What is a PhD?

‘A PhD is a globally recognised postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities to a candidate who has submitted a thesis based on extensive and original research in their chosen field.’

Sounds about right! It is however, three years, minimum, of solitary hard work. You will become the world expert in a minute area of original research. You are making an original contribution to knowledge.

There is a lot of humour based around the PhD experience. I once read, I can’t recall where. When you study for a PhD you: –

Get divorced
Lose all your friends
Become unemployable
You can only talk to a limited number of people

All- joking aside, here is the first piece of good advice. You must love your chosen field of research. As you are going to eat, drink and breathe this for at least three years and you will be expected to be able to talk about it enthusiastically for the rest to your life!

Here is the first warning! The most common mistake most students make is to write a PhD proposal in isolation. Without any thought of a university who may be interested in your area of research. Invariably, the proposal is sent to a university and sometimes you may never receive a response or a polite letter in three to six months’ time, thanking you for your proposal stating this is not of interest.

Second piece of advice; search for a university that has a faculty and potential supervisors in your chosen area of study. They often publish their active research and state that they are looking for PhD students to study in a related area.

If you find this, you have found gold! You then write your proposal based on the university’s area of interest.

Here is an example using the University of Cardiff which is a research university

‘We’re ranked 2nd nationally for the impact of our research and are among the top 5 universities in the UK for research excellence.’

Look for research institutes using the University of Cardiff as an example.

Entry requirements
Most UK university entry requirements are a first-class honour or strong upper second (2:1) undergraduate degree (Level 6) from a recognised university and a Master’s Degree (Level 7) Distinction with IELTS score of 7 in all areas. These requirements are not sacrosanct as work experience may waive some thresholds. Example; some universities may waive the IELTS requirement if you have studied previously in a UK University.

Duration of study
A PhD is designed to be completed in three to four years of dedicated, full-time study.

International students are not permitted to study PHD on part-time.

Choosing an area of Research
Most students select an area of research that relates to their undergraduate and postgraduate areas of concentration. This makes sense, as this is what they know and it is within their area of interest. A good tip to ensure that your interests align with that of the Department, Faculty, Institute and or Research Group of interested. This information is always available on their website for review. For example, recently a student approached WSA with a PhD proposal in Fine Arts. We approached the University of Falmouth, who are Art and Design specialists based in the County of Cornwall in the South-West of England. They thanked us for considering them and emphasized that ‘PhDs will need to align with Falmouth’s areas of research which are Digital Economy, Smart Design and Creative Connected Communities’.
The moral of the story is to identify a university you would like to work within and search their website to find out what areas of research they are interested in. If you match your proposal to their departmental interests and strengths, you increase your chances of being accepted.

PhD proposal
One thing to bear in mind is that, for your application to be accepted, the university has to have an interest in your intended research area and must have academics available to supervise you. This is not like a taught Master’s application with entry criteria A, B and C, and either you meet the entry requirements or you don’t. Each university will have its own way of asking for the key components of a PhD proposal.  In essence, the components they’ll be looking for you to satisfy are: –

  • Bio detail (maybe in a CV)
  • All qualifications Proof of English Referees
  • A research title and proposal outlined in the following order;
    • Introduction
    • Background to the study
    • Statement of the problem
    • Significance of the study
    • Research questions and objectives
    • Conceptual framework to the study
    • An outline of the proposed methodology/design, including information on the research sample and methods of data collection
    • Brief literature review
    • An indicative bibliography or references
    • One may include a brief plan of how the research would be carried out within three years (Gantt charts) is a possible tool to us

WSA is facilitating with PhD applications in all disciplines. Science, engineering, business, social science, humanities, law, medicine, arts and more.

Click here, to download a free copy of ‘Writing a good PhD proposal’

If you have any questions, please use the Student Support Centre WhatsApp number or the enquiry form.

We look forward to hearing from you.

World Student Advisors
Student Support Centre
 +44 7756 295 943

Edited by: Millicent Makonese, Director for Zimbabwe

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