What is a PhD? Advice for PhD students

How long does it take to get a doctorate degree how do you get into grad school are you qualified to do a phd answers to these questions and more.

PhD, doctorate

What is a PhD?

A PhD, which stands for “doctor of philosophy”, is the most advanced academic degree. It’s earned through extensive research on a specific topic, demonstrating expertise and contributing new knowledge to the field.

What does “PhD” mean?

The term “PhD” is often used as a synonym for any doctoral-level qualification. Doctorate degrees can often be split into two categories: MPhil and PhD.

An MPhil is similar to a PhD as it includes a research element (which is usually shorter and less in-depth than a PhD thesis, and often more akin to a dissertation undertaken at undergraduate or master’s level). 

MPhil students focus more on interpreting existing knowledge and theory and critically evaluating other people’s work rather than producing their own research. The precise nature and definition of an MPhil can vary among institutions and countries. 

A PhD, meanwhile, follows a more widely known and traditional route and requires students, often referred to as “candidates”, to produce their own work and research on a new area or topic to a high academic standard.

PhD requirements vary significantly among countries and institutions. The PhD, once completed, grants the successful candidate the title of “doctor of philosophy”, also called PhD or DPhil.

What is a professional doctorate?

A professional doctorate is a kind of degree that helps people become experts in their fields. Instead of focusing mainly on theory and research like a regular PhD, a professional doctorate is all about practical skills and knowledge.

This kind of doctorate is great for students who want to get better at their jobs in areas like teaching, healthcare, business, law or psychology. The courses and projects in these programmes are designed to tackle real problems you might face at work.

For example, you might have heard of the doctor of education (EdD), doctor of business administration (DBA), doctor of psychology (PsyD) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP). These programmes combine learning, hands-on projects and sometimes a thesis paper or essay to show you’re skilled at solving on-the-job challenges.

How long does it take to study a PhD?

The time required to complete a PhD can vary significantly based on several factors. Generally, a full-time PhD programme takes around three to six years to finish. However, it’s important to take into account individual circumstances and the nature of the research involved.

1. Full-time vs. part-time: If you’re studying full-time, dedicating most of your time to your studies, it usually takes about three to four years to complete a PhD. However, studying part-time while managing other commitments might extend the duration. Part-time PhDs can take around six to eight years, and sometimes even longer.

2. Nature of research: The complexity of your research proposal can influence the time required. Certain research questions may involve intricate experiments, extensive data collection or in-depth analysis, potentially leading to a longer completion timeline.

3. Field of study: The subject area you’re researching can also affect the necessary time. Some fields, such as sciences or engineering, might involve more hands-on work, while theoretical subjects might require more time for literature review and analysis.

4. Supervision and support: The guidance and availability of your academic supervisor can affect the pace of your research progress. Regular meetings and effective communication can help keep your studies on track.

5. Thesis writing: While the research phase is crucial, the stage of writing your thesis is equally significant. Organising and presenting your research findings in a clear and cohesive manner can take several months.

6. External commitments: Personal commitments, such as work, family or health-related factors, can influence your study time. Some students need to balance these alongside their PhD studies, potentially extending the duration.

7. External Funding: The availability of funding can also affect your study duration. Some funding might be linked to specific project timelines or research objectives.

So, although a PhD usually takes between three and six years of full-time study, with potential variations based on research complexity, enrolment as part-time or full-time, field of study and personal circumstances. It’s vital to have a realistic understanding of these factors when planning your PhD journey.

How long is a PhD in the UK?

In the UK, the length of a PhD programme typically ranges from three to four years of full-time study. As explained above, there are many factors to consider.

How long is a PhD in the US?

Similarly to the UK, in the United States, the duration of a PhD programme can vary widely depending on the field of study, research topic and individual circumstances. On average, a full-time PhD programme in the US typically takes between five and six years to complete.

Why does it take longer to study a PhD in the US?

PhD programmes generally take longer to complete in the US than in the UK due to various factors in the education systems and programme structures of each country:

1. Programme structure: UK PhD programmes often emphasise early, focused research from the first year, leading to shorter completion times. In contrast, US programmes commonly include more initial coursework in your first and second year and broader foundational training, which can extend the overall duration.

2. Course work requirements: Many US PhD programmes require a lot of course work, which can lengthen the time needed to finish. UK programmes tend to have fewer or no course work demands, allowing students to concentrate primarily on research skills.

3. Research funding: In the UK, PhD funding is often awarded with specific timeframes in mind, motivating completion of the research degree in the agreed duration. In the US, funding approaches can vary, requiring students to secure funding from multiple sources, potentially affecting their progress and completion time.

4. Teaching responsibilities: Some US PhD students take on teaching roles as part of their funding, dividing their time and potentially prolonging their studies.

5. Research approach: Differences in research methodologies and project scopes can affect the time needed for data collection, experimentation and analysis.

6. Academic culture: The US education system values a well-rounded education, including coursework and comprehensive exams. This can extend the time before full-time research begins. UK PhD programmes often prioritise independent research early on.

7. Part-time and work commitments: US PhD candidates might have more flexibility for part-time work or other commitments, which can affect research progress.

8. Dissertation requirements: US PhD programmes generally include a longer and more comprehensive dissertation, involving more chapters and a broader exploration of the research topic.

These variations in programme structures, funding models and academic cultures contribute to the differing completion times between the two countries.

What qualifications do you need for a PhD?

To be eligible for a PhD programme, certain educational qualifications are generally expected by universities. These qualifications serve as indicators of your readiness to engage in advanced research and contribute to the academic community.

First, an undergraduate or bachelor’s degree in a relevant field is typically the most common requirement. This degree provides you with a foundational understanding of the subject and introduces you to basic research methodologies. It serves as a starting point for your academic journey.

Do you need a master’s degree to get into a PhD programme?

In addition to an undergraduate degree, many PhD programmes also require candidates to hold postgraduate or master’s degrees, often in fields related to the intended PhD research. A master’s degree offers a deeper exploration of the subject matter and enhances your research skills. Possessing a master’s degree signifies a higher level of expertise and specialisation.

The combination of both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees demonstrates a solid academic background. This background is crucial before you engage in doctoral study because pursuing a PhD involves more than just knowledge; it requires advanced research abilities, critical thinking and the capacity to provide an original contribution and new insights into the chosen field of study.

While these qualifications are usually requested, there are exceptions. Some institutions offer direct-entry programmes that encompass bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees in a streamlined structure. This approach is often seen in scientific and engineering disciplines rather than humanities.

In exceptional cases, outstanding performance during undergraduate studies, coupled with a well-defined research proposal, might lead to direct entry into a PhD programme without requiring a master’s degree.

Admission requirements can vary between universities and programmes. Some institutions might have more flexible prerequisites, while others could have more stringent criteria. Make sure that you thoroughly research all admission requirements of the PhD programmes you’re interested in to ensure you provide the right information.

Are PhD entry requirements similar in other countries?

PhD entry requirements in Canada and Australia can be somewhat similar to those in the UK and the US, but there are also some differences. Just like in the UK and the US, having a bachelor’s degree followed by a master’s degree is a common way to qualify for a PhD in Canada and Australia. However, the exact rules can vary, such as how much research experience you need or the grades you should have.

In Canada and Australia, as in the UK and the US, international students usually need to show their English language skills through tests like IELTS or TOEFL. And, like in other places, you might need to give a research proposal to explain what you want to study for your PhD.

But remember, even though there are some similarities, each country has its own rules.

PhD diary: Preparing for a PhD Nine things to know before doing a PhD Women in STEM: undertaking PhD research in cancer Studying for a part-time PhD: the challenges and the benefits Is it possible to do a three-year PhD as an international student? Looking for PhD tips? Why not check Twitter PhD diary: Where do I begin? How to do a PhD on a budget

How much does it cost to study a PhD?

The cost of pursuing a PhD can vary significantly between international and home (domestic) students, and it depends on the country, university and programme you choose.

United Kingdom (UK)

Home students in the UK often pay lower tuition fees compared with international students. Home students might also have access to government funding or subsidised tuition rates.

International students typically pay higher tuition fees, which can vary widely depending on the university and programme. Fees can range from around £10,000 to £25,000 or more per year.

United States (US)

PhD programme costs in the US can be quite high, especially for international students. Public universities often have lower tuition rates for in-state residents compared with out-of-state residents and international students.

Private universities in the US generally have higher tuition fees, and international students might be charged higher rates than domestic students.

Canadian universities often charge higher tuition fees for international students compared with domestic students.

Some universities offer funding packages that include tuition waivers and stipends for both domestic and international doctoral students.

In Australia, domestic students (Australian citizens and permanent residents) usually pay lower tuition fees than international students.

International students in Australia might have higher tuition fees, and costs can vary based on the university and programme.

Apart from tuition fees, other aspects play a role in the overall financial consideration:

PhD studentship: Many universities offer PhD studentships that provide financial support to research students, covering both tuition fees and a stipend for living expenses.

Stipend and housing: Stipends are designed to cover living expenses. Stipend amounts can vary depending on the university and location. If you’re studying in London in the UK, stipends might be higher to account for the higher living costs in the city. Some universities also offer subsidised or affordable housing options for doctoral students.

Tuition and stipend packages: Some PhD programmes provide funding packages that include both tuition waivers and stipends. These packages are to help relieve the financial burden on students during their doctoral studies.

Research the financial support options provided by the universities you’re interested in to make an informed decision about the cost of your PhD journey.

What funding options are available for PhD candidates?

PhD candidates have various funding options available to support their studies and research journeys. Some of these options include:

PhD scholarships: Scholarships are a common form of financial aid for PhD candidates. They are awarded based on academic merit, research potential or other specific criteria. Scholarships can cover tuition fees and provide a stipend for living expenses.

Bursaries: Bursaries are another form of financial assistance offered to students, including PhD candidates, based on financial need. They can help cover tuition fees or provide additional financial support.

In the UK, specific funding options are available:

Regional consortium: Some regions have research consortiums that offer funding opportunities for doctoral candidates. These collaborations can provide financial support for research projects aligned with specific regional needs.

UK research institute: Research councils in the UK often offer stipends to PhD candidates. These stipends cover living expenses and support research work.

University-based studentship: Many UK universities offer studentships. You can read more about these above.

In the USA, there are also funding options available:

Research assistantships (RAs): Many universities offer research assistantships where PhD candidates work on research projects under the guidance of faculty members. In exchange, they receive stipends and often have their tuition waived.

Teaching assistantships (TA): Teaching assistantships involve assisting professors in teaching undergraduate courses. In return, PhD candidates receive stipends and sometimes tuition remission.

Fellowships: Fellowships are competitive awards that provide financial support for PhD candidates. They can come from universities, government agencies, private foundations and other institutions. Fellowships can cover tuition, provide stipends and offer research or travel funds.

Graduate assistantships: Graduate assistantships include a range of roles, from research and teaching to administrative support. These positions often come with stipends and sometimes include tuition benefits.

External grants and fellowships: PhD candidates can apply for grants and fellowships from external organisations and foundations that support research careers in specific fields. Examples include the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Fulbright Programme.

Employer sponsorship: In some cases, employers might sponsor employees to pursue PhDs, especially if the research aligns with the company’s interests.

You can read about the current available scholarships for international students of all education levels on our website .

What does a PhD Involve?

How does a PhD work?

A PhD includes thorough academic research and significant contributions to your chosen field of study. The timeline for completing a PhD can significantly vary based on the country, college or university you attend and the specific subject you study.

The duration of a PhD programme can vary based on factors such as the institution’s requirements and the academic discipline you’re pursuing. For instance, the timeline for a PhD in a science-related field might differ from that of a humanities discipline.

UK PhD timeline example

Looking at a typical PhD degree in a London higher education institution, we can consider this example timeline.

In the initial year of your PhD, you’ll collaborate closely with your designated academic supervisor. This collaboration involves refining and solidifying your research proposal, which lays the foundation for your entire doctoral journey.

This is also the time to establish a comprehensive plan, complete with well-defined milestones and deadlines. A crucial aspect of this year is conducting an extensive literature review, immersing yourself in existing academic works to understand the landscape of your chosen research area. It’s important to make sure that your research idea is original and distinct from prior studies.

As you begin the second year, you’ll actively collect data and gather information related to your research topic. Simultaneously, you’ll initiate the process of crafting your thesis. This involves combining your research findings and analysis into sections of your thesis document.

This is also the phase where you might have opportunities to share your research insights at academic meetings, conferences or workshops. Depending on the programme, you might even engage in teaching activities. Some PhD candidates also begin contributing to academic journals or books, showcasing their findings to a broader audience.

The third year of a PhD programme often marks the final stage of your research efforts. This is when you dedicate substantial time to writing and finalising your complete thesis. Once your thesis is completed to the highest standard, you’ll submit it for thorough evaluation.

A significant milestone in the third year is the viva voce, an oral examination where you’ll defend your thesis before a panel of experts in your field. The viva voce is an opportunity to showcase your deep understanding of your research and defend your findings.

Why should you do a PhD?

For many people, acquiring a doctorate degree is the pinnacle of academic achievement, the culmination of years of commitment to higher education.

However, the act of pursuing a PhD can be a complex, frustrating, expensive and time-consuming exercise. But with the right preparation, some sound advice and a thorough understanding of the task at hand, your years as a doctoral student can be some of the most rewarding of your life. 

People choose to work towards a doctorate for many reasons. If you are looking to pursue an academic position, such as university lecturer or researcher, then a PhD is usually required.

Many people obtain a PhD as part of a partnership with an employer, particularly in scientific fields such as engineering, where their research can prove useful for companies.

In some cases, however, PhDs are simply down to an individual’s love of a subject and their desire to learn more about their field.

What are some benefits of studying a PhD?

Pursuing a PhD can have many benefits that extend beyond academic achievement, encompassing personal growth, professional advancement and meaningful contributions to knowledge.

One of the most notable benefits of a PhD is the potential for tenure in academia. Attaining tenure provides a level of job security that allows you to delve into long-term research projects and make enduring contributions to your field. It signifies a stage where you can explore innovative ideas and pursue in-depth research, fostering your academic legacy.

While not obligatory, the opportunity to collaborate on research projects with your supervisor is another valuable aspect of a PhD pursuit. These collaborations might even come with financial compensation, offering real-world experience, skill development and practical applications of your research. Engaging in such collaborations can enrich your research portfolio and refine your research methodologies.

A pivotal aspect of a PhD journey is the chance to publish your original research findings. By disseminating your work in academic journals or presenting it at conferences, you contribute to the expansion of knowledge within your field. These publications establish your expertise and reputation among peers and researchers worldwide, leaving a lasting impact.

The pursuit of a PhD can provide a unique platform to build a diverse network of colleagues, mentors and collaborators. Engaging with fellow researchers, attending conferences and participating in academic events offer opportunities to make valuable connections. This network can lead to collaborations, expose you to a spectrum of perspectives and pave the way for future research endeavours.

What is a PhD thesis? And what is a PhD viva?

A PhD thesis will be produced with help from an academic supervisor, usually one with expertise in your particular field of study. This thesis is the backbone of a PhD, and is the candidate’s opportunity to communicate their original research to others in their field (and a wider audience).  PhD students also have to explain their research project and defend their thesis in front of a panel of academics. This part of the process is often the most challenging, since writing a thesis is a major part of many undergraduate or master’s degrees, but having to defend it from criticism in real time is arguably more daunting.  This questioning is known as a “viva”, and examiners will pay particular attention to a PhD’s weaknesses either in terms of methodology or findings. Candidates will be expected to have a strong understanding of their subject areas and be able to justify specific elements of their research quickly and succinctly.

In rare cases, students going for a PhD may instead be awarded an MPhil if the academic standard of their work is not considered fully up to par but still strong enough to be deserving of a qualification.

Can you do a PhD part time? 

Many PhD and MPhil candidates choose to pursue their qualification part time, in order to allow time to work and earn while studying. This is especially true of older students, who might be returning to academia after working for a few years. 

When applying, you should always speak to the admissions team at your university to ensure this is possible and then continue to work with your supervisor to balance all your commitments. 

Can I do a PhD through distance learning?

This is something else that you will need to check with your university. Some institutions offer this option, depending on the nature of your research. 

You will need to be clear how many times you will need to travel to your university to meet with your supervisor throughout your PhD. 

Your PhD supervisor

Choosing the right PhD supervisor is essential if you want to get the most out of your PhD. Do your research into the faculty at the institution and ensure that you meet with your proposed supervisor (either virtually or in person) before fully committing. 

You need to know that not only do they have the right expertise and understanding of your research but also that your personalities won’t clash throughout your PhD. 

Remember, to complete your PhD, you will need a strong support network in place, and your supervisor is a key part of that network. 

Coping with PhD stress

If you do decide to embark on a doctorate, you may well encounter stress and anxiety. The work involved is often carried out alone, the hours can be long and many students can suffer from the pressure they feel is on their shoulders.

Ensuring that you check in regularly with your emotions and your workload is crucial to avoid burnout. If you have other commitments, such as a job or a family, then learning to balance these can feel overwhelming at times. 

Give yourself regular breaks, speak to your supervisor and ensure that you know what university resources and support systems are available to you in case you need to access them. 

Post-doctorate: what happens after you finish your PhD?

Many PhD graduates pursue a career in academia, while others will work in industry. Some might take time out, if they can afford to, to recover from the efforts of PhD study.

Whatever you choose to do, undertaking a PhD is a huge task that can open up a range of doors professionally. Just remember to take some time out to celebrate your achievement. 

How does a PhD affect salary and earning potential?

How much does a professor with a PhD make a year?

Professors with PhDs can earn different amounts depending on where they work and their experience. In the UK, a professor might make around £50,000 to £100,000 or more each year. In the US, it's between about $60,000 and $200,000 or even higher. The exact salary depends on things like the place they work, if they have tenure, and what they teach.

How much does a PhD add to salary?

Having a PhD can make your salary higher than if you had a lower degree. But exactly how much more you earn can change. On average, people with PhDs earn more than those with bachelor’s or master’s degrees. The increase in salary is influenced by many things, such as the job you do, where you work and what field you’re in.

In fields such as research, healthcare, technology and finance, your knowledge and skills from your PhD can potentially help you secure a higher salary position.

In the end, having a PhD can boost your earning potential and open doors to well-paying jobs, including professorships and special roles in different areas. But the exact effect on your salary is influenced by many things, so ensure you weigh the cost against the benefit.

How to choose a PhD programme?

Choosing a PhD programme involves defining your research interest, researching supervisors and programme reputation, evaluating funding options, reviewing programme structure, considering available resources, assessing networking opportunities, factoring in location and career outcomes, visiting the campus if possible and trusting your instincts.

How can I find available PhD programmes?

You can find available PhD programmes by visiting university websites, using online directories such as “FindAPhD”, checking professional associations, networking with professors and students, following universities on social media, attending career fairs and conferences, contacting universities directly and exploring research institutes’ websites.

How to apply for a PhD programme?

To apply for a PhD programme:

Research and select universities aligned with your interests.

Contact potential supervisors, sharing your proposal, CV and references.

Prepare application materials: research proposal, CV, recommendation letters and a writing sample.

Ensure you meet academic and language-proficiency requirements.

Complete an online application through the university’s portal.

Pay any required application fees.

Write a statement of purpose explaining your motivations.

Provide official transcripts of your academic records.

Submit standardised test scores if needed.

Some programmes may require an interview.

The admissions committee reviews applications and decides.

Apply for scholarships or assistantships.

Upon acceptance, review and respond to the offer letter.

Plan travel, accommodation and logistics accordingly.

Remember to research and follow each university’s specific application guidelines and deadlines.

How to apply for a PhD as an international student?

Many stages of the PhD application process are the same for international students as domestic students. However, there are sometimes some additional steps:

International students should apply for a student visa.

Take language proficiency tests such as TOEFL or IELTS if required.

Provide certificates if needed to validate your previous degrees.

Show evidence of sufficient funds for tuition and living expenses.

Check if you need health insurance for your chosen destination.

Translate and authenticate academic transcripts if necessary.

Attend orientation sessions for cultural adaptation.

Apply for university housing or explore off-campus options.

Familiarise yourself with international student support services.

Ben Osborne, the postgraduate student recruitment manager at the University of Sussex explains in detail how to apply for a PhD in the UK .

Giulia Evolvi, a lecturer in media and communication at Erasmus University, Rotterdam explains how to apply for a PhD in the US .

Finally, Samiul Hossain explores the question Is it possible to do a three-year PhD as an international student?

Q. What is a PhD? A. A PhD is the highest level of academic degree awarded by universities, involving in-depth research and a substantial thesis.

Q. What does “PhD” mean? A. “PhD” stands for doctor of philosophy, recognising expertise in a field.

Q. What is a professional doctorate? A. A professional doctorate emphasises practical application in fields such as education or healthcare.

Q. How long does it take to study a PhD? A. It takes between three and six years to study a full-time PhD programme.

Q. How long is a PhD in the UK? A. It takes around three to four years to study a full-time UK PhD.

Q. How long is a PhD in the US? A. It takes approximately five to six years to complete a full-time US PhD.

Q. Why does it take longer to study a PhD in the US? A. US programmes often include more course work and broader training.

Q. What qualifications do you need for a PhD? A. You usually need an undergraduate degree as a minimum requirement, although a master’s might be preferred.

Q. Do you need a master’s degree to get into a PhD programme? A. Master’s degrees are preferred but not always required.

Q. Are PhD entry requirements similar in other countries? A. Entry requirements are similar in many countries, but there may be additional requirements. Make sure to check the university website for specific details.

Q. How much does it cost to study a PhD? A. The cost of PhD programmes vary by country and university.

Q. What funding options are available for PhD candidates? A. Scholarships, assistantships, fellowships, grants, stipends are all funding options for PhD candidates.

Q. What does a PhD involve? A. PhDs involve research, seminars, thesis, literature review, data analysis and a PhD viva.

Q. Why should you do a PhD? A. There are many reasons to study a PhD including personal growth, research skills, contributions to academia and professional development.

Q. What are some benefits of studying a PhD? A. Benefits of graduating with a PhD include achieving tenure, collaborations with colleagues, publication of your work, and networking opportunities.

Q. What is a PhD thesis? A. A PhD thesis is a comprehensive document that showcases the original research conducted by a PhD candidate.

Q. What is a PhD viva? A. A PhD viva, also known as a viva voce or oral examination, is the final evaluation of a PhD candidate’s research and thesis where the panel asks questions, engages in discussions and assesses the depth of the candidate’s understanding and expertise.

Q. Can you do a PhD part-time? A. Yes, part-time options are available for PhDs.

Q. Can I do a PhD through distance learning? A. Some universities offer online PhDs; you can find out more on their websites.

Q. How to choose a PhD programme? A. You can find PhD programmes through research, by contacting faculty, checking resources and considering location.

Q. How can I find available PhD programme? A. You can find available PhD programmes on university sites, through directories and by networking.

Q. How to apply for a PhD programme A. To apply for a PhD programme, research suitable universities and programmes, get in touch with potential supervisors, gather required documents like transcripts and reference letters, complete the online application, pay any necessary fees and submit a statement of purpose and research proposal. If needed, meet language-proficiency criteria and attend interviews. After acceptance, explore funding choices, confirm your spot and get ready for the programme’s start.

Q. How to apply for a PhD as an international student A. To apply for a PhD as an international student, follow similar steps to domestic students, but you need to include securing a student visa and passing language requirements.

Q. What is a PhD dropout rate? A. The dropout rate from PhDs varies but is approximately 30-40 per cent.

Q. How does a PhD affect salary and earning potential? A. A PhD can boost earning potential, especially in research, technology, healthcare and academia. Impact varies by job, industry and location. Experience, skills and demand also influence salary.

Q. How to address a person with a PhD? A. When addressing someone with a PhD, it’s respectful to use “Dr”, followed by their last name, whether they have a PhD in an academic field or a professional doctorate. For instance, “Dr. Smith”.

Q. Is there a difference between a PhD and a doctorate? A. The terms “PhD” and “doctorate” are often used interchangeably, though a PhD is a specific type of doctorate focused on original research. A doctorate can refer more broadly to any doctoral-level degree, including professional doctorates with practical applications.

Q. What is the difference between a PhD and an MD? A. A PhD is a doctor of philosophy, awarded for academic research, while an MD is a doctor of medicine, focusing on medical practice. They lead to different career paths and involve distinct areas of study.

Q. What is the difference between a PhD and a professional doctorate? A. A PhD is an academic research-focused degree, while a professional doctorate emphasises applying research to practical fields such as education or business. PhDs often involve original research, while professional doctorates focus on real-world application.

Q. What is the difference between UK and US PhDs? A. The difference between UK and US PhDs lies mainly in structure and duration. UK PhDs often have shorter durations and a stronger emphasis on independent research from an early stage. US PhDs typically include more initial coursework and broader foundational training before full-time research begins.

Q. What is the difference between a PhD student and a candidate? A. A PhD student is actively studying and researching in a doctoral programme, while a PhD candidate has completed programme requirements except for the dissertation and is close to completion.

Q. What’s the difference between a PhD and an EdD? A. A PhD and an EdD (doctor of education) differ in focus. A PhD emphasises research and academic contributions, while an EdD focuses on applying research to practical educational issues.

Q. What’s the difference between a PhD and a DBA? A. A PhD and a DBA (doctor of business administration) differ in purpose. A PhD emphasises theoretical research and academia, while a DBA is practice-oriented, aimed at solving real business problems.

Q. What’s the difference between a PhD and a PsyD? A. A PhD and a PsyD (doctor of psychology) differ in emphasis. A PhD focuses on research and academia, while a PsyD emphasises clinical practice and applying psychological knowledge.

Q. What’s the difference between a PhD and an LLD? A. A PhD and an LLD (doctor of laws or Legum doctor) are distinct. A PhD is awarded in various disciplines, while an LLD is usually an honorary degree for significant contributions to law.

Q. What’s the difference between a PhD and an MD-PhD? A. A PhD and an MD-PhD differ. An MD-PhD is a dual degree combining medical training (MD) with research training (PhD).

Q. What is the Cambridge PhD? A. A Cambridge PhD involves original research guided by a supervisor, resulting in a thesis. It’s offered at the University of Cambridge .

Q. What is the Oxford DPhil? A. An Oxford DPhil is equivalent to a PhD and involves independent research leading to a thesis. The term “DPhil” is unique to the University of Oxford .

Q. What is the PhD programme acceptance rate? A. PhD acceptance rates vary by university, field and competition. Prestigious universities and competitive fields often have lower acceptance rates.

Q. What is a PhD supervisor? A. A PhD supervisor guides and supports a student’s research journey, providing expertise and feedback.

Q. What is a PhD panel? A. A PhD panel evaluates a candidate’s research, thesis and oral defence. It consists of experts in the field.

Q. What is a PhD stipend? A. A PhD stipend is a regular payment supporting living expenses during research, often tied to teaching or research assistant roles.

Q. What is a PhD progression assessment? A. A PhD progression assessment evaluates a student’s progress, often confirming their continuation in the programme.

Q. What is a PhD defence? A. A PhD defence, or viva, is the final oral examination where a candidate presents and defends their research findings and thesis before experts.

You may also like

Pursuing a PhD in neuroscience

.css-185owts{overflow:hidden;max-height:54px;text-indent:0px;} Pursuing a PhD in neuroscience

Luis Humberto Eudave Ramos

A pile of books and a cup of tea

Why study a PhD in English literature?

John Francis Davies

phd good idea finish line final few days

8 habits to help you get through your PhD

Shabana Khan

Register free and enjoy extra benefits

jobs.ac.uk - Great jobs for bright people

  • Skip to primary navigation
  • Skip to main content
  • Skip to primary sidebar
  • Skip to secondary sidebar
  • Skip to footer


What is a PhD and Why Should YOU do one?

male and female conducting experiments in lab

In the UK, a PhD stands for ‘Doctor of Philosophy’, sometimes referred to as a ‘doctorate’. It is the highest level of degree that a student can achieve. At some institutions, including Oxford University, a Doctor of Philosophy is known as a DPhil. It is distinct from professional doctorates such as an Engineering Doctorate (EngD).

Entry requirements

An undergraduate degree is a minimum requirement and many will also require a master’s degree (such as an MA, MSc or MRes). Some scholarships will be on a 1+3 basis, which is one year of a master’s plus three years of PhD funding.

How to apply for a PhD

Prospective students are usually expected to submit a research proposal to the department they wish to undertake their study in. Some departments will encourage students to discuss their ideas with an academic working in that field first. The proposal will outline what they intend their research to investigate, how it relates to other research in their field and what methods they intend to use to carry out their research. Some PhD’s however, particularly in the sciences, are advertised as studentships where the research aims are more prescriptive.

How long is the course?

A PhD usually lasts three years (four for a New Route PhD – see below), or rather, any available funding usually lasts for that time. Students may be able to take extra time in order to complete their thesis but this will usually be at their own expense. For part-time, self-funded students, it can take up to seven years.

What’s involved

A PhD usually culminates in a dissertation of around 80,000-100,000 words , based on research carried out over the course of their study. The research must be original and aim to create new knowledge or theories in their specialist area, or build on existing knowledge or theories. Many departments initially accept students on an MPhil basis and then upgrade them to PhD status after the first year or two, subject to satisfactory progress. Students who are not considered to be doing work appropriate for the level can instead submit a shorter thesis and gain an MPhil.

There is little taught element, students are expected to work independently, supported by their department and a supervisor. There may be seminars to attend and/or lab work to complete, depending on the subject. During their study, students will try and get academic papers published and present their work at conferences, which will allow them to get feedback on their ideas for their dissertation.

New Route PhD

Introduced in 2001, the New Route PhD is a four-year programme that combines taught elements, including professional and transferable skills, with the student’s research. There are now hundreds of doctoral students studying a variety of subjects at a consortium of universities across the UK.

Career prospects for PhD Students

PhD graduates who go on to work in academia usually start off by undertaking postdoctoral research and then a fellowship or lectureship. Other career options will depend on what the PhD was in – commercial research is an option for some, and many are able to use their specialist knowledge and research skills in areas of business and finance.   

For a real insight into what it’s like to study at PhD level, see our vlog series ,  where we have invited students at various stages of their PhD and locations to film themselves over a month and share their videos with you.

Why do a PhD?

If you are considering doing one make sure that you do it with a purpose. Do one because you want to and know why you want to do it and have a clear idea of what  it could lead to .  How is doing a PhD going to help you achieve what you want to in your future?

Reasons to do a PhD.

  • It’ll be good for your career. No one expects you to have your whole career plan mapped out when you start a PhD, but having some ideas of where you want to get to can be useful. Be aware though that you may not get the career benefits of a PhD straight away.
  • You want to be an expert in a particular area of your subject. If you complete a PhD you will be. No-one, not your supervisor, not your external examiner at the end of your PhD, no-one, will know more about the subject you researched than you do.
  • You want to achieve something. You want to work hard and demonstrate a passion for your subject and show how much time and effort you put in and how motivated you are.
  • Showing your ability to motivate yourself is one of many skills you’ll be able to demonstrate to employers after doing a PhD, which is  handy for entering a competitive job market .

Reasons not to do a PhD.

  • Don’t do it just because your degree research project supervisor asked you if you wanted to do one with them. If you wanted to do one and it’s in an area that interests you then great, go for it. If you hadn’t thought about doing one before they asked, and you’re not sure why you want to do one, make sure you work that out before saying yes to them.
  • Don’t do it because you don’t know what else to do. Many people do a PhD because they don’t know what else to do and think it will give them time to work that out. Doing a PhD is a huge commitment, at least 3-4 years of your life, and hard work, so before you take one on, make sure you understand why.
  • And do it because YOU want to, not because your family, or others expect it of you, or because your family or friends are doing one, or have done one. Make it your decision, not someone else’s.

Why Should YOU Do A PhD?

It is your decision to commit to a significant period of time and work and it needs to be something you approach positively and with enthusiasm but also with realism about the pros and cons of undertaking original research.

Who does a PhD?

The idea of the “perpetual student”, i.e. someone who stays on after an undergraduate and/or masters degree, to do a PhD, is perhaps a traditional view of PhDs. Some of you reading this will fall into the category of those who work through the tiers of higher education in this sequential fashion (it does not necessarily make you a “perpetual student” though!). The PhD population today is very diverse and not made up entirely of 21 to 25-year-olds who have stayed in educational settings for the majority of their lives. Others may be considering a return to education in order to change your career or as part of your professional development within an existing career. Some of you may be considering coming to study in the UK independently or with support from an organisation in your home country. Whatever your situation it is very important that you take time to recognise and understand why you are making this commitment and what it entails.

Let us move to the positives of why YOU should do a Ph.D. Broadly, the positive reasons can be classified into:

You WANT to or You NEED to

Some academic colleagues were asked to give reasons why someone should do a PhD and all came back with statements that had the word “passion” in them. This is having a real passion for your subject and an area of it that you want to investigate further. My colleagues also offered some interesting comments on the reality of making a decision to do a PhD even when you have this passion. Some commented on the need to consider doing the right PhD for you and not just any PhD, and I think it is important that you take this seriously as it can be dangerous to compromise too far and embark on research that you are not interested in just because it will lead to a PhD.

Academic colleagues also wanted you to look ahead and consider where your PhD may take you. Do you want to continue in an academic career or apply for jobs in industry or other organisations where a PhD is a requirement or will help you to work at a different level? Interestingly, research on the career intentions of students, undertaken by Vitae revealed that less than one-third had firm career ideas even in the latter stages of their Ph.D. This statistic is concerning as it may mean that PhD students miss opportunities to add to their range of experience. You don’t need to have an exact career plan in place at the start of your Ph.D., but doing research on where it may take you is valuable. For those already in a career and undertaking a PhD as part of their professional development, or those who are viewing a PhD as part of a career change into academia, they should also look ahead and ensure that plans for the future are realistic and achievable.

A decision to undertake a PhD involves the same steps as any other career decision, you need to find out as much as possible about what a Ph.D. really involves. Alongside considering where your passions lie and where they might lead to, you need to research such things as:

  • The working environment and how you will adapt to any differences with your current situation
  • Working with a supervisor
  • What funding is available and what it covers, i.e. fees only or fees and living costs?
  • Most importantly what behaviours, skills and experiences YOU have that will make you a successful and productive researcher

These points and others are covered in more detail in 7 Ph.D Application Tips .

Find your PhD here

For further PhD tips see:

What Can You Do With a PhD?

Share this article

Reader Interactions

You may also like:.

' src=

20th August 2020 at 12:31 am

Excellent article. I am know more motivate to get a scholorship for my PHD program. I have to enhance my all effort because it’s not easy to get a fully funded, require more effort and time taken.

' src=

10th March 2022 at 9:58 am

Good morning,

Hope are well? I am thinking of gong for PHD. In any UK universities. Hope to hear from you soonest.

' src=

10th March 2022 at 1:08 pm

Cool, thanks for your advice. It’s an inspiration to let my “passion” be abroad. Best for you.

' src=

9th November 2022 at 8:33 pm

This article is timely and so educative. I’m now better informed on how to make a decision on going for my PhD. Thanks a lot.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Please enter an answer in digits: nineteen − five =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed .

what does phd give you

What is a PhD?

  • Types of Doctorates
  • A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest globally recognized postgraduate degree that higher education institutions can award.
  • PhDs are awarded to candidates who undertake original and extensive research in a particular field of study.
  • Full time PhD programmes typically last three to four years, whilst part time PhD programmes typically last six to seven years.
  • A PhD can lead to an academia teaching role or a career in research. A PhD can also equip you with skills suitable for a wide range of jobs unrelated to your research topic or academia.

Definition of a PhD – A Doctor of Philosophy (commonly abbreviated to PhD , Ph.D or a DPhil ) is a university research degree awarded from across a broad range of academic disciplines; in most countries, it is a terminal degree, i.e. the highest academic degree possible.

PhDs differ from undergraduate and master’s degrees in that PhDs are entirely research-based rather than involving taught modules (although doctoral training centres (DTCs) offer programmes that start with a year of lecture-based teaching to help develop your research skills prior to starting your project).

In most English-speaking countries, those that complete a PhD use the title “Doctor” (typically abbreviated to Dr) in front of their names and are referred to as such within academic and/or research settings. Those that work in fields outside of academia may decide not to use the formal doctor title but use post-nominal letters (e.g. John Smith PhD); it’s unusual though for someone to use both the Doctor title and post-nominal letters in their name.

PhD vs Doctorate

A PhD and a professional doctorate are both research-based terminal degrees.

However, where a PhD focuses on original research mostly around theoretical concepts, a professional doctorate focuses on examining existing knowledge to solve real-life, practical problems.

While there is much crossover between the two, a PhD is generally better suited for an individual to wants to advance the knowledge and understanding in their field, and a professional doctorate degree is better suited to a working professional who wants to better be able to apply knowledge and understanding to their field.

What Are the Entry Requirements for a PhD?

To be accepted on to a PhD programme, students usually need to hold at least a high ( 2:1 and above ) undergraduate degree that is related to the field of research that they want to pursue. A PhD candidate may also be expected to hold a Master’s degree , however, this does not mean you must have one, as it is still possible to enrol into a PhD without a Master’s .

Self-funded courses may sometimes be more relaxed in relation to entry requirements. It may be possible to be accepted onto a self-funded PhD programme with lower grades, though these students typically demonstrate their suitability for the role through professional work experience.

Whilst a distance learning project is possible , most PhD candidates will carry out their research over at least three years based at their university, with regular contact with two academic supervisors (primary and secondary). This is particularly the case for lab-based projects, however, some PhD projects require spending time on-site away from university (e.g. at a specialist research lab or at a collaborating institution abroad).

How Long Does a PhD Take?

Typically, full-time PhDs last 3-4 years and part-time PhDs last 6-7 years. However, at the discretion of the university, the thesis writing-up period can be extended by up to four years.

Although most doctoral programmes start in September or October, they are generally much more flexible than taught-courses and can start at any time of the year.

How Much Does a PhD Cost?

Tuition fees for UK and EU students vary between £3,000 and £6,000 per year, with the average tuition fee of £4,712 per year for 2023/24 programmes.

Tuition fees increase considerably for international students, varying between £16,000 to £25,000 per year, with an average tuition fee of £19,600 per year .

Nonetheless, most students will secure PhD funding in the form of studentships, scholarships and bursaries to help pay for these fees. These funding opportunities can either be partial, which cover tuition fees only, or full, which cover both tuition fees and living expenses.

UK national students can also apply for Doctoral Loans from Student Finance England if they are unable to secure funding.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

What Does a PhD Involve?

To be awarded a PhD, a doctoral student is required to produce a substantial body of work that adds new knowledge to their chosen field.

A PhD programme will typically involve four key stages:

Stage 1: Literature Review

The first year of a PhD involves attending regular meetings with your supervisors and carrying out a search on previously published work in your subject area. This search will be used to produce a literature review which should set the context of the project by explaining the foundation of what is currently known within the field of research, what recent developments have occurred, and where the gaps in knowledge are. In most cases, this will be an extension of your research proposal should you have produced one as part of your application. The literature review should conclude by outlining the overarching aims and objectives of the research project. This stage of setting achievable goals which are original and contribute to the field of research is an essential first step in a successful PhD.

The supervisor is the main point of contact through the duration of a PhD – but remember: they are there to mentor, not to teach, or do it for you . It will be your responsibility to plan, execute and monitor your own work as well as to identify gaps in your own knowledge and address them.

Stage 2: Research

The second year (and prehapse some of your third year) is when you work on your research. Having identified novel research questions from your review of the literature, this is where you collect your data to help answer these questions. How you do this will depend on the nature of your doctoral research: for example, you may design and run experiments in a lab alongside other PhD students or visit excavation sites in remote regions of the world. You should check in regularly with your supervisors to update them and run any ideas or issues past them.

Have the structure and chapters of your thesis in mind as you develop and tackle your research questions. Working with a view of publishing your work will be very valuable later on.

Stage 3: Write up of Thesis

The next key stage of a PhD is writing a doctoral thesis , which typically takes from anywhere between three months to one year. A thesis is a substantial body of work that describes the work and outcomes of the research over the previous two to three years. It should tell a detailed story of the PhD project – focusing on:

  • The motivations for the research questions identified from the literature review.
  • The methodologies used, results obtained, and a comprehensive analysis and discussion of the findings.
  • A detailed discussion of the key findings with an emphasis on the original contributions made to your field of research and how this has been impactful.

There is no universal rule for the length of a PhD thesis, but general guidelines set the word count between 80,000 to 100,000 words.

For your thesis to be successful, it needs to adequately defend your argument and provide a unique or increased insight into your field that was not previously available.

Stage 4: Attending the Viva

A viva voce , most commonly referred to as just a ‘ viva ‘, is an interview-style examination where the PhD student is required to engage in a critical appraisal of their work and defend their thesis against at least two examiners. The examiners will ask questions to check the PhD student has an in-depth understanding of the ideas and theories proposed in their thesis, and whether they have developed the research skills that would be expected of them.

The viva is one of the final steps in achieving a PhD, and typically lasts at least two hours, but this duration can vary depending on the examiners, the university and the PhD project itself.

Once you have done the viva – you’re on the home stretch. You will typically be asked to make some amendments to your thesis based on the examiner’s feedback. You are then ready to submit your final thesis for either:

  • PhD – If you pass the requirements you will be awarded a PhD degree (most common outcome),
  • MPhil – If you failed to meet requirements for a PhD, you may be downgraded to an MPhil degree (uncommon outcome),
  • Fail – No award is given, typically for cases of plagiarism (extremely uncommon outcome).

What Is It Like to Undertake a PhD?

We’re often asked what it is like to undertake a PhD study. Unfortunately, this isn’t a simple answer to this question as every research project is different.

To help give insight into the life of a PhD student, we’ve interviewed PhD students at various stages of their programmes and put together a series of PhD Student Interviews . Check out the link to find out what a PhD is like and what advice they have to offer you.

What Are the Benefits of A PhD?

A PhD is the highest globally recognised postgraduate degree that higher education institutions can award. The degree, which is awarded to candidates who demonstrate original and independent research in a particular field of study, is not only invaluable in itself, but sets you up with invaluable skills and traits.

Career Opportunities

First, a PhD prepares you for a career in academia if you wish to continue in this area. This takes form as a career in the Higher Education sector, typically as a lecturer working their way to becoming a professor leading research on the subject you’ve studied and trained in.

Second, a PhD also enables the opportunity for landing a job in a research & development role outside of the academic environment. Examples of this include laboratory work for a private or third sector company, a governmental role and research for commercial and industrial applications.

Transferable Skills

Finally, in possessing a PhD degree, you can show to employers that you have vital skills that make you an asset to any company. Three examples of the transferable skills that you gain through a PhD are effective communication, time management, and report writing.

  • Communication – presenting your work in written and oral forms using journal papers and podium presentations, shows your ability to share complex ideas effectively and to those with less background knowledge than you. Communication is key in the professional environment, regardless of the job.
  • Time management – The ability to prioritise and organise tasks is a tremendous asset in the professional industry. A PhD holder can use their qualification to demonstrate that they are able to manage their time, arrange and follow a plan, and stick to deadlines.
  • Report writing – Condensing three years of work into a thesis demonstrates your ability to filter through massive amounts of information, identify the key points, and get these points across to the reader. The ability to ‘cut out the waffle’ or ‘get to the point’ is a huge asset in the professional industry.

Aside from the above, you also get to refer to yourself as a Doctor and add fancy initials after your name!

What Can I Do After a PhD?

One of the most desirable postdoctoral fields is working within independent Research and Development (R&D) labs and new emerging companies. Both industries, especially R&D labs, have dedicated groups of PhD graduates who lead research activities, design new products and take part in crucial strategic meetings. Not only is this a stimulating line of work, but the average salaries in R&D labs and emerging start-ups are lucrative. In comparison, an undergraduate with five years of experience within their given field will, on average, likely earn less than a new PhD graduate taking on a R&D position.

It’s a common misunderstanding that PhDs only opens the door for an academic career such as university lecturers and training providers. Although obtaining a PhD opens these doors, the opportunities extend far beyond educational roles. In fact, recent data from the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) indicates only 23% of PhD graduates take a position in educational roles . This low percentage is primarily because PhD graduates have a wide range of skills that make them suitable for a broad spectrum of roles. This is being seen first hand by the increasing number of PhD graduates who are entering alternative roles such as research, writing, law and investment banking.

How Do I Find a PhD?

We appreciate that finding a PhD programme to undertake can be a relatively daunting process. According to Higher Education Student Statistics , over 22,000 PhDs were awarded in 2016/17 within the United Kingdom alone. Clearly there are a huge number of PhD programmes available. This can sometimes be confusing for prospective doctorates, particularly when different programmes are advertised in different places. Often, it is difficult to know where to look or where to even start. We’ve put together a list of useful sources to find the latest PhD programmes:

  • A great place to start is with our comprehensive and up-to-date database of available PhD positions .
  • Assuming you are still at university, speak to an existing PhD supervisor within your department.
  • Attend as many postgraduate open days as you can. Whilst there, speak to current PhD students and career advisors to get an awareness of what PhDs are on offer.
  • Visit the postgraduate section of university websites and the PhD Research Council section of the UKRI website.

Browse PhDs Now

Join thousands of students.

Join thousands of other students and stay up to date with the latest PhD programmes, funding opportunities and advice.

  • International edition
  • Australia edition
  • Europe edition

PhD graduate

Is a PhD the right option for you?

Too often starry-eyed students rush into a PhD without knowing what it entails or how useful it will be. Daniel K. Sokol discusses what you need to consider before taking the plunge.

  • PhD or no PhD, explore a range of exciting careers on Guardian Jobs

Embarking on a PhD is a big decision. Not only will it consume three to five years of your life but, in some UK institutions, the failure rate exceeds 40%. During that time, the 'great work' (ie the thesis) will hover above the candidate like the sword of Damocles, even in moments of supposed rest. So when students say they are thinking of doing a PhD, I ask them why.

For most jobs, a PhD is unnecessary. I, and many of my PhD friends, dropped the title soon after our release into the real world. The initial buzz of having Dr before your name dims with time, and using the title in a non-academic context exudes more than a whiff of self-importance.

People also equate the prefix with a medical degree. On a plane back from Australia one year, I heard the call dreaded by doctors and title-wielding PhDs alike: "is there a doctor on the plane?" Sensing that my knowledge of grounded theory would do little to assist the feverish passenger, my wife, a medical doctor, volunteered to save the day.

If future income is a consideration, a PhD is worth little more than a master's. According to Bernard Casey, who published a study on the economic contribution of PhDs, male PhDs earn 26% more than those who could have gone to university but did not. However, men with a master's degree earn almost as much, with a 23% increase. For women, the difference is smaller still. Variations also exist within individual disciplines. Casey concludes: "PhDs in social sciences, languages and arts do not enhance earnings significantly for either sex."

When I enrolled on my PhD, I didn't care about so distant an issue as future income. Armed with three years of funding, I cared only about my subject and pushing the frontiers of knowledge, however modestly.

Enthusiasm fills the heart of most prospective PhD students, but this enthusiasm can soon fade. The drop-out rate for PhDs is high. In the United States, only 57% of PhD students obtained their PhD 10 years after enrollment. In the humanities, the figure dropped to 49%. In my department, four of us enrolled on the PhD programme in medical ethics; two completed it. Contrary to popular belief, a PhD is not intellectually difficult but it calls for discipline and stamina.

A PhD, especially in the humanities, is a lonely affair. Days are spent alone in front of a computer. Antidotes to the common ailments known as PhD fatigue and PhD blues are, first, choosing a subject that can sustain interest for several years. Often students realise after a few months that their topic is not as gripping as initially believed. An additional consideration, when selecting a topic, is whether the choice will bolster an academic career. Some topics lie on the fringes of the field and may raise eyebrows in reviewers of articles and conference abstracts and in interviews for lectureships. An obscure PhD is also poor preparation for teaching a broad curriculum to undergraduate students.

The second antidote is choosing good supervisors. Knowledge aside, a good supervisor should be willing to devote time to the thesis. Beware the elusive professor, however stellar his or her reputation. It is worth talking to a supervisor's past or current PhD students before making your request.

Sadly, stories of disastrous PhD experiences abound. Unsupportive or bullying supervisors, lack of institutional support, late or radical changes of topic, poor advice, unfair viva voce examinations – the list of potential woes is long. So common are such problems that, after representing an aggrieved PhD student at an appeals hearing, I founded a service to help university students appeal unfair decisions. A frequent fault of students is allowing problems to grow rather than nipping them at the bud; early intervention is key. When I ask eager students their reasons for enrolling in a PhD programme, I do not seek to dissuade them. My own PhD experience, and those of countless others, was positive. Meetings with my supervisors were regular and enjoyable. The viva (or oral examination), which lasted three hours, went smoothly. Although academic jobs were scarce, I was lucky to obtain a lectureship immediately after the PhD. My thesis may even have contributed, microscopically, to the field.

Too often, however, starry-eyed students rush into a PhD program with scant knowledge of what it entails or how useful it will be in the future. The drop-out rate would be reduced, and much misery avoided, if prospective students possessed a more balanced view of the challenges, as well as the joys, of the PhD.

Daniel K. Sokol PhD is honorary senior lecturer in medical ethics at Imperial College and director of Alpha Academic Appeals

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional . To get more content and advice like this direct to your inbox, sign up for our weekly Careers update .

  • Guardian Careers
  • Career choices

Comments (…)

Most viewed.

The Savvy Scientist

The Savvy Scientist

Experiences of a London PhD student and beyond

PhD FAQs – A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Doctoral Study

what does phd give you

Tempted to do a PhD but have lots of questions? Hopefully this collection of popular PhD FAQs will help you to tick a few off the list!

Note – If you’re already sure that you want to do a PhD, and are looking for guidance on the applications process, check out my post on How to apply for a PhD which includes advice from successful PhD applicants. My post-PhD reflections on the things I regretted from my own PhD may be useful for you too, you can find that post here .

Let’s start with the absolute basics of PhDs!

What does PhD stand for?

PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy. Doctor of Philosophy ? No matter which subject area your PhD is in you’ll become a Doctor of Philosophy because philosophy derives from Greek to mean “Love of wisdom” which make a bit more sense.

What is a PhD?

A PhD is a type of research degree classified as a doctorate. You get a PhD by doing original research into a topic, typically for at least three years.

There are loads of other types of doctorate and a PhD is simply the most common. EngD is another which is relatively common for industry-funded engineering students here in the UK.

PhD & DPhil what’s the difference?

There is no real difference between a PhD and DPhil, they’re both Doctor of Philosophy qualifications. A small number of historic institutions in the UK such as Oxford and York offer DPhils but the degree itself is equivalent.

How common are PhDs amongst the population?

Approximately 1% of the working population (25-64 years old) have a PhD. This varies a lot by country:

what does phd give you

Can you call yourself Doctor with a PhD?

Yes you can. Though to avoid confusion with medical doctors, rarely will PhD-holders use the “Dr” title outside of their workplace.

Sometimes PhD-holders will add the abbreviation PhD after their name if they want to make it clear they are a non-medical doctor, for example “Jeff Clark PhD”.

What have I done about my title since getting my PhD? Nothing so far!

Why do a PhD?

Unlike a lot of other degrees, most PhD students get paid to study . Read more in the finances section below.

There are lots of potential reasons to want to do a PhD. The PhD students from our monthly PhD Profiles series said the following:

what does phd give you

Sara found research the most enjoyable part of her undergraduate degree and a PhD was a way to carry on with research.

what does phd give you

Ornob wants to pursue a career in evolutionary biology so began with a PhD in the field.

what does phd give you

Vivienne has aspirations to be a professor so a PhD is a job requirement to progress in academia.

what does phd give you

Jeff (me!) had an interest in the field and enjoyed research. I wrote a whole post with a deep dive on why I decided to do a PhD here .

what does phd give you

Floor had enjoyed research during her Masters and didn’t think that she wanted a career in industry, so decided to do a PhD.

It’s important to mention that you don’t need to have a desire to stay in academia to do a PhD. In fact, even if you do want to go into academia afterwards, it’s probably good to know early on just how competitive it can be. Many people sadly cannot make a career out of academia long term.

Enjoy the subject matter and want to spend a few years researching it? That is reason enough to do a PhD. I’ve also now written a whole post about the benefits of having a PhD .

Applying for a PhD

Do you need a masters degree to do a phd.

No you don’t necessarily need a Masters degree to do a PhD as long as you can demonstrate you’d be suitable for a PhD without it.

For a more in-depth answer see the separate post here :

Can You Get a PhD Without a Master’s?

If you don’t have a Masters, I’d recommend checking out Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) which offer combined Masters + PhD courses. We have discussed CDTs with a graduate in Floor’s post here .

What grades do you need to do a PhD?

Entry requirements for PhDs can vary. In regards to the UK system usually you’d generally be expected to have at least a 2:1 from your undergraduate degree, plus some research experience.

My experience : I (narrowly) got first class honours in my undergrad (MEng) which certainly does help. But if you can demonstrate aptitude in research you usually don’t need a 1:1. It would be expected for you to have done well in any research projects. If you can get your name on a publication then even better!

The easiest way to find out what is expected is to check the PhD advert for entry requirements. For details on applying for a PhD, including how to find PhD adverts, check out my guide here :

How to apply for a PhD

I work in industry, can I come back and do a PhD?

Absolutely! I worked for almost four years between finishing my first degree and starting my PhD.

A PhD is more similar to a job than any other point in your education, so if you’ve spent time in a structured role it can provide you with a good work ethic. If your time in industry adds relevant skills and experience to your application, even better!

I’ve met loads of people older than me who are pursuing PhDs. If it’s your dream, it’s never too late to start a PhD!

What is the social life of a PhD student like?

Let me get this out the way first: PhD students should be able to have a life outside of the lab! If a PhD student has no time away from research I would personally suggest that they were doing things wrong.

Even if you really enjoy your project, it is good for your mental health to have a social life!

No matter the size of your research group there are often departmental and university-wide events. Plus, besides everyone you may meet through your research and department, PhD students can still join societies and sports clubs through the students’ union. I spent one of my birthdays during my PhD on the beach in Morocco with the surf club, don’t let being a PhD student put your off getting involved!

Check out the full post I’ve written: Do PhD Students Have a Social Life? Sharing My Experiences Making Friends and Avoiding PhD Loneliness

If you do go on to do a PhD, make sure to make the most of all the opportunities ! Your time as a PhD student is fantastic for personal growth.

How much holiday do PhD students get?

Sadly unlike undergraduates, PhD students don’t follow fixed semesters. This means no more three month long summer holiday, sorry!

However most departments recommend PhD students take 7-8 weeks of holiday a year , which is more than practically any job outside of academia.

I kept track of all the time off I took during my PhD and you can find the details here , including a month by month breakdown:

Do PhD Students Get Holidays? Sharing How Much Annual Leave I Take

Getting a PhD

How much work is a phd.

For a month I tracked how many hours I was working and what I was working on, so you can see a breakdown of my calendar here . I found I was working for roughly 40 hours a week. Now that I’ve recently finished my PhD, I’d say that that amount of hours was pretty representative of the whole PhD.

How Much Work is a PhD?

I do of course know some people who worked much longer hours, but most PhD students were on a similar schedule to me. Working roughly 9-5 on weekdays. Treat it like a job and you’ll be fine. PhD students don’t need to be slaving away long hours.

I managed to be strict with my time, largely avoiding work late nights or going in at the weekends. One of the main perks of doing a PhD is that you have autonomy and can be flexible with when you work. As long as you get the work done, any reasonable supervisor won’t mind when you’re there.

Yes I’ve heard stories of PhD students having to clock in and out with an expectation that they spend a certain number of hours in the office. I personally think this is stupid and doesn’t build trust. Try to speak to current PhD students from the group when choosing a supervisor .

How is a PhD assessed?

What you submit at the end of your research varies between universities and countries. Sometimes it’s a thesis and other times it can be a bunch of published papers. In all situations you give some kind of presentation and answer questions about your work.

In the UK you usually submit a thesis in preparation for a viva voce . The viva is an oral exam where you discuss your research with several academics and at least one will be an expert in your field. My viva wasn’t as scary as I thought it might be, but nonetheless it was five hours ( FIVE HOURS! ) long. At the end of your viva you’ll get told the outcome of your PhD with any changes to be made to your thesis.

There is often no requirement , to publish your work in journals during a PhD in the UK but it does help.

In other countries you may have to publish a certain number to pass your PhD and effectively these can be submitted instead of the thesis. This approach makes much more sense to me.

How long does it take to get a PhD?

In the UK, typically between three and four years to complete your research and submit the thesis. It can then take a few months for the exam (viva voce) to take place and then for any corrections to the thesis to be made.

Nosey about my PhD? For me personally, I started the PhD on 1st October 2016, submitted my thesis on 17th February 2020, had the viva on 25th March, submitted my minor corrections on 30th March and had the email to say it was officiated on 1st April 2020. Yep, April Fool’s Day…

When you realise your degree certificate will forever say your PhD was awarded on April Fools Day! #academiclife @imperialcollege pic.twitter.com/hKsGFyuc0x — Jeff Clark (@savvy_scientist) April 14, 2020

We cover all the stages of a PhD here, including putting the length of a PhD in the perspective of a whole career:

How Long Does It Take To Get A PhD?

Are PhDs really difficult?

No, well not how you might think.

You don’t need to be a genius, but you do have to be smart with how you work. Here I go into how a PhD is pretty different to all the prior years spent in education:

How Hard is a PhD?

Check out my new post covering academic challenges and failures relating to my own PhD: Overcoming Academic Challenges and Failure During a PhD

Money-Related Questions

How much does a phd cost.

If you have funding, which is explained below, all your fees are paid for by the funding source. If you are looking to self-fund, then you’ll have to pay bench-fees/tuition fees, which are usually approximately £4,000 a year for home students in the UK.

Fees vary massively depending on both the country the PhD work takes place in and where you’re from. For example, I believe Australian universities charge around $100,000 in fees to overseas PhD students. Of course ideally you have funding which covers both this and pays a stipend!

Do PhD students pay taxes?

In the UK, PhD students do not pay income tax, national insurance, council tax and student loan repayments. This means that if you can secure funding, even though you may earn less than friends in typical jobs, you get to keep all your earnings!

Do PhD students get paid?

Most PhDs, at least in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) get a stipend: basically a tax-free salary.

How much do PhD students get paid?

At the time of writing, most PhD students in the UK get around £16,000 a year . Doesn’t sound like a lot, but:

  • As mentioned above, you don’t pay income tax, national insurance, council tax or make any student loan repayments. My most popular post is this one , comparing the income of PhD students vs grad jobs and the difference really isn’t that big. Plus it’s only for 3 to 3.5 years!
  • You’re getting paid to learn science, working on something you’re really interested in. It’s amazing.
  • You have a lot more freedom than practically any “proper job”.
  • You’re getting paid, to be a student…
PhD Salary UK: How Much Do PhD Students Get Paid?

In summary, PhD stipends are really not that different to grad starting salaries. Please don’t be put off from a PhD simply because for a few years you might be earning a bit less than if you were working in another job.

Depending on what you want to do with your career, having a CV may lead to higher salaries. What is 3 years of lower wages out of a 40+ year career? The answer: nothing!

Where do I find PhD funding?

Getting funding will likely be the biggest hurdle for you to secure a PhD. I have a post here detailing the different types of funding and how you can find a project with funding attached.

How to Find PhD Funding in the UK

Can you self-fund a PhD?

Yes you can self-fund a PhD, and some students are in a position to do so. Just be careful that you account for university fees and not just your living costs.

Are you allowed to have another job at the same time?

Most universities encourage you to get involved with work within your department as a graduate teaching assistant (GTA). Some countries even insist that you work a certain number of hours as part of a contract for your monthly stipend.

Working as a GTA you might be invigilating exams, helping in tutorials, marking coursework etc and at Imperial you usually earn around £15-£26 an hour.

If you’re looking to work a full time job in tandem with your PhD (and doing the PhD full time), it is best checking your university’s policy. Some may have regulations against you working over a certain number of hours which could impede you from concentrating on the PhD.

There are extra ways to make money on the side which I address here :

How to Earn Money Online for Students

Can you get a mortgage as a PhD student?

Since I did my PhD in London I didn’t even consider buying somewhere during my PhD. I’m not interested in being tied into a massive mortgage for 25 years to buy a shoebox!

If I’d accepted my PhD offer for a CDT at Leeds I certainly would have tried to buy somewhere with my partner. I found this page useful when doing research. Buying a property with a partner who has a normal job would definitely make the mortgage application a whole lot more successful.

Will a PhD help your career?

This depends on what you want to do with your career. Some example scenarios:

  • Staying in academia – a PhD is usually required
  • Certain technical jobs in industry – a PhD may be required or a big bonus
  • Non-technical jobs – a bonus

I do not imagine any scenarios where having a PhD is worse than not having one. It is true though that for certain careers there may be other things you could do which would be a better use of your time, for example gaining more direct work experience.

If you want to do a PhD that shouldn’t stop you though, and considering the length of your career taking a few years out for a PhD is inconsequential.

Whichever career path you fancy taking, if you are at all interested in doing a PhD I think you should at least apply.

PhDs in London

Can someone afford to live in london as a phd student.

Yes! I lived in London for my PhD and actually was able to save money every single month while taking many holidays and not living in a tent.

I have a few posts sharing my experiences living in London which you may find useful:

For a month last year I tracked all my expenses to get an idea of my costs living in London as a student, you can find it here .

Sharing my monthly living expenses as a student in London: September 2019

Related to reducing costs, I learned to cycle in London and loved it. It saved me about £100 a month too!

Learning to cycle in London: my first 1000 miles

On top of that, for the whole of 2019 (third year PhD) I tracked my money, and the report is here :

My personal finances report for 2019

Where is good to live in London?

I’ve lived in three different houses during my PhD in London and have a pretty good idea now of good places to live in London. You can read this whole post talking about living in London as a student and the associated costs including a breakdown of rent :

London student accommodation: Breaking down the cost of living in London for students

Bonus: Read the journeys of PhD students

Before I started my PhD I had a ton of questions and nobody who I could ask about their experience. The reality is that many of these PhD FAQs have a variety of answers as everyone’s PhD story is different. Therefore if you’d like to hear first hand from people who are going through the journey check out my series of PhD profiles , with a new profile every month. You can also discover some of their top tips for applying!

what does phd give you

If you’d like personalised help with your PhD application I am now starting to offer a small number of one-to-one sessions. Please contact me to find out more or click here to book a call.

Is there anything else you’d like to know to help with a potential PhD application? Let me know and I’ll write about it! You can subscribe to stay up to date here:

Share this:

  • Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)

Related Posts

what does phd give you

PhD Salary UK: How Much Do PhD Students Get Paid Compared to Graduates?

5th February 2024 5th February 2024

what does phd give you

The Benefits of Having a PhD

7th September 2022 30th January 2024

Picture of me looking regretful

My top PhD regrets: 10 lessons learned by a PhD grad

21st April 2022 25th September 2023

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of follow-up comments by email.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed .

Privacy Overview

what does phd give you

How to get a PhD?

Interested in obtaining a phd learn more about the steps to earn a phd, careers with phd, list of colleges offering programs and more..

Updated by TCM Staff on 15th April 2021

How to get a PhD: Steps and Requirements Explained

15th April 2021

College Monk — How to Get a PhD

A PhD is a postgraduate doctoral degree awarded to those students who produce an original thesis and make a significant research contribution to their respective field.

PhDs are available for those in a variety of different fields, and it’s often considered the highest and most well-respected degree available. Earning a PhD truly establishes someone as an expert in their field and indicates the deepest level of knowledge on a particular subject.

What is a PhD?

PhD — technically short for Doctor of Philosophy — is a type of doctoral degree, often considered the highest-level degree one can earn.

A PhD is a type of research degree that requires students to do an extensive amount of research and produce an original work, known as a dissertation.

People often use their PhD as a launchpad to pursue a career in academia. But, it’s also a popular option for those pursuing a career in STEM.

Those with PhDs make up a fairly exclusive club. Data from the US Census Bureau shows that fewer than 5% of the population holds a doctorate. And it’s not surprising, considering it often takes up to eight years to achieve this coveted title and requires writing an original dissertation the length of a book.

A PhD is actually just one type of doctoral degree. PhDs are research-focused. The other type of doctorate is application-focused (also known as an applied doctorate).

why PhD image

Source:  https://strathsltresearchers.wordpress.com

PhD admission requirements 

Not just anyone can earn a PhD. Given how well-respected the title is, it takes a lot of work and very specific criteria to enter a doctoral program.

The most basic requirement that all PhD candidates must have is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. You won’t be accepted without this. You also usually need a high GPA.

Another requirement is a statement of purpose. In this statement, doctoral candidates will describe why they’re seeking a PhD, what they’ve done so far to prepare themselves, and what goals they plan to accomplish later.

Finally, PhD applicants will need several letters of recommendation. 

If you’re considering pursuing a PhD, it’s critical that you work to build relationships with professors and mentors who might recommend you. There’s a lot of competition, especially for the top PhD programs, and excellent recommendations will help you to stand out.

Keep in mind that the requirements might vary somewhat from one school to the next, so it’s important to do your research and decide ahead of time where you’ll apply.

Steps to obtain a PhD

Earning a PhD is no easy feat. It takes most students years to do so. Let’s look into the steps someone must take to get a PhD.

Step 1: Complete an undergraduate degree

Before you can take the next step toward your PhD, you’ll first have to receive a bachelor’s degree through an undergraduate program at a reputable university.

This education will provide the foundation for your more advanced coursework later. It’s important that you maintain a high GPA throughout your undergraduate years.

Step 2: Complete a master's program

Once you complete your bachelor’s degree, the next natural step is to pursue a master’s degree.

Graduate school requires that a student take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). A master’s degree typically takes about two years to achieve, and will be in a particular field of study.

While not technically required for a PhD, most people earn a master’s degree before earning their PhD.

Step 3: Apply for a PhD program

Once you complete your graduate program, it’s time to apply for your PhD program.

There are many doctoral programs to choose from, so it’s important that you research and find the best fit for your field of study.

During the application process, you’ll have to submit the following:

  • A completed application
  • Undergraduate and graduate transcripts
  • Your GMAT or GRE scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A statement of purpose

Step 4: Complete your coursework

When you begin your PhD program, you’ll start by taking your coursework. 

As is usually the case with undergraduate and graduate programs, you’ll likely have some required courses and some electives. Usually, students will prepare their own plan of study for the courses they’ll take over the next couple of years.

Step 5: Prepare a research proposal

A research proposal is a document that outlines what, exactly, a PhD student will focus on during their research. 

A research proposal should include the major question or questions someone plans to answer with their dissertation, and how exactly they plan to arrive at that answer. 

Even though the proposal won’t be a part of your final thesis, it plays a vital role in shaping your PhD.

Step 6: Complete a literature review

The literature review is the first thing you’ll do before starting your project report.

In this review, you’ll conduct an in-depth study of all the research in your field. During this phase, a doctoral student should critically assess the existing literature on their topic and find gaps they may be able to fill with their research.

Step 7: Research and collect results

Once a student has completed their literature review, they’ll do more first-hand research and perform experiments to help answer the questions they’re exploring for their dissertation.

Step 8: Produce a thesis and write a dissertation

Doctoral Dissertation Image

Source:  https://www.wikihow.com

Once you’ve completed your research and gathered sufficient results, it’s time to write your final thesis and dissertation. 

Though the two terms are often used interchangeably, your thesis is the argument or conclusion you’ve arrived at, while your dissertation is where you demonstrate your thesis.

Your dissertation is the culmination of all the research you’ve done. Dissertations are original work and often focus on a newly developed theory. A dissertation is roughly the length of a book, and can often take years to produce.

Step 9: Viva Voce

Viva voce is a Latin phrase that means “with living voice” or “by word of mouth.” It’s also the final — and one of the most important — steps in the process of earning a PhD.

Unlike other degrees, where you take a final exam, a PhD candidate must defend their thesis before a panel of appointment examiners. It’s common for the examiners to ask many questions, and this process can often take several hours.

Once you successfully complete your viva voce, you’ll be awarded your doctorate and can add that coveted “Dr.” to your title.

Online colleges offering PhD programs

Many students choose to pursue a PhD through an online doctoral program for the flexibility and convenience it brings. 

Here are a few popular online PhD programs:

What can you do with a PhD?

A PhD is the highest-degree that someone can earn. But after all those years of work, what exactly can you do with your degree?

One of the most common career paths for someone with a PhD is academia. Those with a doctorate degree often go on to teach at universities or spend their careers performing research, not all that different from what they did to earn the degree in the first place.

But academia isn’t the only option for PhD recipients, nor is it the most lucrative. 

PhD students often study STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math. Those industries are thriving today more than ever, making it a great field for those holding a doctorate.

What can you be in phD Image

Source:  https://www.jax.org

Some of the highest-paying PhD fields include:

  • Information assurance
  • Computer science
  • Biochemistry and molecular biology
  • Organic chemistry

Though academia and STEM may be the most common paths for PhD participants, they’re hardly the only ones. There are many options available to someone with a PhD. Other non-STEM fields include clinical psychology, market research, business development, linguistics, and intelligence.

A doctorate is the highest level of degree someone can achieve. There’s no doubt that it takes a considerable amount of work, and it takes most people years to achieve this recognition. 

It’s important to understand these trade-offs before you get started. But once you earn your PhD, you will hold one of the most highly-respected titles in the academic field and have a lot of doors open to you.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. 1) How long does a PhD take?

A. According to CBS news on an average, an American Student takes 8.2 years to complete their Ph.D. This can change according to various courses and in various countries.

2. 2) What qualifications do I need?

A. In US Bachelors degree holders can also apply for Ph.D. For applying in a PhD program one should have completed 16 years of formal education. Qualification in the entrance test is also necessary.

3. 3) Can I take PhD as a part-time?

A. Yes, part-time PhD is possible, and it has a more flexible schedule with classes and degree completion. In some programs, a minimum one-year residency is required. But, part-time PhD will take more time, and managing a part-time PhD will be more challenging.

4. 4) What is M.Phil?

A. A M.Phil qualification is less advanced than that of a PhD. In this, the students are expected to master a content area and it can be mastered in two years. Moreover, the PhD dissertation takes more time than an M.Phil dissertation.

5. 5) What are Financial Aid options available for me?

A. For Ph.D. there are a lot of financial aid opportunities available in the form of Scholarship and loans. Eg: National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Academia Insider

The PhD student experience – What is it really like for PhDs?

Are you curious about what it’s really like to be a PhD student, navigating the world of academia and research?

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the lesser-known aspects of the PhD journey, from the profound impact of your supervisor to the competitive environment you’ll face.

Discover the truth about the importance of publishing papers and the realities of funding and job security in academia.

We’ll also give you a glimpse into the daily life of a PhD student, and explore the highs and lows of this challenging yet rewarding experience.

So, buckle up and join us as we uncover the secrets of the PhD student experience that no one else will tell you!

The little known-facts that you need to know about the PhD experience,

This is what no one else will tell you!

What does the daily life of a PhD student look like?

Embarking on a PhD journey can be a thrilling yet demanding experience, as a doctoral student is constantly immersed in:

  • academic responsibilities,
  • and professional development.

From the early morning, the life of a PhD student begins with checking emails, planning the day, and setting priorities.

A typical day usually involves conducting experiments or research in the laboratory, analyzing data, and reading scientific literature to stay up-to-date with their field.

PhD students often participate in regular meetings with their supervisors, who provide guidance and advice on their research projects.

These meetings are crucial for maintaining momentum and ensuring a productive working relationship.

A typical daily schedule for a PhD student might look like this:

7:00 AM – Wake up, morning routine, breakfast

7:45 AM – Check emails, plan the day, and set priorities

8:30 AM – Arrive at the laboratory, set up experiments or research tasks

9:30 AM – Attend a class or seminar (if applicable)

11:00 AM – Conduct experiments or research in the laboratory

12:30 PM – Lunch break, socialize with fellow graduate students

1:30 PM – Analyze data and read scientific literature relevant to the research project

3:00 PM – Meeting with supervisor to discuss research progress and receive guidance

4:30 PM – Continue working on experiments, data analysis, or literature review

6:00 PM – Dinner break

8:00 PM – Draft or edit thesis, work on conference presentations or publications

10:00 PM – Wind down and engage in a hobby or leisure activity for mental health and work-life balance

11:00 PM – Bedtime routine, sleep

In addition to their primary research, many PhD students assist and mentor undergraduate students, contributing to a diverse and dynamic academic community.

Balancing the demands of coursework, research projects, and administrative responsibilities can make for long working hours, which is why it’s important for doctoral students to maintain their mental health and work-life balance.

Attending conferences, participating in social events, and engaging in professional development opportunities are important aspects of the PhD experience.

Given the commitment and dedication required, full-time PhD students often rely on funded positions to support their education and living expenses.

Despite the inherent difficulties, the experience equips students with a range of new skills and expertise, setting them on a path to contribute significantly to academia and the world beyond.

How stressful is being a PhD student?

Being a PhD student can be quite stressful due to the unique challenges and demands of the program.

It varies from person to person and the supervisor will have a huge impact on how stressful a PhD will be for a student.

Here is a case study of the highs and lows of a PhD from a PhDs student’s perspective:

This PhD student experienced frustration with experiments not working or yielding results, leading to feelings of imposter syndrome and demotivation. A lack of progress was a significant source of stress during this time, as well as comparing oneself to peers who seemed to be achieving more success.

However, there were also numerous highlights throughout the PhD experience. Attending conferences and presenting research offered opportunities to gain feedback, collaborate with others, and even travel. Engaging in scientific discussions and exploring the significance of one’s work provided a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

Furthermore, working with cutting-edge equipment, such as advanced microscopes, allowed the student to appreciate the unique and privileged nature of their research.

The pressure to produce significant contributions to one’s field and the uncertainty of achieving results within a limited time frame can induce anxiety.

For instance, many students find themselves constantly juggling various responsibilities, such as conducting experiments, analysing data, attending meetings with their supervisor, and writing their thesis or papers.

Aside from academic pressure, managing work-life balance can be difficult as well. It’s not uncommon for PhD students to work long hours, often sacrificing personal time and relationships.

The lack of a structured schedule and the need for self-motivation can add to the stress and the competitive environment in academia and the constant pursuit of funding can further exacerbate stress levels.

PhD student workloads and holidays

The life of a PhD student is often characterized by heavy workloads and limited opportunities for holidays.

In a typical PhD program, students juggle numerous responsibilities, including research projects, coursework, and professional development activities, such as attending conferences and training.

This is particularly true for funded PhD students, who are expected to adhere to strict timelines set by their supervisors and the university’s academic calendar.

In the science field, the workload can be even more demanding due to the nature of research, which often involves conducting experiments that can take months or years to complete.

This commitment means that even during holidays, PhD students may feel the need to work in order to meet deadlines, leading to burnout and stress.

Later Stage PhD ( Doctorate Candidates )

When PhD students reach the later stages of their doctorate program, they become PhDs preparing to complete their research project and thesis.

This stage comes with an intense academic workload, with high demand for researcher-level skills and scientific knowledge.

A typical day for a PhD at this stage involves conducting research, analysing data, and editing their findings to complete their thesis.

In my experience it is WRITING, WRITING and more WRITING…with a touch of editing.

There are deadlines to meet, and students may face pressure, but the reward of completing a doctorate degree is worth it.

At this point, a PhD is expected to demonstrate their ability to conduct independent research and contribute to their field of study.

The latter stages of the doctorate program offer a rigorous and rewarding challenge for students who want to pursue a career in science, education, and research.

Wrapping up – PhD and Doctoral Student experience

The PhD student experience is a complex and multifaceted journey that offers a unique blend of challenges and triumphs.

As we have explored in this blog, the road to obtaining a PhD is filled with personal growth, professional development, and numerous hurdles to overcome.

But, for those who persevere, the rewards can be immense, leading to a sense of accomplishment, increased expertise, and the potential to make a significant impact in their chosen field.

In navigating this adventure, it is essential for PhD students to maintain a healthy work-life balance and develop strong support networks to help them manage stress and maintain motivation.

The journey may be demanding, but with the right mindset and guidance, the experience can be truly transformative.

what does phd give you

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.

Thank you for visiting Academia Insider.

We are here to help you navigate Academia as painlessly as possible. We are supported by our readers and by visiting you are helping us earn a small amount through ads and affiliate revenue - Thank you!

what does phd give you

2024 © Academia Insider

what does phd give you

  • Our Culture
  • Open and FAIR Data
  • Research projects
  • Publications
  • Cellular Genomics
  • Decoding Biodiversity
  • Delivering Sustainable Wheat
  • Earlham Biofoundry
  • Transformative Genomics
  • Scientific Groups Our groups work at the forefront of life science, technology development, and innovation.
  • High-Performance Sequencing Dedicated and efficient high-throughput genomics led by experts in sequencing and bioinformatics.
  • Single-cell and Spatial Analysis Platforms to support single- or multi-cell analysis, from cell isolation, to library preparation, sequencing and analysis.
  • Earlham Biofoundry Providing expertise in synthetic biology approaches and access to laboratory automation
  • Tools and resources Explore our software and datasets which enable the bioscience community to do better science.
  • Cloud Computing Infrastructure for Data-intensive Bioscience
  • Web Hosting for Sites, Tools and Web Services
  • Earlham Enterprises Ltd
  • Events Calendar Browse through our upcoming and past events.
  • About our training High-quality, specialist training and development for the research community.
  • Year in industry Supporting undergraduate students to develop skills and experience for future career development.
  • Internships and opportunities Opportunities for the next generation of scientists to develop their skills and knowledge in the life sciences.
  • Immersive visitors A bespoke, structured training programme, engaging with the faculty, expertise and facilities at the Earlham Institute.
  • News Catch up on our latest news and browse the press archive.
  • Articles Explore our science and impact around the world through engaging stories.
  • Impact Stories Find out how we are contributing to the major challenges of our time.
  • Impact Through Policy Advocacy Engaging across the political spectrum to exchange knowledge and inform public policy.
  • Public engagement and outreach Communicating our research to inspire and engage learning.
  • Communications at EI We work across digital, multimedia, creative design and public relations to communicate our research.
  • Our Vision and Mission
  • Scientific Advisory Board
  • Our Management Team
  • Operations Division
  • Inclusivity, diversity, equality and accessibility
  • Careers overview
  • Postgraduate Studies
  • Group leaders
  • Fellowships
  • Life at Earlham Institute
  • Living in Norfolk

what does phd give you

10 things you need to know before starting a PhD degree

So you want to do a PhD degree, huh? Here we've got everything you need to know about getting started.

So you want to do a PhD degree, huh? Are you sure about that? It’s not going to be an easy decision, so I’ve put together a list of 10 things you need to know before starting a PhD degree. Oh, and don’t panic!

I have recently graduated from the University of Manchester with a PhD in Plant Sciences after four difficult, but enjoyable, years. During those four years, I often felt slightly lost – and there was more than one occasion on which I didn’t even want to imagine writing up my thesis in fear of delving into fits of panic.

On reflection, I realise that – to quote a colleague – commencing my PhD was like “jumping in the deep end with your eyes closed.” If only I’d known to take a deep breath.

1. Are you sure you want to do a PhD degree?

Let’s be under no false impressions, completing a PhD isn’t easy. There will be times when you feel like Wile E Coyote chasing after the Roadrunner – a little bit out of your depth a lot of the time. It’s four years of your life, so make sure it is what you really want to do.

If you want to pursue a career in science, a PhD isn’t always necessary.

It is possible to make great inroads into industry without a doctoral degree. That said, a PhD can also be a very useful qualification with many transferable skills to add to your CV.

By the time you’ll have finished, you can include essentials such as time management, organisational skills, prioritising workloads, attention to detail, writing skills, presenting to an audience – and most importantly – resilience, to name but a few.

2. Choose your project, and supervisor, wisely.

This is  very  important.

Time after time, our experienced scientists at EI, including Erik Van-Den-Bergh (and I agree) say, “ make sure you’re extremely passionate about exactly that subject. ” When I saw the PhD opening that I eventually was offered, I remember being demonstrably ecstatic about the project before I’d even started it.

I was always interested in calcium signalling and organised a meeting with my potential supervisor immediately, which (to quote Billy Connolly) I leapt into in a mood of gay abandon.

Not only does this help you to keep engaged with your project even through the painstakingly slow times, it also greatly enhances your ability to sell yourself in an interview. If you can show passion and enthusiasm about the project and the science then you’ll be that one step ahead of other candidates – which is all the more important now that many studentships are competitive.

You have to  be the best  out of many, often exceptional candidates.

However, as important as it is to be passionate about your project, make sure that the person who will be supervising you is worthy.

Does your potential supervisor have a prolific track record of publishing work? What is the community of scientists like in the lab you may be working in? Are there experienced post-doctoral scientists working in the lab? Who will your advisor be? Is your supervisor an expert in the field you are interested in? Is the work you will be doing ground-breaking and novel, or is it quite niche?

There is nothing more frustrating – and I know many PhD degree students with this problem – than having a supervisor who is rarely there to talk to, shows little interest in your work, and cannot help when you are struggling in the third year of your project and some guidance would be much appreciated.

Personally, and I was very lucky to have this, I think it’s incredibly useful to have two supervisors. My PhD degree was split between the University of Manchester and the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth. Between my supervisors, I had two people with expertise in different fields, who could give me some fantastic advice from different perspectives. This also meant that I had two people to check through my thesis chapters and provide useful comments on my drafts.

PhD students networking during the last Student Symposium

Make sure you are passionate about your subject before taking it to PhD level. And by passionate I mean  really  passionate.

For a start, you will most likely have to write a literature review in your first three months, which if done well will form the main bulk of your thesis introduction and will save you a lot of stress and strain when it comes to writing up.

At the end of your first year, you will have to write a continuation report, which is your proof that you deserve to carry on to the end of your three or four years. This doesn’t leave much time for lab work, which means time management is incredibly important. If you think you’ll be able to swan in at 11 and leave at 3, think again.

Fundamentally, never, ever rest on your laurels! As tempting as it may be to slack-off slightly in the second year of your four year PhD, don’t.

4. Be organised.

This is a no-brainer but still, it’s worth a mention. Take an hour on a Monday morning to come up with a list of short-term and long-term goals. You’ll probably have to present your work at regular lab meetings, so it’s always worth knowing what has to be done (lest you look a pillock in front of the lab when there’s nothing to show for your last two weeks.)

It’s always good to have a timeline of what will be done when. If you have a PCR, maybe you can squeeze in another experiment, read a few papers, start writing the introduction to your thesis, or even start collecting the data you already have into figures.

The more good use you make of your time, the easier it’ll be to finish your PhD in the long run. Plus, it’s lovely to sit back and look at actual graphs, rather than worry about having enough to put into a paper. Once you’ve typed up your data, you’ll realise you’ve done far more than you had anticipated and the next step forward will be entirely more apparent.

5. Embrace change – don’t get bogged down in the details.

Felix Shaw – one of our bioinformatics researchers at EI – put it best when he said, “ it felt like I was running into brick walls all the way through [my PhD]… you’d run into a brick wall, surmount it, only to run straight into another. ”

You’ll find that, often, experiments don’t work. What might seem like a great idea could turn out to be as bad as choosing to bat first on a fresh wicket on the first day of the third Ashes test at Edgbaston. (Yeah, we don't know what that means either - Ed).

Resilience is key while completing your PhD. Be open to change and embrace the chance to experiment in different ways. You might even end up with a thesis chapter including all of your failures, which at the very least is something interesting to discuss during your  viva voce .

6. Learn how to build, and use, your network.

As a PhD student, you are a complete novice in the world of science and most things in the lab will be – if not new to you – not exquisitely familiar. This matters not, if you take advantage of the people around you.

Firstly, there are lab technicians and research assistants, who have probably been using the technique you are learning for years and years. They are incredibly experienced at a number of techniques and are often very happy to help show you how things are done.

There are postdocs and other PhD students, too. Not only can they help you with day-to-day experiments, they can offer a unique perspective on how something is done and will probably have a handy back-catalogue of fancy new techniques to try.

There are also a bunch of PIs, not limited to your own, who are great to talk to. These people run labs of their own, have different ideas, and might even give you a job once you’ve completed your PhD.

Don’t limit yourself to the labs directly around you, however. There are a massive number of science conferences going on all around the world. Some of them, such as the Society of Biology Conference, take place every year at a similar time in different locations, attracting many of the leaders in their respective fields.

If you are terrified by the prospect of speaking at a full-blown science conference and having your work questioned by genuine skeptics, there are also many student-led conferences which will help you dangle your fresh toes in the murky waters of presenting your work.

One such conference, the Second Student Bioinformatics Symposium, which took place at Earlham Institute in October 2016, was a great place for candidates to share their projects with peers, who are often much more friendly than veteran researchers with 30 year careers to their name when it comes to the questions at the end of your talk.

Another great reason to attend conferences, of course, is the social-side too – make the most of this. You never know who you might meet and connect with over a few drinks once the talks are over and the party commences.

7. Keep your options open.

You should be aware that for every 200 PhD students,  only 7  will get a permanent academic post , so it’s  incredibly unlikely that you’ll become a Professor  – and even if you make PI, it probably won’t be until your mid-forties.

You may also, despite having commenced along the academic path, decide that actually, working in a lab environment isn’t for you. Most PhD graduates, eventually, will not pursue an academic career, but move on to a wide range of other vocations.

It might be that Science Communication is more up your street. This was certainly the case for me – and I made sure that I took part in as many public engagement events as possible while completing my PhD. Most Universities have an active public engagement profile, while organisations such as STEM can provide you with ample opportunities to interact with schools and the general public.

You might also consider entrepreneurship as a route away from academia, which might still allow you to use your expert scientific knowledge. There are a variety of competitions and workshops available to those with a business mind, a strong example being Biotechnology YES.

I, for example, took part in the Thought for Food Challenge, through which I have been able to attend events around the world and meet a vast array of like-minded individuals. Many of the participants from the challenge have gone on to set up successful businesses and have even found jobs as a result of the competition.

10 things phd fire

8. Balance.

Remember that you still have a life outside of your PhD degree – and that this can be one of the greatest opportunities to make amazing friends from around the world.

A science institute is usually home to the brightest students from a variety of countries and can provide a chance to experience a delightful range of different people and cultures. Don’t just stick to the people in your lab, go to events for postgraduate students and meet people from all over campus.

There are usually academic happy hours happening on Fridays after work where you can buy cheap beer, or some lucky institutions even have their own bar. At Norwich Research Park, we not only have the Rec Centre, along with bar, swimming pool, calcetto, samba classes, archery, and a range of other activities, but there are also biweekly “Postdoc pub clubs” which are very fun to join on a Tuesday evening.

Maintain your hobbies and keep up with friends outside of your PhD and you’ll probably find it’s not that gruelling a process after all.

Plus, the people you meet and become friends with might be able to help you out – or at least be able to offer a sympathetic shoulder.

10 things phd relaxing

9. Practical advice.

If, after reading all of this, you’re still going to march forth and claim your doctorhood, then this section should be rather useful.

Firstly, make sure your data is backed up. It’s amazing how many people don’t do this and you’d be bonkers not to. Keep your work saved on a shared drive, so that if your computer decides to spontaneously combust upon pressing the return key, you won’t have lost all of your precious work – or have to go through every one of your lab books and type it all up again.

Secondly, don’t leave your bag in the pub with your half-written thesis in it. I did this, the bag was fine, I was in a state of terror for at least half an hour before the kind person at Weatherspoons located said bag.

Thirdly, read. Read broadly, read anything and everything that’s closely related to your project – or completely unrelated. It’s sometimes amazing where you might find a stroke of inspiration, a new technique you hadn’t thought of … or even in idea of where you might like to go next.

Finally, ask questions – all of the time. No matter how stupid it might sound in your head, everyone’s probably been asked it before, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

You’ll probably look far less stupid if you just ask the person standing next to you how the gradient PCR function works on your thermal cycler rather than standing there randomly prodding buttons and looking flustered, anyway.

10. Savour the positives.

At the end of all of this, it has to be said that doing a PhD is absolutely brilliant. There’s no other time in your life that you’ll be this free to pursue your very own project and work almost completely independently. By the time you come to the end of your PhD, you will be the leading expert in the world on something. A real expert! Until the next PhD student comes along …

Related reading.

what does phd give you

A PhD, is it worth it? Just ask our students

what does phd give you

The realities of doing a PhD

what does phd give you

My advice for PhD students? See what bites

what does phd give you

COVID and my PhD: to lockdown and back

what does phd give you

How does a PhD work and how to find the right one

Becky Shaw, PhD student at Earlham Institute

Building the confidence to take on a PhD

what does phd give you

PhD life, 10 things we learned in our first six months

what does phd give you

What’s the third year of a PhD like? Tips for navigating your PhD

what does phd give you

PhD by experience

  • Scientific Groups
  • High-Performance Sequencing
  • Single-cell and Spatial Analysis
  • Tools and resources
  • Events Calendar
  • About our training
  • Year in industry
  • Internships and opportunities
  • Immersive visitors
  • Impact Stories
  • Impact Through Policy Advocacy
  • Public engagement and outreach
  • Communications at EI

The 7 Essential Transferable Skills All PhDs Have

During your PhD, you’re not just learning about your research topic. You’re also learning core skills that apply to jobs both in and out of academia. Most institutions don’t teach you to articulate these transferable skills in a way that aligns with how they’re described in the business world. Knowing your skills increases your value as a candidate.

Written Communication

It takes practice to become a good writer. Fortunately, as PhD student you have years of practice writing papers, conference abstracts, journal manuscripts, and of course your dissertation. The feedback you receive from your supervisor and peer reviewers will help improve your communication skills.

Research skills are valuable even in many fields outside of academia. As a trained researcher, you are able to determine the best approach to a question, find relevant data, design a way to analyze it, understand a large amount of data, and then synthesize your findings. You even know how to use research to persuade others and defend your conclusions.

Public Speaking                   

Strong oral communications skills are always valued, and PhD students get more public speaking opportunities than most. Through conference talks, poster presentations, and teaching, you will learn to feel comfortable in front of a larger audience, engage them, and present complex ideas in a straightforward way. Winning a teaching award or being recognized as the best speaker at a conference is a concrete way to prove your public speaking skills.

Project Management

Even if you’re not working as a project manager, every job requires some degree of project management. Fortunately, a PhD is an exercise in project management. Finishing your dissertation requires you to design a project, make a realistic timeline, overcome setbacks, and manage stakeholders. During this time, you will also have to manage long-term projects at the same time as short-term goals which requires strong organizational skills.

Mentoring and teaching are the two main way PhD student can learn leadership and management skills. As a teacher or mentor, you have to figure out how to motivate someone and help them accomplish a goal. You also get experience evaluating someone’s performance (grading) and giving constructive feedback.

Critical Thinking

Every PhD student learns critical thinking skills whether they realize it or not. You are trained to approach problems systematically, see the links between ideas, evaluate arguments, and analyze information to come up with your own conclusions. Any industry can benefit from someone who knows “how to think”.


Very few jobs require you to work completely independently, and academia isn’t one of them. Your dissertation is a solo project, but on a day to day basis you work with other people on your experiments or preparing a journal manuscript. Doing these tasks successfully requires knowing how to divide up a task, get along with others, communicate effectively, and resolve conflict.

Discover related jobs


Discover similar employers


Accelerate your academic career


Spanish Academic Job Titles

While there will be some differences university to university, here's a ...


Italian Academic Job Titles

Here is a breakdown of the most common academic job titles and career pa...


Don’t Fall Prey to Predatory Journals

These journals just want your money.


So You’re Defending Your Dissertation Tomorrow

One of the best things you can do today to prepare for your defence is t...


The Academic Career Path in Switzerland

Swiss academic titles are slightly different from their American equival...


PhD, Professor, and Postdoc Salaries in the United States

Here’s a breakdown of the most common American job titles and their asso...

Jobs by field

  • Machine Learning 171
  • Electrical Engineering 170
  • Programming Languages 161
  • Artificial Intelligence 159
  • Molecular Biology 130
  • Cell Biology 119
  • Materials Chemistry 111
  • Electronics 106
  • Applied Mathematics 104
  • Genetics 100

Jobs by type

  • Postdoc 364
  • Assistant / Associate Professor 279
  • Professor 167
  • Researcher 105
  • Research assistant 102
  • Lecturer / Senior Lecturer 102
  • Tenure Track 91
  • Engineer 58
  • Management / Leadership 57

Jobs by country

  • Belgium 326
  • Switzerland 159
  • Netherlands 149
  • Germany 118
  • Luxembourg 117

Jobs by employer

  • University of Luxembourg 115
  • KU Leuven 111
  • Ghent University 75
  • Mohammed VI Polytechnic Unive... 71
  • ETH Zürich 71
  • University of Twente 60
  • KTH Royal Institute of Techno... 47
  • Leiden University 41
  • University of Antwerp 39

This website uses cookies

what does phd give you

Ten Jobs Where You Can Use Your PhD

By Michelle Lanchart and Stacy Hartman

Earning a PhD provides you with more skills and career opportunities than you might think it does. Below are ten jobs where you can use your PhD—some in academic settings and some not. There are many other opportunities available to you; this list is just a place to start thinking about your career options.*

1. Staff culture writer, digital media company

Staff writers report on artistic and cultural events, providing analysis and context for a broad audience on a variety of topics. As a PhD, you already have the excellent writing and research skills the job requires, and your advanced training in the interpretation of literature, culture, and language enhances your ability to articulate the significance of cultural and artistic phenomena.

2. Dean of students, private high school

A dean of students leads curriculum design, develops academic and behavioral policies, and determines the best strategies to build students’ academic success. The research, leadership, and teaching experience you acquired while earning your PhD makes you a good candidate in this field.

3. Assistant professor, university or college department

An assistant professor teaches undergraduate (and, depending on the institution, graduate) courses, serves on committees that help determine academic and organizational policies for the department and institution, and conducts research, with an eye toward receiving tenure.

4. Research associate, variety of companies

As a research associate you would gather data to determine whether a product or service is desirable to consumers or companies. Your extensive experience conducting research and presenting it to a variety of audiences is a transferable skill that you bring to research associate positions.

5. Development writer, nonprofit or university

A development writer builds relationships with donors and increases public engagement through written and oral communication. Your ability to write about specialized research or technical activities for a general audience is useful for this position.

6. Assistant director, learning programs

Assistant directors have a variety of responsibilities, from providing instructional support to faculty members and graduate students to assessing and improving educational services. This can be an exciting opportunity to apply your teaching and leadership experience beyond the classroom.

7. Associate director, global programs

Associate directors work with faculty members to develop programs and curricula for students studying abroad. Your experiences teaching, developing educational programs, as well as studying, living, and researching abroad, are ideal for this position.

8. Program officer, think tank, foundation, or scholarly association

As a program officer you would take the lead in program development, which involves procuring grants and funding, managing projects, and overseeing budgets. These roles leverage your experience applying for funding and managing complex projects.

9. Copywriter, many companies and organizations

Copywriters produce and edit copy (i.e., writing) for marketing campaigns and then plan and implement those campaigns, which help companies promote products and services across a variety of media. Excellent research and writing skills and an ability to write for different audiences are essential for this job.

10. Curriculum designer, educational technology

Curriculum designers develop educational content and curricula to be delivered digitally to students or employees and often provide technical support to instructors or trainers. This is a great role for those who have developed skills in the digital humanities or in blended learning, and it also leverages your experiences in teaching and in curriculum development.

Your PhD gives you the skills to pursue a variety of career paths. To learn more about how to prepare for the job search and how to gain experience in the industries that interest you, visit the  Connected Academics Web site .

*Please note that the job ads are provided as examples and may no longer be accepting applications. A job ad’s inclusion in this list does not constitute an endorsement of the employer by the MLA.

Creative Commons License

3 comments on “Ten Jobs Where You Can Use Your PhD”

' src=

Steve Colburn says:

And don’t forget Government service at the Municipal, County, State, and Federal Level. I know Language and Literature academics who have pursued rewarding careers at all of these levels of Government service to the public, and have received good financial compensation, enjoyed reliable job security, defined-benefit pension programs, and the opportunity to pursue a challenging, rewarding job! Retired Training Manager and Senior Organizational Policy Analyst for Local County Government in Sunny South Florida! Life Member of the MLA, since Grad School in 1976.

' src=

Peter Marbais says:

There are a number of language editing opportunities in addition to copy editing. I made the transition from teaching English literature and composition to editing documents for ESL writers aspiring to publish in English-language journals. My experience helping ESL students at the Kent State University writing center and in my composition courses paved the way to helping researchers from around the world. The work is highly rewarding, and there are a number of great resources available online for both contract editors (freelancers) and full-time editors. This link provides a good overview of several types of editing roles: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/freelance-editing-jobs-1360401 .

Peter Marbais, PhD, ELS Quality Control Editor III American Journal Experts, a Research Square company

' src=

David -Ross Gerling says:

I made the transition to a law firm in Spain whose clients are Brits and American ex-pats or just foreigners in trouble with the Spanish legal system. My work as ex-pat advocate is every bit as satisfying and infinitely more lucrative than teaching Spanish . David-Ross Gerling, PhD

Leave a Reply Cancel Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked * .

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

Enago Academy

10 PhD Transferable Skills You Can Use in Most Jobs

' src=

“No one wants to hire PhDs because they are overqualified and too independent!”

This is one thing PhDs are tired of hearing. How can your PhD be a liability to your career? Rather, recruiters prefer PhD candidates over others not just for their qualification but for their PhD transferable skills.

Table of Contents

What are PhD Transferable Skills?

PhD Transferable skills are exactly what the name suggests! These are skills other than technical skills that you develop in your academic program. Furthermore, these skills are so versatile that they can be used everywhere, irrespective of the designation or field. Transferable skills are desirable because if you already have them, your employer will not have to train you on them. Consequently, you can make positive contributions in any career with these skills.

PhD Transferable Skills

Which are the PhD Transferable Skills that You Must Develop?

Considering that a doctorate degree is the highest degree in most fields, the skills that are required to excel in the same are impeccable. Undoubtedly, researchers pursuing their Ph.Ds. or postdocs develop technical skills related to their research. However, what they also need to develop is a host of research transferable skills they can use as they progress in their careers.

Which are 10 PhD Transferable Skills You Can Use in Most Jobs?

With the surge of jobs for PhD in STEM, recruiters struggle to fill those positions with talented candidates. They are always in need of trained professionals who know how to create information from scratch, and not just recreate it in a tinkering manner.

While your work experience and education during PhD is an asset, you’d be surprised to find out that employers in most sectors pay close attention to your skill set. According to a recently published survey report by LinkedIn, 57% of respondents identified soft transferable skills as more important than hard skills (technical knowledge).

Here, we list 10 significant PhD transferable skills students can use in most jobs.

1. Project Management

The most apparent thought that comes to anyone’s mind while thinking about PhD is “project management” skills. A successful research experience goes hand-in-hand with a well-planned project. As simple as it may sound, the management skills of a PhD graduate are not confined to his/her project. It starts right from ideation of the research project to final submission, which results in an ultimate success of the project. Different stages of a PhD’s journey demands customized planning and organizing to ensure that deadlines are met and projects are completed efficiently and effectively. Furthermore, a PhD makes sure that all plans are duly incorporated. Employers seek candidates with PhD transferable skills as they want someone who can not only see a task through, but can visualize what needs to happen on a project from start to finish.

2. Accelerated Learning

As a doctor of philosophy, the ability to ascertain knowledge runs thick in the veins of a PhD researcher. An inquisitive mind and quick comprehension of technical things is interlinked to your accelerated learning ability. Moreover, being a PhD, you attend conferences and read papers to stay on top of the latest trends in your field. Consequently, PhD transferable skills ensure employers of your ability to understand technical procedures, protocols, and methodologies.

3. Time Management

Time waits for none! The key to a tension-free and smooth workflow is effective time management . While planning is important, defining your deadlines, setting realistic and achievable goals, and adhering to them takes you a long way! At a job, every moment spent on an unfocused or frivolous task, is a waste of money. Contradictorily, time management may not be viewed similarly in academia. However, as a PhD your motive has been to complete your program in time. This acts as a serious motivation to develop excellent time management skills.

4. Attention to Detail

One of the essential core skills of a PhD is paying attention to the details. To the best of your experience as a researcher, you are aware that mistakes can be missed in the bat of an eye. Therefore, it is a known fact that PhDs are one of the finest people to make sure that each project runs through a fine-tooth comb. As a result, employers can count on you for detail-oriented assignments that require critical assessment and corrections.

5. Ability to Collaborate

As stated earlier, PhDs are not new to working in groups to achieve common goals. Your significant contribution in research groups, as a researcher and author during your PhD program demonstrates your ability to collaborate . Employers seek candidates who are team players making positive contributions to the success of a group.

6. Writing Proficiency

Given the nature of modern technology, writing may not be a primary task of most job profiles. However, it sure is an essential element for academic and allied knowledge dissemination careers. In due course of pursuing a PhD, you come across countless reading material from authors all around the world. This subsequently stocks up your bank of vocabulary and enhances your writing skills for an unambiguous conveyance of messages and information.

7. Leadership Skills

Leadership skills aren’t only your ability to supervise and manage a team, but to take the lead on a project and get a team to follow through and achieve goals. As a PhD you’re the “lead” for your project. While it doesn’t necessarily involve leading other people, it still means being responsible for major decisions to accomplish targets. Additionally, it is common for PhD students to work in research groups and collaborate on shared projects. Nonetheless, they also demonstrate leadership while organizing conferences and seminars for their department or university. PhDs are also seen showing leadership skills while advising students and mentoring peers.

8. Critical Thinking and Analysis

As a PhD, it’s a given that you are able to analyze data and provide logical reasoning to it. Throughout your program, you collect data, analyze it, and draw conclusions. The ability of a PhD to critically examine everything and deliver logical reasoning behind it is not new to anyone. A PhD is well versed with 360-degree logical thinking without being biased. Employers seek these research transferable skill of a PhD to consider alternative solutions to a problem and suggest next steps for efficient functioning.

9. Communication Skills

This is the master of PhD transferable skills. Even if you decide to step into a career that is a 180-degree sweep from your PhD, you’d still need to communicate! Your ability to communicate efficiently is developed right from preparing for your PhD interview, presenting papers and posters at academic conferences, defending your thesis, etc. As verbal communication affects your ability to work with your peers, it is one of the most sought after research transferable skills by employers.

10. Adaptability

A PhD isn’t only about specialization. Rather, it’s about the ability to specialize. During your PhD you learn to tackle a new topic, solve it, and move on to the next problem. Almost all careers require employees to focus on specific topics and projects in detail to achieve a specific goal. Your ability of in-depth specialization in academic research project demonstrates adaptability and flexibility —quite literally!

So the next time you are asked, “What skills do you bring to this position?”, you certainly know how to answer that! Brush up your PhD transferable skills to help you make the right career switch. Remember that your PhD isn’t a liability after all. In fact, it’s an asset! Let us know how you acquired these valuable skills that are highly sought after by employers today.

Rate this article Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published.

what does phd give you

Enago Academy's Most Popular

Content Analysis vs Thematic Analysis: What's the difference?

  • Reporting Research

Choosing the Right Analytical Approach: Thematic analysis vs. content analysis for data interpretation

In research, choosing the right approach to understand data is crucial for deriving meaningful insights.…

Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Study Design

Comparing Cross Sectional and Longitudinal Studies: 5 steps for choosing the right approach

The process of choosing the right research design can put ourselves at the crossroads of…

Networking in Academic Conferences

  • Career Corner

Unlocking the Power of Networking in Academic Conferences

Embarking on your first academic conference experience? Fear not, we got you covered! Academic conferences…

Research recommendation

Research Recommendations – Guiding policy-makers for evidence-based decision making

Research recommendations play a crucial role in guiding scholars and researchers toward fruitful avenues of…

Concept Papers

  • Promoting Research

Concept Papers in Research: Deciphering the blueprint of brilliance

Concept papers hold significant importance as a precursor to a full-fledged research proposal in academia…

Mentoring for Change: Creating an inclusive academic landscape through support…

Intersectionality in Academia: Dealing with diverse perspectives

Meritocracy and Diversity in Science: Increasing inclusivity in STEM education

what does phd give you

Sign-up to read more

Subscribe for free to get unrestricted access to all our resources on research writing and academic publishing including:

  • 2000+ blog articles
  • 50+ Webinars
  • 10+ Expert podcasts
  • 50+ Infographics
  • 10+ Checklists
  • Research Guides

We hate spam too. We promise to protect your privacy and never spam you.

I am looking for Editing/ Proofreading services for my manuscript Tentative date of next journal submission:

what does phd give you

When should AI tools be used in university labs?


  1. How to get a PhD: Steps and Requirements Explained

    what does phd give you

  2. How to get a PhD: Steps and Requirements Explained

    what does phd give you

  3. PhD meaning and its tale

    what does phd give you

  4. 6 PhD benefits

    what does phd give you

  5. What is PhD : Meaning, How to Do, Benefits, Full Details

    what does phd give you

  6. Research methodology

    what does phd give you


  1. What Purpose does Spiritual Knowledge Serve?

  2. What does Phd stand for?

  3. 2.0 PhD- Degree

  4. 2/4 "DO EVERYTHING IN HIS LOVE" 1 Corinthians 16:14

  5. PhD Meaning?

  6. Outrider 16


  1. Is a PhD Worth It? The Pros and Cons of Getting a Doctorate

    1. You can contribute new knowledge to the world Embarking on a PhD programme means delving into your preferred subject in a much deeper way than you have in any of your previous studies. The beauty of this advanced degree is that it allows you to sail in uncharted waters.

  2. Why a PhD is Worth it!

    Completing a PhD is all about creating fresh knowledge, discovering new things and developing new skills. It is a degree meant for those who seek greater depth of knowledge in a specific area. With a PhD, 'one can make a difference', says Professor Paul KH Tam, Pro Vice Chancellor and Vice President (Research), University of Hong Kong.

  3. What Is a PhD?

    What Is a PhD? Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on Nov 29, 2023 A PhD is often the highest possible academic degree you can get in a subject. Learn more about whether earning a PhD could benefit your career. A Doctor of Philosophy, often known as a PhD, is a terminal degree —or the highest possible academic degree you can earn in a subject.

  4. Why Do a PhD?

    One of the most obvious reasons to do a PhD is the desire to make an original contribution to your subject. After all, this is a defining quality of a PhD that sets it apart from other university qualifications. The goal is create something new and significant that will stand alongside the work of previous scholars in your field.

  5. What is a PhD? Advice for PhD students

    A PhD, which stands for "doctor of philosophy", is the most advanced academic degree. It's earned through extensive research on a specific topic, demonstrating expertise and contributing new knowledge to the field. What does "PhD" mean? The term "PhD" is often used as a synonym for any doctoral-level qualification.

  6. What is a PhD?

    A PhD is a doctoral research degree and the highest level of academic qualification you can achieve. The degree normally takes between three and four years of full-time work towards a thesis offering an original contribution to your subject.

  7. 9 things you should consider before embarking on a PhD

    9. There are no real breaks. In a stereotypical "9-to-5" job, when the workday is over or the weekend arrives, you can generally forget about your work. And a vacation provides an even longer respite. But in a PhD program, your schedule becomes "whenever you find time to get your work done."

  8. What is a PhD and Why Should YOU do one?

    In the UK, a PhD stands for 'Doctor of Philosophy', sometimes referred to as a 'doctorate'. It is the highest level of degree that a student can achieve. At some institutions, including Oxford University, a Doctor of Philosophy is known as a DPhil. It is distinct from professional doctorates such as an Engineering Doctorate (EngD).

  9. What Does 'PhD' Stand For?

    PhD stands for "Doctor of Philosophy," which refers to the immense knowledge a student gains when earning the degree. While you can actually get a PhD in philosophy, "Doctor of Philosophy" doesn't always refer to someone who has a terminal degree in that discipline.

  10. What is a PhD?

    Definition of a PhD - A Doctor of Philosophy (commonly abbreviated to PhD, Ph.D or a DPhil) is a university research degree awarded from across a broad range of academic disciplines; in most countries, it is a terminal degree, i.e. the highest academic degree possible.

  11. Is a PhD the right option for you?

    According to Bernard Casey, who published a study on the economic contribution of PhDs, male PhDs earn 26% more than those who could have gone to university but did not. However, men with a master ...

  12. PhD FAQs

    17. In summary, PhD stipends are really not that different to grad starting salaries. Please don't be put off from a PhD simply because for a few years you might be earning a bit less than if you were working in another job. Depending on what you want to do with your career, having a CV may lead to higher salaries.

  13. How to get a PhD: Steps and Requirements Explained

    Step 5: Prepare a research proposal. A research proposal is a document that outlines what, exactly, a PhD student will focus on during their research. A research proposal should include the major question or questions someone plans to answer with their dissertation, and how exactly they plan to arrive at that answer.

  14. Thinking About a Ph.D? Here Are 10 Things You Need to Know

    Earning a Ph.D. is a noteworthy achievement and also a challenging task. Completing a Ph.D. involves a lot of requirements which includes: A literature review. Conducting original research. Writing a thesis. Evaluation of your thesis by an external examiner. Defending your thesis in an oral exam. These assignments might be different at some ...

  15. What are the Criteria for a PhD?

    Your PhD thesis is the most substantial piece of written work you'll produce during your PhD, and will usually be between 70,000 and 100,000 words. The outcome of your thesis will determine whether or not you pass your PhD viva. A thesis can be marked as a pass, in need of corrections, resubmission, downgrade or fail.

  16. The PhD student experience

    These meetings are crucial for maintaining momentum and ensuring a productive working relationship. A typical daily schedule for a PhD student might look like this: 7:00 AM - Wake up, morning routine, breakfast. 7:45 AM - Check emails, plan the day, and set priorities. 8:30 AM - Arrive at the laboratory, set up experiments or research tasks.

  17. 10 things you need to know before starting a PhD degree

    5. Embrace change - don't get bogged down in the details. Felix Shaw - one of our bioinformatics researchers at EI - put it best when he said, " it felt like I was running into brick walls all the way through [my PhD]… you'd run into a brick wall, surmount it, only to run straight into another. It's true.

  18. PhD transferable skills

    PhD transferable skills. Sometimes it's difficult for PhD students to identify what skills they have since the academic experience is not necessarily focused on articulating skill sets. We also often find that PhD students struggle, understandably, to present the transferability of their academic experiences to non-academic contexts. Here are ...

  19. The 7 Essential Transferable Skills All PhD's Have

    Leadership. Mentoring and teaching are the two main way PhD student can learn leadership and management skills. As a teacher or mentor, you have to figure out how to motivate someone and help them accomplish a goal. You also get experience evaluating someone's performance (grading) and giving constructive feedback.

  20. Ten Jobs Where You Can Use Your PhD

    As a PhD, you already have the excellent writing and research skills the job requires, and your advanced training in the interpretation of literature, culture, and language enhances your ability to articulate the significance of cultural and artistic phenomena. Sample Job Ad 2. Dean of students, private high school

  21. 10 PhD Transferable Skills You Can Use in Most Jobs

    Here, we list 10 significant PhD transferable skills students can use in most jobs. 1. Project Management. The most apparent thought that comes to anyone's mind while thinking about PhD is "project management" skills. A successful research experience goes hand-in-hand with a well-planned project.

  22. What Will I Learn When I Earn My PhD in Clinical Psychology?

    If you have a thirst for knowledge and a desire for career development, you may want to consider earning a clinical psychology PhD. High-level coursework, practical fieldwork, and scholarly research will expand your psychology knowledge base. Read on to learn more about a PhD in Clinical Psychology education.

  23. What Can I Do With a Ph.D. In Business?

    Bachelor's of Business (4 years): $40,000 - $50,000 Master's of Business (2 years): $40,000

  24. 20 Career-Worthy Industry Jobs for PhD Graduates

    1. Market research analyst National average salary: $64,042 per year Primary duties: Market research analysts look for trends in business data. They may measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns or find statistical information related to consumer purchasing habits.