PhD in UK – Your Complete Guide

PhD in UK is one of the most popular choices for research among international students as UK offers great career opportunities in academia and other fields. The UK research programmes are innovative and world-leading, with a modern approach to doctoral training and generous funding available to students from all backgrounds. The universities in the UK carry out research in all major subject areas with increasing investment in areas such as AI, Machine Learning and Biotechnology.

The Ph.D. research in the UK is structured around a research project chosen by the applicant in their area of interest. Students are required to conduct independent and original research in the chosen field/ project under the supervision of a professor. Some PhD projects are advertised by universities with set aims and objectives. Other PhD projects are designed by students who put forward a research proposal for the work they would like to do.

PhD degrees in UK

There are mainly two types of doctorate qualification:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD or DPhil) is the most common and familiar form of doctoral qualification. It’s undertaken while registered at a higher education institution and assessed through a thesis or portfolio based on your extended research. An increasing proportion of PhDs are through structured doctoral training programmes and/or involve collaboration with business or other organisations.

Professional or practice-based doctorates (EdD, DBA, DSocSci, DProf, etc) may be the choice of mid-career professionals as continuing professional development or as a means to alter their professional trajectory. They may also be undertaken earlier in a career as a means of gaining specific skills. These programmes are normally located in the work environment of a doctoral candidate’s profession or related to their area of practice. For example, they are often undertaken by artists, musicians and health professionals. Sometimes linked to a license to practice, they are designed to meet the needs of that profession. They normally include a structured period of initial research training and the assessed outputs may include practice-based materials, as well as a written commentary or thesis.

It is also possible to undertake a master’s in research. The most common qualifications are:

Master of Philosophy (MPhil): Usually a two-year (full-time) degree, some institutions initially register their doctoral candidates for this degree and undertake a formal upgrade to the doctorate after 12-18 months

Research Masters (MRes): This is specifically designed as a course to prepare students for doctoral research.

Structured PhD Programs Vs Individual Doctoral Studies

Individual Doctoral Studies 

It is the most chosen study route by doctoral students. It is based on research carried out under the supervision of a professor and involves a thesis or dissertation that has to be produced at the end of the doctoral studies. You can complete this type of research at a university, a non-university research facility, or a company. In any case, a professor will supervise you and a thesis advisory committee may or may not be essential depending on the university norms.

Structured Ph.D. Programs

In this route, a doctoral student will be supervised by a professor and will attend courses, lectures, and seminars together with other doctoral students. In such PhD programs, a team of advisors in form of a thesis advisory committee offers regular and intense supervision to students. A structured interdisciplinary curriculum is to be followed which helps improving academic, scientific, and other soft skills.

PhD Supervision in UK

At the start of your degree, you’ll be partnered with at least one PhD supervisor. They will be an expert in your field with relevant experience of the kinds of material you intend to research and the methods you expect to use. It’s their job to guide your project and provide advice on the best direction for your research as you progress. Your supervisor will also support your professional development as a researcher and – potentially – as a future academician.

It’s actually common for students in the UK to have two supervisors:

Your primary supervisor provides expert academic advice on the best direction for your project and offers feedback on drafts and other work in progress. This person is sometimes referred to as a ‘director of studies’.

Your secondary supervisor provides more pastoral support and general mentoring. They may not be as close to your research, but will help with professional development and training.

Sometimes the split in supervisor roles and responsibilities isn’t as clear as this, with some students being co-supervised by two academics who both offer academic advice and more general support.

Length of PhD in UK

The length of a UK PhD is fairly standard. You’ll normally be expected to spend a maximum of three years researching towards your thesis, with most universities allowing students to extend for a fourth year if necessary. Around six to eight years are normally allowed for part-time PhDs (but, this option is not available to international students).

In the UK, the academic year runs from September to June, but the lack of formal teaching in British doctoral programmes means that PhD students can, in principle, start at any point in the calendar year. However, beware that your university may prefer a September start where possible in order to line up with induction and orientation.

Cost of PhD in UK

UK PhD fees range between £4,000 – 5,000 per year for UK students to between £15,000 – 20,000 (i.e. 15-20 lakhs) for international students. In addition, you need about £9,000 – £10,000 as living cost outside London and approximately £12,000 in London.

When to start PhD in UK

It’s a good idea to get started a year or so before you might want to begin your doctorate. Research funders and universities have varying timescales for their calls for applications. Entry to a UK doctoral programme may be available at any time of year, but many will start at the beginning of the academic year in October. It might be wise to gear your thinking and preparation towards such a starting time, i.e., about a year in advance of that. 

Application Process for PhD in UK

Step 1: Check whether you meet minimum eligibility requirements

Check the Program & Course website to ensure that you meet the academic requirements for the institution where you wish to study a doctorate in UK. 

Step 2: Draft a Research Proposal

The research proposal, submitted along with the application, outlines your intended research or explains your ideas in detail. It is fine to change or drift away from your original ideas after you have enrolled in your program.

Step 3: Find a supervisor

Search potential supervisors and go through their research expertise, published works, and contact details.

Step 4: University pre-application requirements

Most universities will ask applicants to identify and secure the support of a potential supervisor before they proceed to apply. However, some universities may not ask for this and instead ask applicants to submit a short description of their proposed area of research.

Step 5: Apply

If you have secured the support of a potential supervisor, you may check deadlines for UK universities and apply. You will need to nominate three referees to support your application.

Step 6: Receive an outcome

Applications usually take between 6-8 weeks to assess, or longer if you are applying for a scholarship. All communications, including application outcomes, are sent to your email account.

PhD Funding in UK

Funding for a doctorate (including fees and living expenses) can come from one or more than one funding agencies, including the UK Research Councils, certain charities, industry, overseas governments or European Union initiatives. Funding can come from the universities’ own funds or a doctorate can be self-funded by the doctoral researcher or funded by their employer.

UK universities also receive additional funding to cover the costs of supervising doctorates from one of the national HE funding bodies (e.g., HEFCE – the Higher Education Funding Council for England).

How does PhD funding work?

The vast majority are public universities, meaning that they receive funding (including budgets for PhD studentships) from the UK Government. All British universities are free to pursue their own research objectives, but the amount of funding each institution receives is partly based on regular assessments of their performance as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Funding bodies support doctoral researchers in different ways: some will pay programme fees and also a stipend (i.e., to cover your living costs and expenses), some will only pay programme fees and others simply make a one-off award of some kind. Each funding body will have its own criteria for eligibility.

Types of PhD Salaries in UK

There are three types of PhD degree salaries:

  1. Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTAs): In exchange for a salary, you’ll be required to assist in the delivery of one or more courses over a number of years. This includes, but is not limited to, marking student tutorials, supervising lab experiments and providing support to undergraduates during office hours. Besides this, you may have to teach a small section of the course itself.
  2. Research Assistantships (RAs): In exchange for a salary, you assist a departmental professor with their research. In the ideal scenario, the professor you work with should also be your PhD supervisor and the research you’re asked to support should relate to your own doctoral project.
  3. Stipend via Studentship: A stipend is a non-repayable grant provided to doctoral students to help support their studies. A studentship covers a student’s tuition fees whilst a stipend covers a PhD student’s living costs. This includes outgoings such as rent, food, bills and basic travel. Unlike Graduate Teaching or Research Assistantships, stipends rarely have duties attached to them. The only expectation of receiving a stipend will be that you maintain continuous progress within your degree.

Post-Study Work Visa in UK

There’s great news for anyone considering studying in the UK, as the new Graduate Route visa officially opened on 1 July 2021.

Master’s graduates (and Bachelors graduates) can live and work in the UK for up to two years after the completion of their course.

PhD graduates can live and work in the UK for up to three years after completing PhD.

Family visa norms in UK

You can bring the following to the UK as your dependants: spouse, civil partner, unmarried partner (provided you have been living together for at least 2 consecutive years), children (under 18 years old).

Can I work in UK part-time during my studies?

Students can carry out paid work for up to 20 hours per week whilst researching for a PhD in UK. No restriction is applied to employment during holiday periods.

How can “Road to Abroad” help you?

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