What is a PhD?

What does a PhD look like?

Since a PhD is a pure research degree, there will be no obligatory taught aspect of the course, although there are lots of training opportunities throughout. You will undertake your own research project which will develop over the course of your PhD. Every student’s PhD experience is unique, but here’s what you might expect a full time PhD to look like year by year:

Year 1

The beginning of your PhD will get you settled in to your programme and your research. At the start of your first year you will attend induction events at your host institutions, and will get a feel for PhD research from the ACCE annual conference, where you will hear about other ACCE PhD research, and get a chance to meet other ACCE students. You will also have initial meetings with your supervisors, and will develop a plan of action for your project.

Throughout the year you will likely work on your literature review, which will survey and evaluate existing work relevant to your research area. This will help you determine the direction of your research, to determine your core research questions, and to design your result gathering stage. You will also attend some of our core training activities, where you can learn to develop various skills relevant for you PhD project and future career, and where you will meet other students from the other ACCE institutions.

Year 2

In the second year of your PhD you will really get stuck in to your original piece of research. You will focus on collecting data to help you answer the research questions you have identified. The methods you use to gather your data will depend on your research project, but could include running lab based experiments, undertaking fieldwork, conducting surveys, or developing mathematical or computation models. The arguments you will lay out in your thesis will start to develop, and you may even begin to write some sections of it.

You may also choose to participate in other activities related to your PhD at this stage. You might present some of your research at conferences, take on a teaching or demonstrating role, work on outreach and public engagement, do a placement, or develop a piece of work for publication.

Year 3

You will likely continue collecting your results into the third year of your PhD, although your main focus will develop to the writing of your thesis. You will analyse the results you have collected and establish conclusions to your research questions, developing your original contribution to your field of study.

Year 4

In the final stage of your PhD you will finishing writing your thesis, and spend time editing your work to be presentable for examination. Your supervisor will help you edit your thesis so it is ready to be submitted for examination, and once ready you will submit it!

Post submission

After you submit your thesis you will have your viva voce exam (‘viva‘). This is a formal discussion with your examiners, usually an external examiner from another institution who is an expert on the topic, and an internal examiner from your home institution. During your viva you will discuss your thesis with your examiners, and clarify any issues that they have identified. Your examiners will also be checking that your thesis is your own work, and that your knowledge and understanding of your research area are of the standard expected for a PhD. Your viva will take place up to 3 months after you submit your PhD thesis.

Following your viva your examiners may request you make corrections to your thesis. There are different levels of corrections examiners may recommend, for which you are typically allowed either 3, 6, or 12 months.

This time may not fall within your funded period, so you may need to consider other sources of income to cover your living costs during this time.

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