So, you’ve handed in your dissertation, and all has gone well. You’re on track to get a good grade, and are interested in taking things further. This guide looks at how to continue your research with a PhD, from deciding whether a PhD is really right for you to the process of applying to start one.
Is a PhD right for you?
You need to be very certain that doing a PhD is the right step for you to take, as the road is long and arduous, and often lonely.
Be very honest about your motivations. Ask yourself: what am I hoping to get from doing a PhDAre there other options which are possible for meAm I really sure what doing a PhD will involveAm I thinking about this because I don’t want to do something else (for example, not wanting to get a job, or not sure what career path to take).
Talk to other people who have done, or who are doing, a PhD. What are the negatives, the positivesAre there any things they didn’t expect
Remember the time frames: a typical PhD in the UK takes 3-4 years full time, 5-7 years part time.
You need to be very motivated and able to work under your own direction. You also need to be really interested in the area you plan to research. If you enjoyed the element of independent research during your dissertation, you might well be right for a PhD
If you want to go into academia you will probably need a PhD.
What Skills do I need to do a PhD?
To a large extent, the skills you need for doing a PhD are the skills you needed to complete your dissertation. But make sure you are adept at the following:
Critical thinking – the ability to analyse and critique the evidence. It’s no longer enough to describe and organise.
Communication, presentation and writing – you will be spending a lot of time preparing information for other people. By the end of your PhD you will be able to produce work of a publishable quality, and communicate with different audiences (primarily in writing, but also in person)
Planning and management – conducting your research is rather like managing a small office. You need to know how to plan, how to delegate, how to deal with people. You need to be able to plan and manage both at the micro and the macro level.
Networking – although much of the time you spend writing your PhD will be time spent alone, you also need to get on well with people in order to get feedback, make contacts, initiate new projects.
Initiative – you need to be able to think for yourself
How to Apply for a PhD
Unlike applying for an undergraduate course, there is no single application point for PhDs. Rather you need to apply directly to the university you are interested in
It pays to do your research at this stage – don’t assume that you should stay at the university you did your master’s degree at.
You should consider narrowing down your search to a few universities who do work in your area of interest, and then ask to visit to discuss your ideas with them.
You can find a lot of useful information on university websites regarding staff interests.
Funding your PhD
You do need to consider the financial aspect. While funding exists for PhDs, many research students are self-funded. In this case, unless you are independently wealthy, part-time study might be the best option for you.
You will also find funding opportunities advertised online on university websites, as well as in specialist publications.
Some advertised PhD studentships come with funding, so if you succeed in your application to such a studentship (and if you are eligible) you will also get funding
Prospects.ac.uk (2013) ‘Postgraduate qualifications: PhDs’, [online] (cited 5th March 2013) available from
University of Bristol (2013) ‘Aims, Objectives and Guidelines for PhD students’, [online] (cited 5th March 2013) available from http://www.cs.bris.ac.uk/Teaching/learning/phd-guidelines.html
University of Edinburgh (2013) ‘Moving on to a PhD’, [online] (cited 5th March 2013) available from