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What is a PhD?

A PhD is a Doctorate of Philosophy, a prestigious qualification that demonstrates talent, academic excellence and a thirst for knowledge.  Like all research degrees, a PhD can give you an advantage in the job market, and opens doors in the academic community. Over a four-year period of full-time study (a maximum of six years part-time) you investigate a research topic and develop your research skills, culminating in the completion, submission and defence via an oral examination of a 100,000 word doctoral thesis. Your thesis must:

  • Contribute to the knowledge and/or understanding in your academic subject area
  • Show evidence of originality and critical judgement
  • Be worthy of publication
  • Give evidence of your ability to undertake further research without supervision.

All PhD students are initially registered for a Master of Philosophy (MPhil), and the PhD registration is confirmed after the successful completion of a probationary assessment (at the end of year 1 for full-time students and year 2 for part-time).

What will I get from a PhD?

You will get a huge sense of personal achievement. Our doctoral training programme will help you develop transferable skills that will be invaluable in your subsequent career. The research techniques and methodologies you master will enable you to make a direct contribution to the advancement of knowledge in your particular subject area.

Successful candidates are awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy and are permitted to use the title ‘Dr’.

In a modern knowledge-based economy, highly educated and skilled people such as doctoral graduates are in great demand. They form the most highly educated and skilled group in the UK. Many will go on to use their skills within academia or in research- intensive occupations in industry. However, there will be others who will draw on their research background and the skills gained through a doctoral degree in a wide variety of other occupations.

After exploring The Open University online prospectus, you may wish to visit Vitae. Vitae is the UK organisation championing the personal, professional and career development of doctoral researchers.

How does it work?


PhDs usually last four years with full-time study, or six years with part-time study.


You will have a probation assessment at the end of Year 1 (Year 2 for part-time study). You will be registered for a PhD when you pass this probation.  Your academic progress will be monitored throughout your degree studies, via formal progress reports and regular meetings with your supervisors.

You complete a body of primary research and submit a doctoral thesis, which you then ‘defend’ via an oral examination.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements vary according to the research topic and/or specific studentships. The normal minimum entrance requirement is an upper second class honours degree or master’s degree, relevant to the proposed area of study, from a recognised higher education institution in the UK.  You should also have experience of academic research in the previous four years, normally in the form of either a master’s degree in research methods, an undergraduate degree with a research element in the final year, or work-related experience with evidence through research reports.  If you have a qualification from outside the UK, or you’re not sure if you meet the entry requirements, please contact us before applying (

Application closing dates

Usually, students are recruited on an annual cycle with a start date of 1 October. This corresponds with external funding patterns and ensures that students benefit from development and training in large peer groups. Other start dates are sometimes possible, particularly where funding is linked to specific projects.  This means that there is not a fixed closing date for application.  You should check the details given on the relevant research topic page or studentship advertisement for specific dates.

Your questions

For advice about applying for a research degree, or sponsoring a research student, send us an email or call +44 (0)1908 654882.