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Thinking about a PhD


A PhD is the highest level of academic qualification in the UK and it involves three to four years of original research on a specific topic. 

If you're considering taking a PhD, our advice will help you investigate whether or not it is the right option for you. 

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What is a PhD?

There are different types of PhD, some related to particular professions, such as engineering and medicine, and some that include a first year of study at masters level.

Research degrees differ from taught degrees. You'll be expected to:

  • take responsibility for your own learning - no set course of study, curriculum, lectures or reading lists. 
  • work independently - there may be other researchers in your department or school, but you'll have different specialisms, so the 'camaraderie' of an undergraduate or masters group will be absent.

Why take a PhD?

Think seriously about your reasons for taking a PhD as research degrees are rewarding, but tough. 

Good reasons to take a PhD include

  • a genuine commitment to your research topic
  • enjoyment of the research process
  • knowing how and why it will enhance your career

Don't take a PhD because:

  • you don't want to leave university yet
  • you're unsure what you want to do
  • your boyfriend/girlfriend is staying in Nottingham

Download a copy of Should I do a PhD?


Applying for a PhD

There is no central admissions system for research degrees, as university departments advertise vacancies and receive applications. You may be approached directly by a supervisor who has a research grant and a vacancy - but this does not automatically mean the place is yours!

Generally, you will need to complete an application form and include a personal statement or an outline of your research proposal. If short-listed you may have to attend an interview and places are subject to securing funding.

Application processes will differ between academic disciplines. For example, for STEM subjects you may not be required to submit a research proposal. 


Cover your interest in the research area and your commitment to a PhD. Some typical questions:

  • What do you think a PhD entails?
  • Tell me what led to your interest in and about any work you have already done in this area
  • Why do you think you are suited to doing a PhD?

Funding your studies 

The main sources of funding in the UK are: government, research councils and charities. 

These methods of funding are highly competitive, subject to eligibility requirements and sometimes reserved for international students.

If you're concerned about how you would fund a PhD, you may want to consider taking a part-time PhD. These usually take about six years and if you've already started your career, may be part of your professional development. 

Find out about funding opportunities at Nottingham

Explore charitable sources through the Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Study - free access to UoN students


Useful websites


Books and leaflets

  • The PhD Application Handbook. Peter J Bentley, Open University Press
  • How to get a PhD. Estelle M Phillips and Derek S Pugh, Open University Press
  • Getting your PhD. Harriet Churchill and Teela Sanders, Sage Publications 


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