Postgraduate study

Psychology PhD

Awards: PhD

Study modes: Full-time, Part-time

Funding opportunities

Programme website: Psychology

Staff within the Department of Psychology carries out and supervises world-class research in a range of areas. We host five major research groups:

  • Developmental Science
  • Human Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language, Cognition and Communication
  • Differential Psychology
  • Social Psychology

Psychology is rated 3rd in the UK by Times Higher Education for the quality and breadth of the research using the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021).

Developmental Science

Research in the Developmental Science group examines how different developmental factors interact across the lifespan, from before birth into adolescence and old age. The group comprises a diverse but well-integrated set of researchers, with expertise in cognitive, social and linguistic development, differential psychology and genetics, and statistical and computational modelling. They use a range of methods from behavioural experiments and brain imaging to large cohort studies.

Human Cognitive Neuroscience

This research group comprises academics with a diverse set of research interests spanning cognitive neuroscience.

Areas of research include:

  • visual processing
  • control of action
  • memory
  • language
  • attention
  • executive functions
  • social cognition
  • higher-level cognition and reasoning

The group uses traditional experimental psychology and neuropsychology, neuroimaging techniques such as:

  • fMRI
  • fNIRS
  • EEG
  • brain stimulation
  • eye-tracking
  • motion tracking
  • computational modelling
  • clinical assessment

Staff work with both normally functioning children and adults, and people with neurological disorders.

Language, Cognition and Communication

The Language, Cognition and Communication group is internationally recognised for its work on the psychology of language.

We have wide expertise in such areas as:

  • spoken and written comprehension
  • production
  • dialogue
  • bilingualism
  • language development
  • the cognitive neuroscience of language

Researchers use a range of methods, including behavioural experiments, brain imaging and eye-tracking.

Differential Psychology (individual differences)

Individual differences researchers ask how and why people or other primates differ from one another psychologically and how these differences matter in their lives.

The University of Edinburgh is uniquely positioned to offer PhD training in the area because of its long history of world-class individual differences research and teaching. Our researchers focus on a broad range of topics, including the assessment, causes and consequences of personality traits and intelligence, positive psychology, primate behaviour, paranormal beliefs, development, ageing and psychopathology.

For example, the researchers study the roles of genetics and life experiences and developmental trends in personality traits and intelligence, and how these traits are linked with real-life outcomes in the domains of achievement and health.

Social Psychology

The Social Psychology group examines how we think about the self, others, and groups. The research group covers qualitative and quantitative methodologies, spanning processes like identity, relationships, crowds, and inter-group relations. We employ a range of methods such as questionnaires, interviews, social cognitive techniques, observation, and physiological measures.

Currently, there are no mandatory courses for PhD students, but students are expected to take part of an informal year-long seminar series on key topics of academic work and research seminars of their research area. Also, many students audit various courses and take part in workshops and other modes of training, within the department and beyond.

You will be assigned at least two supervisors who provide expert academic guidance on their research. It is expected that at least some of your research will be published in peer-reviewed journals.

Many PhD students gain undergraduate teaching experience, for which you are given training and mentoring and can gain formal recognition (a teaching certificate).

Psychology houses extensive facilities including several eye-trackers, EEG recording equipment, fNIRS recorder, celspot recording equipment and a suite of dedicated computers running experimental software.

Find out more about our community

The School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences is home to a large, supportive and active student community, hosting events and activities throughout the year which you can join. As a postgraduate student you will have access to a range of research resources, state of the art facilities, research seminars and reading groups.

While many of our PhD graduates choose to remain in academia as lecturers and researchers, going onto post-doctoral opportunities or progressing into faculty positions, some pursue employment and careers in other sectors.

Find a research opportunity and contact potential supervisors prior to making an application

We strongly encourage you to get in touch with a potential supervisor, and to include their name in your application. When contacting a potential supervisor, please include a draft proposal and CV as this will provide the starting point for discussion. You can introduce yourself by explaining why their work interests you.

Write a research proposal

Your research proposal will be used to consider whether the proposed research is feasible and can be supervised by our staff members, so it is important that your theoretical and methodological preparedness for it are clear.

We understand that it can be difficult to formulate research plans well in advance of carrying out the work, but we encourage you to articulate your ideas as clearly as possible. You should draft your proposal several times, and, ideally, seek comments on it from other people (perhaps from your referees or former lecturers) before submitting it.

It is recommended that you contact your planned supervisor(s) well in advance of the deadline to identify a suitable topic for your research proposal. You should draft the research proposal independently and then discuss it with your planned supervisor(s), revising it based on their comments and suggestions.

Each PhD thesis contains several theoretical and empirical chapters. Your proposal should focus on the empirical work, laying out plans for at least two empirical studies (further plans can be worked out as you progress). Ideally, each of the studies will be a publishable journal article; students are strongly encouraged to publish their work in collaboration with their supervisors.

Your proposal must not exceed 1000 words; the panel may not read the part of your proposal exceeding the limit. This does not include references.

Your proposal should include:

  • A title for the project
  • A brief background for the planned research question(s)
  • A compelling, brief rationale for the studies, including the specific research questions/hypotheses
  • A description of the methodology for addressing these questions/hypotheses, which generally includes:
  • Sufficiently large sample(s) of participants (allowing for appropriate statistical power) and measurement/experimental procedures
  • If using existing data (for example, data from large cohort studies or biobanks, imaging data sets, etc.), describe the data sets
  • Your data analytical approach (for example, suitable statistical models)
  • If using qualitative data such as interviews, describe your methods and analytical approach
  • Note that the methodology should be realistic, within the resources and time-scales available to you and your supervisor(s), and also allowing for necessary time for writing the thesis
  • An indication of how your proposed work fits with and contributes to the research programme of your planned supervisor(s). A PhD thesis typically means teamwork, involving the student and one or two supervisors, and often also other members of the research group(s) of the supervisor(s); a student receives training and help from the team, but can also contribute to the team with their research. Applicants that can show a good fit with supervising team have an advantage.

We may ask for a brief (Zoom or MS Teams) interview with you if we have further questions.

If your application is successful, we expect that your research will develop. It is likely that your supervisor(s) or those reviewing the work will suggest changes or developments to your research as your studies progress.

Therefore, you will not be held to the ideas that you explain in your proposal during the course of your research.

Get ready to apply

In order to ensure full consideration of your application we ask that you submit your complete application including all supporting documentation.

You will be asked to add contact details for your referees. We will email them with information on how to upload their reference directly to your online application. Please allow plenty of time as we can only consider your application once we have received your full application, including your references.

Consider your funding options

There are a number of funding opportunities both within the University and externally. Funding is highly competitive at PhD level.

These entry requirements are for the 2023/24 academic year and requirements for future academic years may differ. Entry requirements for the 2024/25 academic year will be published on 2 October 2023.

A UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent, in a related subject.

International qualifications

Check whether your international qualifications meet our general entry requirements:

English language requirements

You must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies, regardless of your nationality or country of residence.

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 7.0 with at least 6.5 in each component.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Home Edition): total 100 with at least 23 in each component. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • C1 Advanced (CAE) / C2 Proficiency (CPE): total 185 with at least 176 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE III with passes in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 70 with at least 62 in each component.

Your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL, Trinity ISE or PTE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

Degrees taught and assessed in English

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that has been taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country, as defined by UK Visas and Immigration:

We also accept a degree that has been taught and assessed in English from a university on our list of approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries (non-MESC).

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than three and a half years old at the beginning of your programme of study.

Find out more about our language requirements:

Tuition fees

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
PhDPsychology3 YearsFull-timeTuition fees
PhDPsychology6 YearsPart-timeTuition fees

Featured funding

UK government postgraduate loans

If you live in the UK, you may be able to apply for a postgraduate loan from one of the UK’s governments.

The type and amount of financial support you are eligible for will depend on:

  • your programme
  • the duration of your studies
  • your tuition fee status

Programmes studied on a part-time intermittent basis are not eligible.

Other funding opportunities

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • PPLS Postgraduate Office
  • Dugald Stewart Building
  • 3 Charles Street
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9AD
Programme start date Application deadline
11 September 2023 13 March 2023

We operate a gathered field approach to PhD applications.

This means that all complete applications which satisfy our minimum entry requirements will be held until the nearest deadline. The admissions panel will meet to consider all applications received together after that date.

Applications are held for processing over two deadlines:

Round Application deadline Places awarded
1 21 November 27 January
2 13 March 15 May

You must submit two references with your application.

Please read through the ‘Important application information’ section on this page before applying.

Find out more about the general application process for postgraduate programmes:

Further information

  • PPLS Postgraduate Office
  • Dugald Stewart Building
  • 3 Charles Street
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9AD