A PhD is a postgraduate doctoral degree, awarded to students who complete an original thesis offering a significant new contribution to knowledge in their subject. PhD qualifications are normally the highest level of academic degree a person can achieve.
What does 'PhD' stand for?
PhD stands for 'Doctor of Philosophy' which is an abbreviation of the latin term, (Ph)ilosophiae (d)octor. The word 'philosophy' here refers to its original Greek meaning: philo (friend or lover of) sophia (wisdom).
The PhD research process - what's involved?
Unlike most Masters Courses (or all undergraduate programmes), a PhD is a pure research degree and does not involve any taught classes. The PhD is a diverse and varied qualification with many different components and moves through a series of stages. Whereas the second or third year of a taught degree look quite a lot like the first (with more modules and coursework at a higher level) a PhD moves through a series of stages.
A typical PhD normally involves:
• Carrying out a literature review (a survey of current scholarship in your field).
• Conducting original research and collecting your results.
• Producing a thesis that presents your conclusions.
• Writing up your thesis and submitting it as a dissertation.
• Defending your thesis in an oral viva voce exam.
These stages can vary between subjects and universities, but they tend to fall into the same sequence over the three to four years of a typical full-time PhD.
Professional development, networking and communication
Traditionally, the PhD has been viewed as a training process, preparing students for careers in academic research. The more modern PhD is viewed as a much more flexible qualification, not all doctoral graduates end up working in higher education. Many follow alternative careers that are either related to their subject of specialism or draw upon the advanced research skills their PhD has developed.
As such, the PhD will include opportunities to pick up additional skills and experiences that are an important part of a scholarly CV but also with an emphasis on transferrable skills, to help students communicate and apply their research beyond the university.
Frequently Asked Questions about PhDs
It’s true that a PhD is usually the required entry qualification for a career in academic teaching and research, but that doesn’t mean that a PhD is only useful for a career in academia – or that everyone with a PhD goes on to do an academic job. On the one hand, this is part of the reality of the job market in higher education: there are only a limited number of academic posts available and competition for them is high. On the other hand, the modern doctorate is becoming a much more versatile qualification, supported by new initiatives focussing on employability and transferrable skills. Today’s PhD graduates aren’t just experts in medieval lyric poetry, protein folding or economic theory: they also have three years’ experience of project management, public speaking, and professional networking.
What makes a PhD a PhD? The answer is simple enough: your thesis will need to offer a ‘significant original contribution to knowledge’. That’s the classic criteria for a PhD thesis to pass examination, but what does it actually mean? Do you need to invent a new form of space travel? Discover that King Alfred the Great was actually a woman? Prove that everything anyone has ever written about Shakespeare’s plays is wrong? No. Research is rarely that dramatic – at PhD level or otherwise. Your thesis just has to be original (no one has arrived at the same results before) and academically significant (your data and conclusions should be useful to other scholars in your field). You can change the world later.
Three to four years of full time research is a tough challenge. And a PhD is hard. Like any long term project, you’ll probably have moments when you get a bit fed up. That said, it’s just as normal to have incredible breakthroughs in the library or laboratory or to take pride in the many highly rewarding personal achievements and milestones that occur within a doctorate – from successful presentations and publications to other forms of recognition. And it’s normal to share and celebrate those with your supervisors, or with other students at your university or within wider scholarly networks. Those other people will be a big part of your PhD experience and, like you, they know how awesome and impressive it is to be making that significant original contribution to knowledge. There is no doubt that a PhD is hard, but it doesn’t have to be lonely and it’s about as far removed from unrewarding as you could possibly imagine.
The likelihood is, if you are a UK then a PhD won’t cost as much as you think. The fees for a full-time PhD in the 2020/201 academic year are £4,407 and these are halved each year if you study part time. These increase slightly year on year and the fees are payable for each year of study. If you have studied previously at the University of Suffolk then you will be eligible for the Alumni Postgraduate Loyalty Scheme which means the fees will be reduced by up to 20% each year.
The Postgraduate Doctoral Loan is also a possible method of funding and can help with fees and living costs while you study a PhD. Take a look at www.gov.uk/doctoral-loan for more information on this.
Please also take a look at our Funding and Scholarships section for further information.
The majority of current PhD students at the University of Suffolk are classed as mature students, so you wouldn’t be alone! Our PhD cohort currently ranges from 25 to 74, age is but a number!