Careers Service

Moving on to a PhD

Is a PhD right for you? Questions to ask, and advice on finding opportunities and funding.

Is PhD study the right thing for you? Here some things to think about when you’re deciding whether to make this commitment. 

A PhD (also known as a doctorate or DPhil in some universities) is a self-directed research project that makes a unique contribution to its field. It's an opportunity to study an area that interests you, in great depth. It typically takes 3 - 4 years of full-time study or 5 - 7 years part-time. 

Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Are you motivated and determined with a strong interest in your research area? 

  • Did you enjoy doing independent research for your undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations? If so, you may enjoy the longer research period of a PhD. 

  • Could you cope with working on your own for most of the time? This independent study can feel an isolating experience. (Some PhD students, mainly in the sciences, work as part of a large research group and are likely to be able to interact with this team.) 

  • Have you spoken to PhD students to get their view of the lifestyle and working hours? 

  • Are you aiming at an academic career? For this, whether it’s working in academic research or lecturing, a PhD is almost always required.  

  • If so, have you a realistic idea of what academic careers are like, and how competitive the academic job market is, in the UK and elsewhere? 

  • Have you looked into career options beyond academia? We discuss these on the following webpage:

        PhD - Discover What’s Out there  

Finding opportunities 

  • PhD projects that have already received funding and where the project aims have been defined are advertised on the host university's website, in relevant professional journals or other academic job websites such as    

  • If you don’t see adverts for PhDs which interest you, or you have your own ideas about specific areas you would like to research, you should identify universities or research institutes which carry out research in your areas of interest.  Contact researchers or lecturers active in your field to discuss your ideas. You will usually find academic profiles on university websites which invite expressions of interest from potential PhD students. 

How to apply 

  • Start your search early - many PhDs with funding attached have early application deadlines. 

  • There isn’t a centralised admissions service for PhD places; you’ll apply to each institution directly. 

  • For advice on writing an academic CV see our webpage on Applications and CVs for further study.  

        Applications and CVs for further study

  • Individual institutions will have their own advice on writing research proposals.  

       Research proposals 

Funding for a PhD 

Most PhD students in the UK will receive some form of funding throughout their studies. However, a number of students self-fund their PhDs.  

  • 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.   

  • Your potential PhD supervisors may be able to suggest suitable sources of funding - ask them! 

  • The University’s Scholarships and Student Funding Service has information on scholarships and other sources of funding for prospective and current PhD students:  

       Scholarships and Student Funding Service 

  • Some charities and trusts award funding to PhD students. The Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding is a good source of information about these, and about how to approach them.

  • This database gives other suggestions of sources of financial support for students: