Careers Service

Moving onto a PhD

If you are considering PhD study then this page will help you to consider what this means and provide information on application processes and funding opportunities.

Is a PhD for you?

A PhD (also known as a doctorate or DPhil in some universities) is a self-directed research project that makes a unique contribution to the field of study. In the UK a PhD typically takes 3 - 4 years of full time study or 5 - 7 years part-time.

You must be very motivated and persistent and have a strong interest in your research area to successfully undertake a PhD. If you have enjoyed the independent research of your Masters then you may enjoy the longer, more in-depth research period of a PhD.

A PhD is almost always a formal requirement for an academic career so will be necessary if you want to work in academic research or lecturing. To find out more about academic careers go to those pages in our PhD section.

Academic career

PhD students may be working on their own for most of the time sometimes with limited support. You should reflect on your experience during your Masters degree to help you consider whether you would find this experience isolating or if you are motivated by independent working.

In contrast many students, mainly in the sciences, work as part of a large research group and find interacting with the team enjoyable and motivating.

Talk to current PhD students to find out more about what is expected during a PhD in your discipline and the lifestyle and working hours experienced.

Consider your motivations for undertaking a PhD. Is it to pursue a specific career direction? Have you been encouraged to continue by your Masters supervisor? To find out more about career options after a PhD see our pages on ‘what are your options’. Speaking to a careers consultant may help with your decision making.

How to apply

You will need to make applications directly to individual universities for each PhD project which interests you.

  • PhD projects that have already received funding and where the project aims have been defined are advertised on the host universities own website, in relevant professional journals or other websites such as those in the related links section. You will normally apply directly to the institution using their postgraduate application system.
  • You may not see PhDs of interest advertised or will have your own ideas about specific areas you would like to research, possibly based on your Masters research. In that case you should identify which universities or research institutes conduct research in your areas of interest and then contact relevant researchers to discuss your ideas. You will commonly see academic profiles on university websites which invite expressions of interest from potential PhD students.
  • Many PhDs with funding attached have early application deadlines so you should start your search early.

Funding for a PhD

Many PhD students in the UK will receive some form of funding throughout their studies although there will be a number of students who self-fund. Some ideas for sources of funding are outlined below.

Many advertised PhD studentships come with funding already attached. If you are successful in your application for the PhD and meet eligibility criteria then you will also receive funding.

The University of Edinburgh Scholarships and Student Funding Service has information on scholarships and other sources of funding for both prospective and current students at all levels in the University and beyond.

Scholarships and Student Funding Service

The Careers Service also provides information on potential sources of funding:

Sources of funding

Talk to your Masters and potential PhD supervisors to see if they can suggest any suitable sources of funding.

Edinburgh Innovations provides access to a database of funding opportunities called Research Professional. Although much of this is for post-doctoral support (ie. for after completion of a PhD) there are a number of opportunities for PhD funding listed.

Study abroad

The information above applies to PhD study in the UK. If you are interested in continuing your studies abroad then please see the further study abroad sections of our website.