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What would it take to get a PhD?

| May 28, 2013

The requirements for a PhD usually vary depending on the country and/or university. Some universities require students to have completed a master’s degree as a primary qualification for enrolling in a doctorate programme. However, there are some universities which allow exceptional college graduates to directly enter into a doctorate programme. The criteria for selection into a PhD programme and the years involved also vary across universities.

The long and winding road to a PHDPhD programs can take between three to eight years to complete. Students usually divide their time between taking advanced courses and conducting independent research. Students must present their research to the faculty in a formal document called a dissertation or a thesis. The dissertation is usually around 80,000 to 100,000 words based on research that was carried out over the course of their PhD study. The research must be original and must generate new knowledge or theories in a specific area or it must build on existing theories or knowledge.[1] Ideally, the dissertation should be worthy of publication in a peer-reviewed context such as academic journals.[2]

A PhD entails a demonstration of research competence. As such, there are two basic prerequisites for attaining a PhD:[3]

1)      Master a specific subject completely – a student searches published literature that has been written about a subject. Universities have their own guidelines that students must follow to earn a PhD. They also have a specific set of standards for measuring mastery of a subject.

2)      Extend the body of knowledge about that subject – this entails exploration, investigation, and contemplation; contributing to the discourse or adding knowledge that moves the discourse along.

In both cases, there are a few things to consider:[4]

  • Have proper research insight
  • Give respect for the discipline
  • Have the capacity for independent research
  • Possess the ability to communicate results and relate them to the broader discourse

In a traditional setting, PhD students are required to study on campus under close supervision. However, due to the developments in e-learning technologies and the popularity of distance education, some universities are now accepting PhD students to study part-time through their distance learning programmes.

During the course of the PhD study, students are expected to work independently while receiving support and guidance from their department and supervisor. There may also be seminars to attend and/or laboratory work to complete, depending on the subject being studied. While studying for their PhD, students are encouraged to get their academic papers published and to present their work at conferences. These allow them to get feedback on the ideas that they have for their dissertation.

PhD students are also required to defend their work through an oral examination. Both the dissertation and oral examination are assessed by a panel of experts, each of whom holds a PhD degree. A PhD will be conferred to students who complete these requirements. An unsuccessful defence may require the candidate to take on at least another semester to remedy problems and weaknesses in their dissertation.



[1] (2013). What is a PhD? Available: Last accessed 28th Mar 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] PhD Project. (2012). What is a PhD? Available: Last accessed 28th Mar 2013.

[4] Marian Petre & Gordon Rugg, The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research Open Up Study Skills. (Berkshire: Open University Press, 2010), 1-13

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Category: Phd Writing