What is a PhD?

PhD and MPhil degrees are different from taught degrees - such as Bachelors or Masters degrees - because the programme is an independent research project, rather than a programme of assessed coursework.

Making an original contribution

The essential requirement of a PhD is the creation of new knowledge. Being a researcher means developing new ideas and improving understanding through this creation of new knowledge. Your research will inevitably build on the work and ideas of others, but as a research student you are expected to make an original contribution to knowledge in your discipline.

Leading a research project

You will lead the research project, but you will also have support from a supervisory team who are there to provide guidance and read and comment on draft work - but the ultimate responsibility for planning and managing the research project will rest with you.

Writing a thesis

The research project is then written up as a thesis - usually 50,000-80,000 words depending on the discipline. Again, responsibility for writing and submitting the thesis rests with you, but your supervisory team provide guidance and read and comment on draft chapters to help ensure the thesis is of an appropriate standard.

Viva voce - defending your thesis

Finally, to be awarded a research degree you must defend your thesis in a 'viva voce' (spoken) examination. The viva voce examination is an intense and challenging experience, but we offer workshops and mock examinations to help you prepare and almost all research students who reach this stage go on to successfully complete their degree.

How long does a PhD take?

Full-time

You will normally complete your active research - experimental work, field work, archival work, etc. - over a maximum period of 3-3.5 years. A fourth year or the remaining part of this can then be used to prepare the thesis for examination.

Part-time

You would normally complete your active research - experimental work, field work, archival work, etc. - over a maximum period of 6-6.5 years. A seventh year or the remaining part of this can then be used to prepare the thesis for examination.

How long does an MPhil take?

Full-time

MPhil students would normally complete their active research - experimental work, field work, archival work, etc. - over a maximum period of 1-1.5 years. A second year or the remaining part of this can then be used to prepare the thesis for examination.

Part-time

MPhil students would normally complete their active research - experimental work, field work, archival work, etc. - over a maximum period of 3-3.5 years. A fourth year or the remaining part of this can then be used to prepare the thesis for examination.

In some cases it may be possible to complete a PhD or MPhil degree in less time, but this is unusual.

Structured training

UK PhD and MPhil degrees are distinctive in that they provide research students with a structured programme of training designed to help them develop their personal and professional capabilities. At Leicester, we are proud of our innovative and flexible approach to supporting the skills and career development of our research students.

Skill and career development

You'll benefit from a structured and tailored programme of skills and career development activities. In addition to the subject-specific research skills that are gained over the course of the research project, we offer workshops and training events that allow you to develop wider generic research skills and transferable skills such as leadership, team working, project management skills, and presentation skills - helping you to enhance your employability whatever your career plans.

Communicating your research

We also provide opportunities to help you develop your ability to share your research and develop your confidence in communicating research concepts and findings to different types of audiences. Schools and departments offer their own seminar and conference programmes in which you are encouraged to participate. Over the course the degree, you'll normally also attend academic conferences in the UK or abroad at which you present your research and have the opportunity both to network with other researchers in your subject and to raise your own profile.

Similarly, our annual Festival of Postgraduate Research invites fifty of our best research students to present their research to a mixed audience from academia, industry, politics, and the media.

QAA standards

In the UK all higher education institutions are required to follow standards set by the national Quality Assurance Agency. They have produced a short guide on UK doctorate programmes and international applicants in particular may find this helpful in understanding what makes UK doctorates distinctive.

The UK Doctorate: A Guide for Current and Prospective Doctoral Candidates (PDF)