Is a PhD right for me?

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.

Violleta Negrea — PhD Student

Talking head of Violleta Negrea

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.

Introduction to PhD supervision

A student reading a book in front of a bookshelf

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.

Postgraduate Tuition Fees for 2023/24 are detailed below. 


Home students 

International students 


Both non-lab and lab based

Non-lab / Lab-based 



£13,900 / £15,300



Not Applicable


Postgraduate fees typically increase each year, therefore if you are studying over more than one academic year, your tuition fee in subsequent years is likely to increase.

International Students: A CAS deposit of £3,000 is required for the UK VISA application and the University of Suffolk Admissions team will be in contact when they are ready to request this.

Permanent members of staff who have completed the probationary period at the University of Suffolk are entitled to undertake a PhD as Staff Development training, and as such, tuition fees are waived.  Each year, staff members are required to complete the Staff Development form at the start of each year of study.

All members of the University of Suffolk Alumni Association are entitled to a loyalty reduction of up to 25% on PhD course fees. This scheme has been developed to support and encourage alumni students to progress to full or part-time postgraduate research programmes at the University. More information is available on the Alumni Postgraduate Loyalty Scheme page.

The Postgraduate Doctoral Loan is also a possible method of funding and can help with fees and living costs while you study a PhD.

Doctoral Loans

A doctoral loan is available to help with the tuition fees and/or living costs for your postgraduate doctoral study. You can apply for the full amount regardless of the actual tuition fee that you will be paying. The loan will be paid directly to you in three instalments in each year of study.

Information below is taken from the Doctoral Loan: Overview - GOV.UK ( website

£27,892 if your course starts on or after 1 August 2022
£27,265 if your course started between 1 August 2021 and 31 July 2022
£26,445 if your course started between 1 August 2020 and 31 July 2021

If you apply after your first year
You can apply for a Postgraduate Doctoral Loan in any year of your course. But if you apply after your first year, you might not get the maximum amount.

You can get up to:

£11,836 if your course starts on or after 1 August 2022
£11,570 if your course started between 1 August 2021 and 31 July 2022
£11,222 if your course started between 1 August 2020 and 31 July 2021

Information on doctoral loans eligibility criteria.

Full information.

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!