PhD Research Degrees

Research degrees are either masters- or doctoral-level qualifications that are awarded to students who complete a specifically approved programme of study. When you study for a research degree we will help you create an individually-designed programme of research. UK research degrees are not taught programmes of study, although you will include a research methods qualification as part of your studies. Because these programmes of study are specifically written for you each research degree must be individually approved by both the faculty and by the university. That means we will ask you to propose a clear research idea at application and then help you develop a full proposal during the early months of your studies.

Research degrees provide a unique opportunity for you to spend time developing a deep and detailed knowledge of a specific subject of your choice and to contribute new knowledge in your academic area. Research degrees can be challenging but very rewarding and require a great deal of commitment, personal motivation and hard work. Through completion of a research degree you will prove yourself as a scholar and become an expert in your chosen field.

What You Will Produce

A traditional research degree involves conducting a piece of research, writing a thesis and sitting an oral exam (a viva voce) where you defend your thesis in front of a panel of experts. It is also possible to work on a research degree through practice where you use production skills to investigate a research question, submit a final product supported by a written account, and sit an oral exam. The nature of your research programme and the thesis that you produce is determined by the subject that you wish to investigate. Your supervisors will guide you every step of the way from registration of your programme of study, conducting your research, submitting your thesis to sitting your viva voce.

There are two main types of research degree, Master of Philosophy (MPhil) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

Master of Philosophy (MPhil)

The MPhil is a masters-level qualification, which would normally require a minimum of two to three years full-time or four years part-time study for successful completion. You will normally require an appropriate honours degree or an equivalent qualification. We also consider non-standard applications if you do not have an undergraduate qualification where there are other forms of evidence that you have the potential to complete your degree. For instance, if you have considerable professional experience in your chosen field of research, but who do not hold the necessary degree level qualification, you may also gain entry to the MPhil programme if you can provide suitable academic references and demonstrate an appropriate level of scholarly and research skills.

Whilst an MPhil is a qualification in its own right many students enrol on an MPhil as a stage towards producing a PhD when they have not previously completed another masters programme which includes research methods training. Most MPhil candidates transfer their registration from MPhil to PhD after they have demonstrated that both they and their research have sufficient promise for the higher award. This usually occurs after 12-15 months full-time or 24-36 months part-time.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The PhD is an internationally recognised doctoral-level qualification which would normally require a minimum of three to four years full-time study or six years part-time study for successful completion. The PhD is the 'gold standard' qualification that demonstrates that your research has made a significant contribution to knowledge in a specific discipline. Holders of the degree of PhD are able to use the title "Doctor". The normal entry requirement for PhD is a masters-level qualification in an area appropriate to the proposed field of study. Applicants who apply without a masters-level qualification and research training usually start their research degree studies on a MPhil programme and transfer to PhD later.

Differences Between MPhil and PhD

The main difference between MPhil and PhD is defined in terms of the "significant contribution to knowledge" that the candidate can demonstrate has resulted from successful completion of their research, preparation and defence of their thesis and, possibly the authoring of academic conference or journal papers.

A successful MPhil programme demonstrates that a student has successfully planned and carried out a programme of research and that the research findings have been contextualised and analysed to produce coherent results, which have been examined in detail.

A successful PhD programme demonstrates additionally how their research findings have contributed to new knowledge or have extended existing theory and/or understanding of their research area.

Transferring Registration from MPhil to PhD

All research students who initially enrol for MPhil have the opportunity to move into a PhD programme through a PhD transfer process, where their capability, progress and research topic justifies this. Candidates for PhD transfer must produce a progress report, undergo an oral examination and define a PhD research programme application that appropriately extends the original MPhil programme.