Routes into Research – Doctorate Degrees

What is a Doctorate?

A PhD, also known as a Doctorate of Philosophy, is a three year (when studied full-time) research degree that involves a large amount of independent research, and usually concludes with completing a thesis and a viva voce, which is a speaking examination that invites you to discuss and defend your thesis with an internal and external examiner.

Some PhD course do include taught components, however you are normally assessed based on your research findings and how you present and then defend your thesis, as opposed to your performance in the classroom.

Most universities in the UK require students to have undertaken a Masters degree before they are admitted onto a PhD degree. Some universities will also have minimum entry requirements for both your undergraduate and previous postgraduate degrees. There are some universities that will admit students who do not have a postgraduate degree, such as those who have professional experience in their research field.

A PhD can normally be broken down into three separate elements. If you are studying full-time then these elements will likely each take up a whole year of your degree.

In the first year you tend to discuss and finalise your research proposal with a supervisor before submitting a literature review. This literature review allows you to assess the research content that already exists in your field to ensure that your ideas will be original and worthy of the time and effort.

In your second year you will start to focus on your independent research a lot more, you will be collecting and analysing results and starting to formulate your thesis themes.

In your third year you will mainly focus on finishing your research project and collating the results and analysis in your thesis. Once you have gone through your thesis with your supervisor and they have approved it, you will submit it for evaluation. You will then take part in your viva voce, which is the final examination of your PhD.

What types of Doctorate exist?

There are several viable ways of getting into a research degree, some of them are more popular than others. Below is a list of the options for routes into research, with an explanation of what they are and who each option might suit.

Thesis PhD

The most common route into research, the PhD by thesis is a doctorate degree that culminates in completing your research proposal an taking part in a viva voce. You will be supported through your research proposal by your PhD supervisor, who will also provide help with your viva preparation.

A research thesis is usually between 60,000 and 90,000 words, and normally includes the references, bibliography and appendices in this word count/limit. Different universities approach this differently, with some treating it as a firm limit, and others being more relaxed.

Publication PhD

To earn a PhD by publication you will need to submit some of your previous work that has already been published. These can include journal articles, books and book chapters. This route is most commonly pursued by academics who are further down their career journey, but haven’t gained a thesis PhD.

Depending on the university that will be awarding your PhD, you normally need around 5-10 pieces of published research work, which will be assessed in the same way that a thesis is. You will also be required to submit a supporting statement to an committee of academics. You will have a supervisor that will help you through this process.

Online PhD

Online PhDs are becoming increasingly popular, and therefore are being offered by more and more universities. The fact that doctorate degrees are based entirely on research, and do not require attendance at lectures and seminars, means that they can be easier to complete by distance learning.

Online doctorate degrees are perfect for students who have professional or personal commitments that get in the way of pursing a traditional or on-campus PhD, or those who are looking to study at a university abroad without moving away from home. Although you will be in touch with your supervisor(s) mainly by phone, email and video conferencing, you might need to attend some on-campus meetings, depending on your university and their requirements.

Integrated PhD

Also known as the ‘New Route PhD’, an integrated PhD means doing a one year research postgraduate degree (MRes) before moving straight on to a three year PhD degree. Currently the integrated PhD path is offered by a few select universities around the UK, and is supported by the government and the British Council through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Because this route involves an MRes, it consists of taught and research based modules, which means that there are requirements for attendance at on-campus lectures and seminars.

Professional Doctorate

Pursued mainly by professionals in various fields, a professional doctorate involves a large amount of taught modules and a smaller research project. This route is mostly pursued as a part-time course alongside work commitments, and can last between 2 and 8 years.

There are several professional doctorate types that are accredited by a professional body, such as the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the British Psychological Society (BPS), which can allow you to work within the fields that require professional qualifications from these bodies.

Search for masters courses.

Search for online courses.