What is a PhD?
A PhD is the most common type of doctoral research degree, and is one of the highest level academic degrees that can be awarded. “PhD” stands for “Doctor of Philosophy”. But this does not refer to the subject of philosophy, but instead to the original Greek meaning of “philosophy”, which translates to “love of wisdom”.
To be awarded a PhD you are required to write a thesis, normally 80,000 to 100,000 words long, on an independent and original research project you have undertaken. You will be supported in this by your supervisory team, who will give you expert advice on the direction of your research and on writing your thesis. The research you undertake will lead to new knowledge, applications, or understanding in your field of study, making you the leading expert in your research niche! Throughout your PhD you will also develop a diverse range of transferable skills, which will set you up perfectly for a variety of career paths, both inside and outside of academia.
If you are completing your PhD full time you will typically spend between 3 and 4 years working on it before you submit your thesis for examination. If you are a part time PhD student you will spend around 6 years on your PhD before submitting.
Click for information on ACCE PhD opportunities and how to apply for a PhD with us.
What is a DTP?
A DTP is a “Doctoral training Partnership”, which involves a partnership between multiple institutions, with the purpose of providing doctoral training to a group of PhD students. DTPs are funded by research councils (government funded agencies), and provide financial support and training. Students who undertake their PhD through a DTP are part of a cohort (group) of all the students that start their PhD with the same DTP in the same year, with whom they will be able to network and collaborate, and provide support for one another throughout the PhD process.
ACCE stands for ‘Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environent‘, and this DTP is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which is in turn part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
ACCE is a partnership, led by the University of Liverpool, between the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield, and York, the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), and the Natural History Museum (NHM). ACCE has a research focus on the biological components of environmental sciences, and includes many related disciplines to create a multidisciplinary research and training environment. We provide doctoral training in the biological components of the natural environment and related disciplines to develop motivated, confident and multi-skilled PhD students, undertaking cutting edge research and tackling environmental science questions of global significance. Our PhD students have the opportunity to undertake innovative original research with world leading experts, and are provided with financial support, a bespoke training programme, opportunities to undertake placements, and more. Our training provides our students the skills needed for successful careers in academia and in industry, and our placements give students the chance to explore a variety of possible career paths.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Part time study options
All ACCE PhDs are available as part time or full time, with part time being a minimum of 50% of full time. Please discuss potential part time arrangements with the primary supervisor before applying to the programme.
CASE (Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering) partnerships involve collaboration between academic and non-academic partner organisations. If your studentship is a CASE studentship your project will be co-supervised by your CASE partner. You will also spend 3-6 months on a placement with your CASE partner in their workplace, where you will be trained in research methods, and will undertake innovative research for their organisation. You will experience training, facilities and expertise not available in an academic setting, and will build business and research collaborations. Your CASE partner will also contribute an additional £1000 per year to your Research and Training Support Grant.
Do you need a master’s degree to do a PhD?
In short – no!
We recognise that a master’s degree is only one way to show your potential to be an excellent PhD student, and that experience from other paths equally shows commitment to science. To be eligible for an ACCE studentship, you will generally require the equivalent of a minimum 2:1 in your first degree, but exceptions can be made where applicants can demonstrate excellence in alternative ways.