 4 years.
You can start looking now for PhD opportunities with funding on PostgraduateStudentships.