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phd how to get started

10 things you need to know before starting a PhD degree

So you want to do a PhD degree, huh? Here we've got everything you need to know about getting started.

So you want to do a PhD degree, huh? Are you sure about that? It’s not going to be an easy decision, so I’ve put together a list of 10 things you need to know before starting a PhD degree. Oh, and don’t panic!

I have recently graduated from the University of Manchester with a PhD in Plant Sciences after four difficult, but enjoyable, years. During those four years, I often felt slightly lost – and there was more than one occasion on which I didn’t even want to imagine writing up my thesis in fear of delving into fits of panic.

On reflection, I realise that – to quote a colleague – commencing my PhD was like “jumping in the deep end with your eyes closed.” If only I’d known to take a deep breath.

1. Are you sure you want to do a PhD degree?

Let’s be under no false impressions, completing a PhD isn’t easy. There will be times when you feel like Wile E Coyote chasing after the Roadrunner – a little bit out of your depth a lot of the time. It’s four years of your life, so make sure it is what you really want to do.

If you want to pursue a career in science, a PhD isn’t always necessary.

It is possible to make great inroads into industry without a doctoral degree. That said, a PhD can also be a very useful qualification with many transferable skills to add to your CV.

By the time you’ll have finished, you can include essentials such as time management, organisational skills, prioritising workloads, attention to detail, writing skills, presenting to an audience – and most importantly – resilience, to name but a few.

2. Choose your project, and supervisor, wisely.

This is  very  important.

Time after time, our experienced scientists at EI, including Erik Van-Den-Bergh (and I agree) say, “ make sure you’re extremely passionate about exactly that subject. ” When I saw the PhD opening that I eventually was offered, I remember being demonstrably ecstatic about the project before I’d even started it.

I was always interested in calcium signalling and organised a meeting with my potential supervisor immediately, which (to quote Billy Connolly) I leapt into in a mood of gay abandon.

Not only does this help you to keep engaged with your project even through the painstakingly slow times, it also greatly enhances your ability to sell yourself in an interview. If you can show passion and enthusiasm about the project and the science then you’ll be that one step ahead of other candidates – which is all the more important now that many studentships are competitive.

You have to  be the best  out of many, often exceptional candidates.

However, as important as it is to be passionate about your project, make sure that the person who will be supervising you is worthy.

Does your potential supervisor have a prolific track record of publishing work? What is the community of scientists like in the lab you may be working in? Are there experienced post-doctoral scientists working in the lab? Who will your advisor be? Is your supervisor an expert in the field you are interested in? Is the work you will be doing ground-breaking and novel, or is it quite niche?

There is nothing more frustrating – and I know many PhD degree students with this problem – than having a supervisor who is rarely there to talk to, shows little interest in your work, and cannot help when you are struggling in the third year of your project and some guidance would be much appreciated.

Personally, and I was very lucky to have this, I think it’s incredibly useful to have two supervisors. My PhD degree was split between the University of Manchester and the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth. Between my supervisors, I had two people with expertise in different fields, who could give me some fantastic advice from different perspectives. This also meant that I had two people to check through my thesis chapters and provide useful comments on my drafts.

PhD students networking during the last Student Symposium

Make sure you are passionate about your subject before taking it to PhD level. And by passionate I mean  really  passionate.

For a start, you will most likely have to write a literature review in your first three months, which if done well will form the main bulk of your thesis introduction and will save you a lot of stress and strain when it comes to writing up.

At the end of your first year, you will have to write a continuation report, which is your proof that you deserve to carry on to the end of your three or four years. This doesn’t leave much time for lab work, which means time management is incredibly important. If you think you’ll be able to swan in at 11 and leave at 3, think again.

Fundamentally, never, ever rest on your laurels! As tempting as it may be to slack-off slightly in the second year of your four year PhD, don’t.

4. Be organised.

This is a no-brainer but still, it’s worth a mention. Take an hour on a Monday morning to come up with a list of short-term and long-term goals. You’ll probably have to present your work at regular lab meetings, so it’s always worth knowing what has to be done (lest you look a pillock in front of the lab when there’s nothing to show for your last two weeks.)

It’s always good to have a timeline of what will be done when. If you have a PCR, maybe you can squeeze in another experiment, read a few papers, start writing the introduction to your thesis, or even start collecting the data you already have into figures.

The more good use you make of your time, the easier it’ll be to finish your PhD in the long run. Plus, it’s lovely to sit back and look at actual graphs, rather than worry about having enough to put into a paper. Once you’ve typed up your data, you’ll realise you’ve done far more than you had anticipated and the next step forward will be entirely more apparent.

5. Embrace change – don’t get bogged down in the details.

Felix Shaw – one of our bioinformatics researchers at EI – put it best when he said, “ it felt like I was running into brick walls all the way through [my PhD]… you’d run into a brick wall, surmount it, only to run straight into another. ”

You’ll find that, often, experiments don’t work. What might seem like a great idea could turn out to be as bad as choosing to bat first on a fresh wicket on the first day of the third Ashes test at Edgbaston. (Yeah, we don't know what that means either - Ed).

Resilience is key while completing your PhD. Be open to change and embrace the chance to experiment in different ways. You might even end up with a thesis chapter including all of your failures, which at the very least is something interesting to discuss during your  viva voce .

6. Learn how to build, and use, your network.

As a PhD student, you are a complete novice in the world of science and most things in the lab will be – if not new to you – not exquisitely familiar. This matters not, if you take advantage of the people around you.

Firstly, there are lab technicians and research assistants, who have probably been using the technique you are learning for years and years. They are incredibly experienced at a number of techniques and are often very happy to help show you how things are done.

There are postdocs and other PhD students, too. Not only can they help you with day-to-day experiments, they can offer a unique perspective on how something is done and will probably have a handy back-catalogue of fancy new techniques to try.

There are also a bunch of PIs, not limited to your own, who are great to talk to. These people run labs of their own, have different ideas, and might even give you a job once you’ve completed your PhD.

Don’t limit yourself to the labs directly around you, however. There are a massive number of science conferences going on all around the world. Some of them, such as the Society of Biology Conference, take place every year at a similar time in different locations, attracting many of the leaders in their respective fields.

If you are terrified by the prospect of speaking at a full-blown science conference and having your work questioned by genuine skeptics, there are also many student-led conferences which will help you dangle your fresh toes in the murky waters of presenting your work.

One such conference, the Second Student Bioinformatics Symposium, which took place at Earlham Institute in October 2016, was a great place for candidates to share their projects with peers, who are often much more friendly than veteran researchers with 30 year careers to their name when it comes to the questions at the end of your talk.

Another great reason to attend conferences, of course, is the social-side too – make the most of this. You never know who you might meet and connect with over a few drinks once the talks are over and the party commences.

7. Keep your options open.

You should be aware that for every 200 PhD students,  only 7  will get a permanent academic post , so it’s  incredibly unlikely that you’ll become a Professor  – and even if you make PI, it probably won’t be until your mid-forties.

You may also, despite having commenced along the academic path, decide that actually, working in a lab environment isn’t for you. Most PhD graduates, eventually, will not pursue an academic career, but move on to a wide range of other vocations.

It might be that Science Communication is more up your street. This was certainly the case for me – and I made sure that I took part in as many public engagement events as possible while completing my PhD. Most Universities have an active public engagement profile, while organisations such as STEM can provide you with ample opportunities to interact with schools and the general public.

You might also consider entrepreneurship as a route away from academia, which might still allow you to use your expert scientific knowledge. There are a variety of competitions and workshops available to those with a business mind, a strong example being Biotechnology YES.

I, for example, took part in the Thought for Food Challenge, through which I have been able to attend events around the world and meet a vast array of like-minded individuals. Many of the participants from the challenge have gone on to set up successful businesses and have even found jobs as a result of the competition.

10 things phd fire

8. Balance.

Remember that you still have a life outside of your PhD degree – and that this can be one of the greatest opportunities to make amazing friends from around the world.

A science institute is usually home to the brightest students from a variety of countries and can provide a chance to experience a delightful range of different people and cultures. Don’t just stick to the people in your lab, go to events for postgraduate students and meet people from all over campus.

There are usually academic happy hours happening on Fridays after work where you can buy cheap beer, or some lucky institutions even have their own bar. At Norwich Research Park, we not only have the Rec Centre, along with bar, swimming pool, calcetto, samba classes, archery, and a range of other activities, but there are also biweekly “Postdoc pub clubs” which are very fun to join on a Tuesday evening.

Maintain your hobbies and keep up with friends outside of your PhD and you’ll probably find it’s not that gruelling a process after all.

Plus, the people you meet and become friends with might be able to help you out – or at least be able to offer a sympathetic shoulder.

10 things phd relaxing

9. Practical advice.

If, after reading all of this, you’re still going to march forth and claim your doctorhood, then this section should be rather useful.

Firstly, make sure your data is backed up. It’s amazing how many people don’t do this and you’d be bonkers not to. Keep your work saved on a shared drive, so that if your computer decides to spontaneously combust upon pressing the return key, you won’t have lost all of your precious work – or have to go through every one of your lab books and type it all up again.

Secondly, don’t leave your bag in the pub with your half-written thesis in it. I did this, the bag was fine, I was in a state of terror for at least half an hour before the kind person at Weatherspoons located said bag.

Thirdly, read. Read broadly, read anything and everything that’s closely related to your project – or completely unrelated. It’s sometimes amazing where you might find a stroke of inspiration, a new technique you hadn’t thought of … or even in idea of where you might like to go next.

Finally, ask questions – all of the time. No matter how stupid it might sound in your head, everyone’s probably been asked it before, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

You’ll probably look far less stupid if you just ask the person standing next to you how the gradient PCR function works on your thermal cycler rather than standing there randomly prodding buttons and looking flustered, anyway.

10. Savour the positives.

At the end of all of this, it has to be said that doing a PhD is absolutely brilliant. There’s no other time in your life that you’ll be this free to pursue your very own project and work almost completely independently. By the time you come to the end of your PhD, you will be the leading expert in the world on something. A real expert! Until the next PhD student comes along …

Related reading.

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A PhD, is it worth it? Just ask our students

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The realities of doing a PhD

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My advice for PhD students? See what bites

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COVID and my PhD: to lockdown and back

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How does a PhD work and how to find the right one

Becky Shaw, PhD student at Earlham Institute

Building the confidence to take on a PhD

phd how to get started

PhD life, 10 things we learned in our first six months

phd how to get started

What’s the third year of a PhD like? Tips for navigating your PhD

phd how to get started

PhD by experience

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How To Get a PhD [2024 Guide – Campus & Online]

Are you wondering how to get a PhD? Although it requires dedication and focus to complete, the process of earning your doctorate can be broken down into a few simple steps.

How To Get a PhD

Earning your PhD is a way to become involved in a specific academic community while strengthening your research, writing, and presentation skills.

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Professionals who earn their doctoral degree often go on to accept leadership roles in a variety of fields, including academia, education, and healthcare.

How to Get a PhD

earning a PhD

Earning a PhD does not have to be a complex process, though it can be a long one. Regardless of the topic you choose to focus on, the journey toward your doctorate will likely begin with earning a bachelors degree and end with a public defense of your doctoral dissertation.

1. Earn an Undergraduate Degree

The road to a PhD begins with earning an undergraduate degree from an accredited school. Bachelor’s degrees generally take about 4 years to complete if you follow a traditional academic schedule.

If you are considering applying for higher degree programs after graduation, it is beneficial to maintain a high grade point average over the course of your undergraduate career. If you aren’t sure whether you’d like to pursue further education, there are generally plenty of career opportunities available for students with a bachelor’s-level education.

2. Obtain a Master’s Program

Obtain a Master’s Program

The next step in your journey will be to obtain a master’s degree from an accredited institution. During your master’s degree program, you will select an area of study on which to focus more. Over the course of your studies, you can develop expertise in your discipline through a combination of theoretical analysis and fieldwork.

Because there are fewer credits required to complete a master’s degree than a bachelor’s degree, a graduate program will typically take 2 years to complete with full-time study. Some schools offer accelerated programs, offering the possibility to finish your degree sooner.

The focus of your master’s degree program will likely inform your professional career or your doctoral field of study. So, it is beneficial to consider the areas you are passionate about and to conduct extensive research into your schools of interest prior to applying.

3. Apply for a PhD Program

Apply for a PhD Program

After earning your master’s degree, you may be qualified to apply for a doctoral program. One factor that becomes important is the master’s degree GPA needed for a PhD program admission. Admissions requirements will vary from program to program.

Another one of the most important parts of the application process is determining what you will study during your time as a doctoral candidate. Because it may take up to 5 years to complete your PhD, it is essential that you pursue something you are passionate about.

After you decide what you’d like to study, you can begin to research programs and schools to see if they fit your needs. As you conduct your search, you may want to pay close attention to the professors who work in your field of study. You will need someone to advise you, and it can be helpful to have an understanding of the resources available to you before you apply.

4. Complete the Requisite Coursework

Complete the Requisite Coursework

If you are admitted to a doctoral program, your first few semesters will be spent completing the required coursework. The courses that you’ll complete will be dependent on your field of study and the specific program you attend.

For example, a student pursuing their PhD in Comparative Studies might take classes on approaches to comparative cultural comparative studies as well as contemporary political problems. Their classes could also cover topics in narrative, culture, and representation.

Taking classes at the start of your program can help you decide on a topic for your final dissertation and may equip you with relevant research skills and tools.

5. Submit a Research Proposal

Submit a Research Proposal

Once you complete your initial courses, you will be asked to submit a research proposal. A research proposal outlines what topic you are going to focus your research on and what your approach will consist of.

Why is this important? Not only does it give professors a clear understanding of your research, your method, and your thinking, but it also helps you get organized. As you work through your dissertation, you can refer back to what you planned in your proposal to keep you on track.

6. Research and Collect Data

Research and Collect Data

Conducting research and collecting data is a critical component of your PhD. Working toward and completing your dissertation not only allows you to become an expert in your field but also provides the opportunity for you to have a voice in the academic community.

In order to ensure that the information you present is valid, it is necessary to use extensive research to back up your findings.

7. Perform a Literature Review

Once you have chosen a specific research topic, you may be required to perform a literature review. During this review, you will analyze books and papers that are related to your field of study in order to determine any strengths, weaknesses, or gaps. You may also compare different literature and take note of recurring themes.

This review process helps you develop a broader understanding of what research already exists in your field related to your topic of interest. It also helps highlight any gaps that your thesis may be able to fill and identifies prominent authors and works to which you can refer while completing your dissertation.

8. Write and Produce a Thesis and Dissertation

One of the final tasks of your Ph.D. program will be to write and produce a thesis and a dissertation. Your thesis is the question or argument to which all your research will work to answer or prove.

Your dissertation is the collection and presentation of your findings, which should be a comprehensive response to your thesis statement. Dissertations can run in length from 100 pages to 300 pages on average. They often require a significant amount of preparation and effort, along with several months or years of hard work.

9. Defend Dissertation and Public Research

Defend Dissertation and Public Research

As your final step in your PhD journey, you may be asked to defend your thesis. While this may sound intimidating, it is simply the opportunity for you to present your research and answer questions posed by the thesis committee.

In some cases, this portion of the process is largely symbolic because your dissertation will have already been assessed. Depending on your specific program, this process can take anywhere from 25 minutes to over an hour.

PhD Admissions Requirements

PhD Admissions Requirements

Specific PhD admissions requirements will vary between programs, but most schools typically require the following items:

  • GRE or GMAT scores (only some schools require them)
  • Statement of purpose
  • Undergraduate and graduate degree transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation

It’s strategic to research the specific admissions requirements for your schools of interest prior to applying. In addition to these items, some programs may ask for an application fee as well as a resume as proof of experience in your field of interest.


PhD Accreditation

Accreditation is an external and internal review process of an educational program. This process signals to applicants, students, and employers that a program is legitimate.

By choosing to participate in the accreditation process, schools are ensuring that the education they offer is up to current standards. This means that you will most likely be taught by qualified staff members and receive appropriate educational materials.

It is beneficial to check for regional accreditation. This information is often posted on a school’s website, but you can also verify a prospective school’s status by looking through the US Department of Education’s list of accredited institutions.

Is Financial Aid Available?

PhD Financial Aid

The most common form of financial aid available to qualifying students is provided by government loans. To determine the amount of federal assistance you qualify for, you can fill out the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid . This form takes into account details about your personal life and income to ensure a fair decision based on your circumstances.

In addition to federal aid, you can also apply for state aid, a process which will vary by state. You can also check for available scholarships at your schools of interests. There are often unique opportunities to apply for financial help at each school.

What Is a PhD?

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is considered to be among the highest academic degrees you can achieve. A PhD program is centered around developing an original thesis and conducting the accompanying research.

Your final product is often a written dissertation, in which you showcase your research and present your findings. If you are interested in a career in academia or research, then a PhD may be a good fit for you.

Should I Get a PhD?

The question of whether you should obtain a PhD is one that will be determined by your personal career goals and aspirations. As you make your decision, it might be helpful to consider these factors:

  • Time and money . Do you have the time and finances needed to complete a PhD?
  • Dedication and focus . Will you be able to stay passionate and motivated about one topic while you work through your doctoral program?
  • Career goals . How will earning your PhD help propel you toward your professional goals?

Since every doctoral program is unique, you can search for schools that offer the programs that most align with your goals.

Do You Need a Masters to Get a PhD?

Masters to Get a PhD

No, you do not always need a masters degree in order to earn a PhD, depending on the school and program. While the traditional path to getting a doctorate consists of earning your undergraduate and masters degrees before applying to a PhD program, there are some exceptions.

For schools that allow you to pursue a PhD directly after earning your undergrad degree, you will likely apply as a Master of Philosophy student. After that, you can have the opportunity to submit a thesis proposal for review. If it is accepted, you may be able to continue your research as a PhD candidate.

How Many Credits for a Doctorate Degree?

The amount of credits needed to complete your doctorate will be determined by a number of factors. These include your specific school requirements, the type of degree you earn, your chosen area of study, and the requirements of your state.

Credits for Doctorate Degree

Typically, a PhD program will consist of 60 to 120 credits. Your credits will likely be split between electives, major courses, research core courses, and dissertation requirements. Some fields, such as psychology, may require more time and credits to complete.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD?

The length of a PhD program varies widely. Most take between 3 to 5 years to complete due to the dissertation requirement.

There are some doctoral programs that require less than 60 credits and do not include a final dissertation. These types of programs can be finished more quickly if you are enrolled full-time. Professional doctorates are more likely to follow this abbreviated structure and are generally intended for students who already have their masters in a specific field.

How Hard Is It to Get a PhD?

earn a PhD

Determining how difficult it is to earn a PhD will depend on what you consider to be the biggest roadblocks. As you research your schools of interest, it’s beneficial to check eligibility criteria and admissions requirements. This may be an area of difficulty if you lack the transcripts, finances, or test scores needed to apply.

Alternatively, the admissions process may seem simple, but you might find the prospect of researching one subject over the course of many years a difficult one. It’s strategic to conduct extensive research and consider your career goals as you make your decision.

If Someone Has a PhD, Are They a Doctor?

If someone has a PhD, they are considered a doctor in the academic sense, but they are not a medical doctor (MD).

A doctoral degree is the highest academic degree you can earn. In this case, the term “doctor” simply refers to one’s formal academic standing. Unlike a licensed medical doctor, someone with a PhD is not qualified to perform and provide medical services.

What’s the Difference Between a Professional Doctorate vs. PhD Degree?

A professional doctorate is typically pursued by those who hold a master’s degree in a specific field. A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is usually taken on by those interested in conducting extensive research into a topic.

The right degree for you will largely be determined by your career aspirations. Most professionals who pursue a PhD are interested in the field of research or academia.

What’s the Difference Between an MPhil vs. PhD?

An MPhil, or a Master of Philosophy, is a degree that can be taken in place of a PhD or as part of an existing PhD program.

You might consider pursuing an MPhil if you are short on time but would like to conduct research into a certain topic.

Is a PhD Worth It?

PhD-level jobs

Yes, a PhD is worth it for many students. If you are eager to contribute to the existing research around a particular topic, then this degree may be a good fit for you. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists positive job outlooks for a variety of PhD-level occupations.

For instance, 12% job growth is projected for postsecondary teachers over the next ten years, which is much faster than average. Top executives and management positions are also expected to have positive job outlooks.

Additionally, the research you conduct and the dissertation you create will become part of the larger academic conversation around your area of study. This could be a beneficial way to establish yourself in academia.

Getting Your PhD Degree Online

PhD Degree Online

Getting a a degree from one of the best online PhD programs is a lucrative choice for many students. If you are interested in becoming a leader within academia or contributing significant research to a specific subject area, then this may be a fitting path for you.

Positive job outlooks, higher earning potential, and a multitude of career opportunities also make this degree desirable to many. A number of professionals who earn their PhD go on to pursue leadership roles in education, healthcare, and law.

If you are ready to begin your PhD journey, are are looking for the highest paying doctorate degrees , you can start by researching potential programs from accredited universities today.

phd how to get started

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How to prepare a strong phd application.

Doctoral candidates and departmental coordinators at the Wharton School outline a few tips to help you navigate the PhD application process.

It’s no secret the application process can be intimidating. Where do you start? What exactly are schools looking for on your application? What materials do you need to submit? Doctoral candidates and departmental coordinators at the Wharton School have outlined a few tips to help you navigate the process.

Don’t Delay the Process

A successful PhD applicant starts thinking about their application months or even years before the deadlines. For Alejandro Lopez Lira , a third year student in Finance, the application process began a year before he actually submitted the paperwork. He said, “I spoke to my advisors way before, like one year before, about my letters of recommendation, where to apply, everything involved in the process.”

Each program has different requirements, which can make for a tedious process. Karren Knowlton , a third year in Management, said, “I took a little while to draft a personal statement. I had my mom, who teaches creative writing, and a few other people that I trust just read over it. Then you have to tweak it for different schools because they want slightly different things.”

Taking time to prepare your application is critical. Starting the process sooner rather than later gives you several advantages:

  • It allows your letter of recommendation writers enough time in advance to thoughtfully prepare a letter that speaks to who you are as a PhD candidate.
  • It gives you more time to review your materials, fix any errors, and proofread, proofread, proofread.
  • Finally, it means a lot less stress when the deadline starts rapidly approaching. By planning ahead, you’ll have a much smoother process applying.

Get Letters of Recommendation

Prof. Matthew Bidwell , who previously served as the doctoral coordinator for the Management program , said a common mistake he sees are letters of recommendations from employers. Although he said it is impressive to see work experience, having an employer write a letter is not the best choice.

“We don’t pay very much attention to those because rightly or wrongly, we worry that they’re not looking for the kinds of things that we’re looking for,” he said. “If you have one, it’s not a disaster, but when you see people with two or three — most of their recommendations coming from their work — that kind of heightens our concern. You’re committing to a fairly specialized career, do you really know what that career entails?”

Instead, he suggests getting to know an academic who will be able to write a recommendation attesting to your ability to manage doctoral-level research and work.

Include Research/Work Experience in Your Field

Each program has a unique set of criteria to evaluate applicants, but several doctoral coordinators agree that some research and work experience in your field of interest will strengthen your application overall.

Prof. Fernando Ferreira , doctoral coordinator for the Business Economics and Public Policy and Real Estate programs, thinks work experience can be useful in demonstrating an applicant’s abilities. He said, “Any work experience after undergraduate school is important. If that experience is more related to research it’s even better, but work experience in general is always good.”

Prof. Guy David , doctoral coordinator for the Health Care Management & Economics program , thinks that work experience benefits applicants in terms of giving them a broader view of business. “Work experience creates retrospection about how the world works, how organizations make decisions, and how people function in various situations,” he said.

However, he warns that spending too much time away from an academic setting can have its drawbacks too. “It may lead people to start their PhD later when they are not in the habit of immersing themselves in rigorous studies and have a shorter horizons to develop a name for themselves,” he said.

Although having both research and work experience can strengthen your application, you will not be denied entry because you are lacking either.

Prof. Bidwell said, “I think research experience does give us some confidence that people have some idea about what it is that we do. In terms of work experience, I think we don’t have a strong view. We quite like work experience, but we also take people straight out of undergrad.”

Prepare for the Standardized Tests

Most PhD programs require students to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Having high test scores is a key part of an application as it tests skills learned over the course of many years in school. Quantitative skills are especially important when applying to doctoral programs in business areas. Much like any other standardized test, the GRE requires preparation.

Karren, who took the GRE twice to ensure her scores were high enough, offered advice to those who may be struggling. “I would absolutely recommend practicing the writing beforehand. Look up examples and have your outline structured,” she said. “So much of it is just getting the right structure and how you formulate your arguments so knowing what they’re looking for is key.”

Test prep can be time-consuming, but like anything else, practice makes perfect. There are multiple text books and online sites to help you prepare for the exam. Karren aimed to improve her math scores the second time she took the GRE and recommended this site to help strengthen math skills.

Taking advantage of resources to help you study can limit the number of times you need to take the GRE while ensuring you score high enough to remain in the applicant pool.

Watch a Webinar with Former Wharton Vice Dean Catherine Schrand

Posted: August 4, 2017

  • Admissions and Applying
  • Advancement and Transition

Doctoral Programs

Start your doctoral journey.

Whether you’re just starting your research on PhD programs or you’re ready to apply, we’ll walk you through the steps to take to become a successful PhD candidate.

Deciding to get a PhD

You might be surprised to find out what you can do with a PhD in business.

Is an Academic Career for You ? What Makes a Successful PhD Student

Preparing for the Doctoral Path

The skills, relationships, and knowledge you need to prepare yourself for a career in academics.

How the PhD Program Works How to Become a Successful PhD Applicant

Choosing the right program

What’s the difference between PhD programs? Find out how to choose one that fits your goals.

What to Consider When Choosing a Doctoral Program What Differentiates R1 Universities?

Starting an application

Tips for a successful application process.

Application Requirements Preparing Your PhD Application

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Five tips for starting (and continuing) a PhD

On 4th September 2020

In Advice for other students

Lots of the specific stuff you learn as a PhD student, as well as general approaches to your work, begins with informal advice rather than formal training. I’ve received lots of advice from others during my PhD, since the very early stages of my project. This has helped me both build a PhD project that I’m happy with, and actually enjoy my life while I do my PhD (the two, of course, being closely but not entirely linked!). As it’s the start of the academic year I want to share a few of my own tips along those lines, to help get your PhD off to a good start, and keep it on a trajectory you’re happy with:

1. Keep notes on everything you read

My PhD, like many, kicked off with lots of reading of textbooks and academic papers. My reading has ebbed and flowed, but not really stopped, since then. Reading is a big thing during your PhD. It’s useful to keep track of what you’ve been reading because you won’t remember all of it, but you will want to come back to a lot of it.

My system for keeping notes on my reading is highly unsophisticated, but it works: I have (currently) three Word Documents, called Reading_[insert year here] stored on Dropbox so I can access them anywhere. I’ve got a separate one for each year of my PhD because 1) each document is a bit more manageable than one scary enormous one, and 2) I find it surprisingly easy to remember when-ish I was reading different stuff because my reading has gone through some quite distinct phases (e.g. more stuff relevant to study design early on, more stuff about analysis later) so it seemed like a reasonable and simple way to organise my notes.

The  notes I make on what I read vary a lot: at my laziest, I just copy and paste the paper title, first author and abstract into the doc, and I’m done. If I’m feeling enthusiastic, I make more extensive notes on the paper and my thoughts on it, or copy specific sections that are especially interesting or relevant to my work. I make sure that each paper title or reference is formatted as a heading so that I can scan through the document easily, and create a contents page for each document.  Now, if I want to find a specific paper or read publications on a particular theme, I can Ctrl+F to find key words in my Reading documents.

2. Read a couple of theses

I’m going to disagree with tip #2 in Five Tips for Starting Your PhD Out Right and say you don’t need to read them cover to cover – I don’t think this is necessary in the early stages in your project, unless you really want to do so, or if you feel that every chapter is highly relevant to your own PhD. But I do think it’s helpful to flick through and see different thesis structures (trends in how to structure a thesis evolve over time, and also vary by subject area, so look at recent graduates in your field for ideas of what’s likely to be appropriate for you).

Theses might also contain some specific content that you didn’t realise you’ll need to add to your own thesis (such as more detailed methodology than you usually see in a published paper) or useful references if the PhD is closely related to your own work. I think it works well to look through the theses of recent graduates in your research group, your supervisor, or others working on similar stuff to you. But you can also search for theses online, for example by using EThOS .

3. Start a Word document called “Thesis”

You can use other people’s theses (see previous tip) as a guide to add appropriate headings and subheadings to this document which will act as your own thesis structure / outline. Okay, I did this in third year, not first year, but I reckon it would have been helpful to start this earlier. Since I started this document, I’ve made good progress on actually organising my thoughts and even writing a few things down. And if you’ve got this document ready from early on in your project, you can populate it with notes and ideas whenever they occur to you at any point during your PhD.

Recently, I’ve been going through my Reading documents (remember tip #1) page by page and copying across notes from papers that I have read (and often forgotten about) into the appropriate sections of my Thesis document. It’s surprising how quickly my rough structure has been populated with ideas and material for literature review and synthesis, and how this has helped me link different ideas together i.e. stuff I read in first year and forgot about, with stuff I’ve been reading recently, with stuff that’s coming out of my own analysis. Actually, now that it’s getting quite full, I’ve split my Thesis doc up so that I’m just working with one document per empirical chapter. In first year, a simple thesis structure in a single document is a good place to start.

4. Think about how to make the flexibility of your PhD (and your control over it) work best for you

This one’s quite big-picture, and I’m kind of cheating the list-of-five by squeezing several tips into one. But I think that the general principle of this tip is important, and can be interpreted in different ways to suit different people: PhDs are often inherently flexible, in how you set your daily, weekly and monthly schedule, and I think that you should make the most of that.

The nature of your PhD flexibility and your control over it depend on the details of your project, how you’re going to be working with your supervisors and institution. But there are usually opportunities for flexibility, even if you have to be in the lab most days. PhD-life-flexibility can be exploited for your professional or personal development, to maximise your productivity, to create opportunities that are fun or useful now, or allow you to flex creative muscles you haven’t had the opportunity to flex before.

Below I list the kinds of things you can think about to best use the flexibility of your PhD. These are all things that can work alongside the core research / write / defend thesis requirements of your PhD, and while you definitely don’t have to make any firm plans on day one, I think that it’s really valuable to think about ideas like this (and any more you have) early in your project. It’s all about what you want to get out of your time whilst doing your PhD , including but not limited to the PhD itself, and how you want to structure that time:

  • How do you want to set your daily schedule, where do you want to work? What’s going to be most pleasant and productive for you, and fit in with your home life?
  • What things do you want to do outside of your PhD (sports, reading non-PhD-related books, joining local clubs and groups, always protecting weekends off) to actively maintain a healthy work-life balance (which is better for both your wellbeing, and the state of your thesis)?
  • Are there times when you’re going to be working extra hard (like fieldwork)? How do you want to balance that with rest and recuperation afterwards (an extended post-fieldwork holiday…?)?
  • Do you want to take an interruption from your PhD for an internship or job?
  • Do you want to practise writing by starting a blog or try a bit of science journalism ?
  • Do you want to get involved with science outreach?
  • Do you want to build a professional profile and network by making a website or getting on social media?
  • Do you want to teach undergraduates or Masters students?
  • What training courses would you like to do (and where do you find out about them)?
  • Do you want to try turning one or more of your chapters into academic papers?

5. Talk to people, lots, in both general and specific ways

Starting a PhD can be overwhelming, and knowing where to start, or where to go next, can be really tough. Having conversations with other PhD students about what they are working on, how they are finding their PhD, what kind of training they have received, might point you to interesting new research topics, training opportunities, or just give you a bit of a general feel for what it’s going to be like doing a PhD in your new department. These general conversations are important because they can provide you with nuggets of wisdom you didn’t know you needed and, crucially, help you feel connected to and supported by your colleagues and peers.

Asking your supervisor or others specific questions like are there any academics whose work you recommend I look into? / do you recommend any textbooks on [planning a research project], [planning fieldwork], [fundamentals of landscape ecology], [fundamentals of development research] [insert another topic you’re not sure about yet but want to learn about]? / are there any conferences I should look out for? can give you some useful starting points for directing your own learning in the early stages of your project. So, think specifically about what you need at the start of your PhD, and ask for help with it.

…And one bonus tip: read advice from other (ex-) PhD students

There are similar posts to this one with advice on starting your PhD here , and I particularly like the twenty top tips from Lucy Taylor here . There are actual full guides to PhD life like The A-Z of the PhD Trajectory and The Unwritten Rules of Ph.D. Research which can be very helpful to read through at any stage of your PhD (though I guess you maximise your use of them if you read them early!) and to use as reference books as and when you need them. There are lots of people blogging about their past and present PhD experiences, which can offer great advice and comfort at every stage in your PhD. Personally, I love the Thesis Whisperer and like to check in with it semi-regularly. Reading TW feels a bit like my tip #5: it’s about seeking out help and advice, sometimes when you didn’t even know you needed it.

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The Savvy Scientist

The Savvy Scientist

Experiences of a London PhD student and beyond

PhD FAQs – A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Doctoral Study

phd how to get started

Tempted to do a PhD but have lots of questions? Hopefully this collection of popular PhD FAQs will help you to tick a few off the list!

Note – If you’re already sure that you want to do a PhD, and are looking for guidance on the applications process, check out my post on How to apply for a PhD which includes advice from successful PhD applicants. My post-PhD reflections on the things I regretted from my own PhD may be useful for you too, you can find that post here .

Let’s start with the absolute basics of PhDs!

What does PhD stand for?

PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy. Doctor of Philosophy ? No matter which subject area your PhD is in you’ll become a Doctor of Philosophy because philosophy derives from Greek to mean “Love of wisdom” which make a bit more sense.

What is a PhD?

A PhD is a type of research degree classified as a doctorate. You get a PhD by doing original research into a topic, typically for at least three years.

There are loads of other types of doctorate and a PhD is simply the most common. EngD is another which is relatively common for industry-funded engineering students here in the UK.

PhD & DPhil what’s the difference?

There is no real difference between a PhD and DPhil, they’re both Doctor of Philosophy qualifications. A small number of historic institutions in the UK such as Oxford and York offer DPhils but the degree itself is equivalent.

How common are PhDs amongst the population?

Approximately 1% of the working population (25-64 years old) have a PhD. This varies a lot by country:

phd how to get started

Can you call yourself Doctor with a PhD?

Yes you can. Though to avoid confusion with medical doctors, rarely will PhD-holders use the “Dr” title outside of their workplace.

Sometimes PhD-holders will add the abbreviation PhD after their name if they want to make it clear they are a non-medical doctor, for example “Jeff Clark PhD”.

What have I done about my title since getting my PhD? Nothing so far!

Why do a PhD?

Unlike a lot of other degrees, most PhD students get paid to study . Read more in the finances section below.

There are lots of potential reasons to want to do a PhD. The PhD students from our monthly PhD Profiles series said the following:

phd how to get started

Sara found research the most enjoyable part of her undergraduate degree and a PhD was a way to carry on with research.

phd how to get started

Ornob wants to pursue a career in evolutionary biology so began with a PhD in the field.

phd how to get started

Vivienne has aspirations to be a professor so a PhD is a job requirement to progress in academia.

phd how to get started

Jeff (me!) had an interest in the field and enjoyed research. I wrote a whole post with a deep dive on why I decided to do a PhD here .

phd how to get started

Floor had enjoyed research during her Masters and didn’t think that she wanted a career in industry, so decided to do a PhD.

It’s important to mention that you don’t need to have a desire to stay in academia to do a PhD. In fact, even if you do want to go into academia afterwards, it’s probably good to know early on just how competitive it can be. Many people sadly cannot make a career out of academia long term.

Enjoy the subject matter and want to spend a few years researching it? That is reason enough to do a PhD. I’ve also now written a whole post about the benefits of having a PhD .

Applying for a PhD

Do you need a masters degree to do a phd.

No you don’t necessarily need a Masters degree to do a PhD as long as you can demonstrate you’d be suitable for a PhD without it.

For a more in-depth answer see the separate post here :

Can You Get a PhD Without a Master’s?

If you don’t have a Masters, I’d recommend checking out Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) which offer combined Masters + PhD courses. We have discussed CDTs with a graduate in Floor’s post here .

What grades do you need to do a PhD?

Entry requirements for PhDs can vary. In regards to the UK system usually you’d generally be expected to have at least a 2:1 from your undergraduate degree, plus some research experience.

My experience : I (narrowly) got first class honours in my undergrad (MEng) which certainly does help. But if you can demonstrate aptitude in research you usually don’t need a 1:1. It would be expected for you to have done well in any research projects. If you can get your name on a publication then even better!

The easiest way to find out what is expected is to check the PhD advert for entry requirements. For details on applying for a PhD, including how to find PhD adverts, check out my guide here :

How to apply for a PhD

I work in industry, can I come back and do a PhD?

Absolutely! I worked for almost four years between finishing my first degree and starting my PhD.

A PhD is more similar to a job than any other point in your education, so if you’ve spent time in a structured role it can provide you with a good work ethic. If your time in industry adds relevant skills and experience to your application, even better!

I’ve met loads of people older than me who are pursuing PhDs. If it’s your dream, it’s never too late to start a PhD!

What is the social life of a PhD student like?

Let me get this out the way first: PhD students should be able to have a life outside of the lab! If a PhD student has no time away from research I would personally suggest that they were doing things wrong.

Even if you really enjoy your project, it is good for your mental health to have a social life!

No matter the size of your research group there are often departmental and university-wide events. Plus, besides everyone you may meet through your research and department, PhD students can still join societies and sports clubs through the students’ union. I spent one of my birthdays during my PhD on the beach in Morocco with the surf club, don’t let being a PhD student put your off getting involved!

Check out the full post I’ve written: Do PhD Students Have a Social Life? Sharing My Experiences Making Friends and Avoiding PhD Loneliness

If you do go on to do a PhD, make sure to make the most of all the opportunities ! Your time as a PhD student is fantastic for personal growth.

How much holiday do PhD students get?

Sadly unlike undergraduates, PhD students don’t follow fixed semesters. This means no more three month long summer holiday, sorry!

However most departments recommend PhD students take 7-8 weeks of holiday a year , which is more than practically any job outside of academia.

I kept track of all the time off I took during my PhD and you can find the details here , including a month by month breakdown:

Do PhD Students Get Holidays? Sharing How Much Annual Leave I Take

Getting a PhD

How much work is a phd.

For a month I tracked how many hours I was working and what I was working on, so you can see a breakdown of my calendar here . I found I was working for roughly 40 hours a week. Now that I’ve recently finished my PhD, I’d say that that amount of hours was pretty representative of the whole PhD.

How Much Work is a PhD?

I do of course know some people who worked much longer hours, but most PhD students were on a similar schedule to me. Working roughly 9-5 on weekdays. Treat it like a job and you’ll be fine. PhD students don’t need to be slaving away long hours.

I managed to be strict with my time, largely avoiding work late nights or going in at the weekends. One of the main perks of doing a PhD is that you have autonomy and can be flexible with when you work. As long as you get the work done, any reasonable supervisor won’t mind when you’re there.

Yes I’ve heard stories of PhD students having to clock in and out with an expectation that they spend a certain number of hours in the office. I personally think this is stupid and doesn’t build trust. Try to speak to current PhD students from the group when choosing a supervisor .

How is a PhD assessed?

What you submit at the end of your research varies between universities and countries. Sometimes it’s a thesis and other times it can be a bunch of published papers. In all situations you give some kind of presentation and answer questions about your work.

In the UK you usually submit a thesis in preparation for a viva voce . The viva is an oral exam where you discuss your research with several academics and at least one will be an expert in your field. My viva wasn’t as scary as I thought it might be, but nonetheless it was five hours ( FIVE HOURS! ) long. At the end of your viva you’ll get told the outcome of your PhD with any changes to be made to your thesis.

There is often no requirement , to publish your work in journals during a PhD in the UK but it does help.

In other countries you may have to publish a certain number to pass your PhD and effectively these can be submitted instead of the thesis. This approach makes much more sense to me.

How long does it take to get a PhD?

In the UK, typically between three and four years to complete your research and submit the thesis. It can then take a few months for the exam (viva voce) to take place and then for any corrections to the thesis to be made.

Nosey about my PhD? For me personally, I started the PhD on 1st October 2016, submitted my thesis on 17th February 2020, had the viva on 25th March, submitted my minor corrections on 30th March and had the email to say it was officiated on 1st April 2020. Yep, April Fool’s Day…

When you realise your degree certificate will forever say your PhD was awarded on April Fools Day! #academiclife @imperialcollege pic.twitter.com/hKsGFyuc0x — Jeff Clark (@savvy_scientist) April 14, 2020

We cover all the stages of a PhD here, including putting the length of a PhD in the perspective of a whole career:

How Long Does It Take To Get A PhD?

Are PhDs really difficult?

No, well not how you might think.

You don’t need to be a genius, but you do have to be smart with how you work. Here I go into how a PhD is pretty different to all the prior years spent in education:

How Hard is a PhD?

Check out my new post covering academic challenges and failures relating to my own PhD: Overcoming Academic Challenges and Failure During a PhD

Money-Related Questions

How much does a phd cost.

If you have funding, which is explained below, all your fees are paid for by the funding source. If you are looking to self-fund, then you’ll have to pay bench-fees/tuition fees, which are usually approximately £4,000 a year for home students in the UK.

Fees vary massively depending on both the country the PhD work takes place in and where you’re from. For example, I believe Australian universities charge around $100,000 in fees to overseas PhD students. Of course ideally you have funding which covers both this and pays a stipend!

Do PhD students pay taxes?

In the UK, PhD students do not pay income tax, national insurance, council tax and student loan repayments. This means that if you can secure funding, even though you may earn less than friends in typical jobs, you get to keep all your earnings!

Do PhD students get paid?

Most PhDs, at least in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) get a stipend: basically a tax-free salary.

How much do PhD students get paid?

At the time of writing, most PhD students in the UK get around £16,000 a year . Doesn’t sound like a lot, but:

  • As mentioned above, you don’t pay income tax, national insurance, council tax or make any student loan repayments. My most popular post is this one , comparing the income of PhD students vs grad jobs and the difference really isn’t that big. Plus it’s only for 3 to 3.5 years!
  • You’re getting paid to learn science, working on something you’re really interested in. It’s amazing.
  • You have a lot more freedom than practically any “proper job”.
  • You’re getting paid, to be a student…
PhD Salary UK: How Much Do PhD Students Get Paid?

In summary, PhD stipends are really not that different to grad starting salaries. Please don’t be put off from a PhD simply because for a few years you might be earning a bit less than if you were working in another job.

Depending on what you want to do with your career, having a CV may lead to higher salaries. What is 3 years of lower wages out of a 40+ year career? The answer: nothing!

Where do I find PhD funding?

Getting funding will likely be the biggest hurdle for you to secure a PhD. I have a post here detailing the different types of funding and how you can find a project with funding attached.

How to Find PhD Funding in the UK

Can you self-fund a PhD?

Yes you can self-fund a PhD, and some students are in a position to do so. Just be careful that you account for university fees and not just your living costs.

Are you allowed to have another job at the same time?

Most universities encourage you to get involved with work within your department as a graduate teaching assistant (GTA). Some countries even insist that you work a certain number of hours as part of a contract for your monthly stipend.

Working as a GTA you might be invigilating exams, helping in tutorials, marking coursework etc and at Imperial you usually earn around £15-£26 an hour.

If you’re looking to work a full time job in tandem with your PhD (and doing the PhD full time), it is best checking your university’s policy. Some may have regulations against you working over a certain number of hours which could impede you from concentrating on the PhD.

There are extra ways to make money on the side which I address here :

How to Earn Money Online for Students

Can you get a mortgage as a PhD student?

Since I did my PhD in London I didn’t even consider buying somewhere during my PhD. I’m not interested in being tied into a massive mortgage for 25 years to buy a shoebox!

If I’d accepted my PhD offer for a CDT at Leeds I certainly would have tried to buy somewhere with my partner. I found this page useful when doing research. Buying a property with a partner who has a normal job would definitely make the mortgage application a whole lot more successful.

Will a PhD help your career?

This depends on what you want to do with your career. Some example scenarios:

  • Staying in academia – a PhD is usually required
  • Certain technical jobs in industry – a PhD may be required or a big bonus
  • Non-technical jobs – a bonus

I do not imagine any scenarios where having a PhD is worse than not having one. It is true though that for certain careers there may be other things you could do which would be a better use of your time, for example gaining more direct work experience.

If you want to do a PhD that shouldn’t stop you though, and considering the length of your career taking a few years out for a PhD is inconsequential.

Whichever career path you fancy taking, if you are at all interested in doing a PhD I think you should at least apply.

PhDs in London

Can someone afford to live in london as a phd student.

Yes! I lived in London for my PhD and actually was able to save money every single month while taking many holidays and not living in a tent.

I have a few posts sharing my experiences living in London which you may find useful:

For a month last year I tracked all my expenses to get an idea of my costs living in London as a student, you can find it here .

Sharing my monthly living expenses as a student in London: September 2019

Related to reducing costs, I learned to cycle in London and loved it. It saved me about £100 a month too!

Learning to cycle in London: my first 1000 miles

On top of that, for the whole of 2019 (third year PhD) I tracked my money, and the report is here :

My personal finances report for 2019

Where is good to live in London?

I’ve lived in three different houses during my PhD in London and have a pretty good idea now of good places to live in London. You can read this whole post talking about living in London as a student and the associated costs including a breakdown of rent :

London student accommodation: Breaking down the cost of living in London for students

Bonus: Read the journeys of PhD students

Before I started my PhD I had a ton of questions and nobody who I could ask about their experience. The reality is that many of these PhD FAQs have a variety of answers as everyone’s PhD story is different. Therefore if you’d like to hear first hand from people who are going through the journey check out my series of PhD profiles , with a new profile every month. You can also discover some of their top tips for applying!

phd how to get started

If you’d like personalised help with your PhD application I am now starting to offer a small number of one-to-one sessions. Please contact me to find out more or click here to book a call.

Is there anything else you’d like to know to help with a potential PhD application? Let me know and I’ll write about it! You can subscribe to stay up to date here:

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Related Posts

phd how to get started

PhD Salary UK: How Much Do PhD Students Get Paid Compared to Graduates?

5th February 2024 5th February 2024

phd how to get started

The Benefits of Having a PhD

7th September 2022 30th January 2024

Picture of me looking regretful

My top PhD regrets: 10 lessons learned by a PhD grad

21st April 2022 25th September 2023

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What are the steps in getting a PhD?

August 22, 2023

Reading Time: 2–3 minutes

The work required to complete a PhD varies across academic disciplines and universities, though earning a PhD typically requires the following elements :

  • Completing coursework
  • Completing one or more doctoral residency experiences
  • Passing a comprehensive assessment or exam
  • Developing and completing an independent research project
  • Seeking approval of your completed dissertation manuscript

Here’s a closer look at each step.

With this primary step in the PhD process, you will participate in courses related to your field of study. The goal here is to develop deep subject-matter expertise.

You’ll also become familiar with the key topics, theories, methodologies and concerns related to your discipline. The skills and foundational knowledge you gain in your coursework will serve as the basis for generating potential research topics, such as those you will use in your dissertation.

Often offered virtually, residencies provide structure, training and detailed feedback to guide you as you develop your research plan and gather essential elements for your dissertation. Residences give you a chance to focus on specific study and activities related to preparing your dissertation.

You will connect with faculty and peers during this rigorous academic experience. They can help you focus your research plan by giving feedback and discussing relevant topics.

Your residency is where you can make significant progress on your dissertation, including selecting an acceptable topic and developing a robust proposal for the project.

Learn more about doctoral virtual residency .

Capella offers both PhD and professional doctorate programs. Here’s how they’re different .

Comprehensive assessment

The comprehensive assessment is where you demonstrate what you’ve learned and present your knowledge of the academic competencies required for your discipline. This examination may be oral, written or both.

Upon successfully completing this step in your doctoral journey, you should be prepared to begin work on your dissertation.

Learn more about the comprehensive exam .


A dissertation is a written compilation of your academic research and provides a detailed description of your project (typically a five-chapter document).

Most dissertations address a question or problem that has not been fully addressed within your field. Before you begin your independent research, other faculty experts representing your dissertation committee and the Institutional Review Board will assess the rigor and ethical underpinnings of your project.

Learn more about the dissertation .

Once the research and writing are complete, the dissertation must be approved by a faculty committee and the school dean.

There is a final defense involved in which you will answer questions about your research, analysis and conclusions.

In many fields, there are also specific professional standards expected of learners. For example, a PhD learner in a Counselor Education and Supervision program will be expected to meet the guidelines of the American Counseling Association.

Once all approvals have been received and you’ve successfully defended, you’ll publish your dissertation. You’ll have then completed all your program requirements and be conferred your PhD.

Capella University offers PhD and professional doctoral degree programs in a number of different fields:

  • Health Sciences
  • Information Technology
  • Social Work
  • Counseling & Therapy

Learn more about Capella’s online doctoral programs

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  • Graduate School

In Pursuit of a PhD: How to Get a PhD

Featured Expert: Dr. Benita Kapuku, PhD

How to Get a PhD

Interested in how to get a PhD? Pursuing a doctorate degree is an exciting step in your educational journey, but learning how to get into grad school , how to apply to PhD programs and what to expect once you’re accepted can be intimidating, and you’ll have many questions. In this blog, we aim to answer all your questions about how to get a PhD, from whether a PhD is the right choice for you, how to choose and apply to a program, what your PhD timeline will look like and what resources out there can help you achieve your goal.

>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<

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Article Contents 11 min read

How to get a phd: decide if a phd is right for you.

Before we jump into the nuts and bolts of exactly how to get a PhD, you first need to ask yourself “ why do you want to do a PhD ?” and be sure that it’s the right path for you. If you’re still in the early stages of researching what it takes to get a PhD and whether you have the time, drive and commitment to go on this journey, first ask yourself this question. For those of you who are already sure of your course and need a step-by-step guide of how to get a PhD, feel free to skip to the next section on how to apply and what your PhD program options are!

If you’re still wondering whether a PhD is the right program for you, here’s a few reasons why you might choose to pursue a PhD:

  • You have a Master’s degree and you’re interested in furthering your education
  • Your chosen career path requires a PhD or advanced degree
  • You’ve completed a Master’s degree but a PhD will allow you to find new job opportunities, increase your salary potential or expand your network
  • You’re interested in a research or educational role in your field, or in how to find a job in academia
  • You’re interested in changing careers or your field of interest

Note that if you’re an undergrad or haven’t completed a master’s program, the question of whether you should pursue a master’s or PhD program depends on your goals. For example, if you want to change your career field, you’ll most likely need to complete a Master’s degree first before applying to a PhD. But it is possible to get a PhD without a Master’s degree in some circumstances if you’re interested in jumping straight to a PhD program.

Would you like us to help you with your grad school applications? ","buttonText":"Free Strategy Call","buttonColor":"#ffffff","bannerUnderText":null,"trustpilot":false}" :url=""https:\/\/bemoacademicconsulting.com\/contact-schedule-free-strategy-call"" code="banner1" background-color="#000066" button-color="#ffffff" banner-image> Also note the differences between doctoral degrees. No matter which path you choose, you will be considered an expert in your field, but the type of work you’ll be qualified for will depend on your program and career goals. There are two general “types” of doctorate degrees: the PhD and the professional doctorate. PhD

A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy degree, is an umbrella term for a research-focused program that invites you to contribute meaningful advancements and new knowledge to your chosen field. Individuals usually pursue a PhD to become researchers, professors, consultants and sometimes even enter industry jobs after a PhD . These types of programs cover a wide range of careers, from psychology to public health, from economics to the arts.

Professional Doctorate Degree

A professional doctorate degree prepares you for professional jobs in important industries. For instance, if you want to know how to get into law school or how to get into medical school , you would actually graduate with a JD or MD, both a type of doctorate degree. Professional doctorate degrees also include a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD), advanced Nursing degrees (DN) and even Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), to give you a few examples.

For those of you pursuing a PhD in your field, you may be drawn to a research or teaching role and want to get a tenure track position at a university, or maybe you want to transition from academia to industry once you’ve completed your studies.

Whatever your career goals are, you should think carefully about whether a PhD is either necessary or a worthy goal for you. Earning a PhD is a huge commitment not only of your time and money, but of your passions and efforts. If your answer is yes, a PhD is right for you, the next step is to figure out how to get a PhD.

First, we’ll look at how to find the right PhD program for you and how to apply to PhD programs.

Deciding between a Master’s or a PhD? We can help!

How to Get a PhD: Find and Apply to PhD Programs

How do you find PhD programs? The same way you likely searched for the best undergraduate or master’s program. University websites typically have a separate section or even a separate website for graduate admissions, and you can find information on what PhD and advanced programs they offer. You can easily search for the options in your field—or the field you’re interested in switching to—and find everything from the most competitive PhD programs to the easiest PhD programs to get into .

You can also find dual degree programs which combine a master’s and a PhD, like MD-PhD programs for those of you who want to become medical researchers. There are tons of options out there, so it’s worth checking out different universities and the many types of programs to see what the right fit for you might be.

If you’re thinking about how long it takes to get a PhD and you want to speed things up a bit, there are a few different kinds of PhD programs out there:

  • Full-time PhD programs (typically 4-7 years)
  • Part-time PhD programs (6-8 years)
  • Direct entry PhD programs (4-5 years)
  • Online and Accelerated PhD programs (1-3 years)

The right kind of PhD program may depend on a variety of factors, including your schedule, personal and professional commitments, budget and desired career path. For example, an online program is usually much faster and you can do a PhD without a dissertation , but it’s available only for a few disciplines. You can’t complete say, a PhD in Engineering in such a short time period. Direct entry PhD programs might appeal to you so you can skip the master’s degree, but they are also naturally more competitive and have more rigorous admission requirements.

Once you’ve found and chosen a PhD program or created a list of programs you want to apply to, the next step in how to get a PhD is to tackle the application. As you can imagine, the grad school application is an involved process. Fortunately the admission requirements for a PhD are similar to other graduate school programs and undergraduate programs.

Here’s the shortlist of what you’ll need for your application to a PhD:

  • Transcripts from your Master’s program or Bachelor’s program
  • GRE test scores
  • Research proposal
  • PhD motivation letter
  • Graduate school statement of purpose
  • CV for graduate school or research resume , depending on the program
  • Letters of recommendation
  • PhD interview

This is the general list of requirements for a PhD program, but some may have additional requirements, such as asking you to submit a research interest statement along with your research proposal, or to take one of the GRE subject tests. Always double check what the admission requirements are when applying, since they can vary between programs.

Here’s a brief overview of how you can meet all of the PhD admission requirements listed above:

One of the best ways to prepare for this step is to use mock PhD interviews, where you can rehearse your responses to common questions, master your nerves and practice being confident and at ease in the interview room.  ","label":"PhD interview","title":"PhD interview"}]" code="tab1" template="BlogArticle">

Funding for Your PhD

A crucial part of how to get a PhD is finding funding for your degree. Unlike a bachelor’s degree or a master’s, funding a doctorate degree is a little more complicated and a little harder to do. Some PhD programs are fully funded, meaning as a PhD student, your research, student fees and expenses are covered while you’re completing your program. Other programs are partially funded or self-funded, meaning you as the PhD student have to find the money to complete your degree. Most PhD programs offer research assistantships or teaching assistantships that help you pay for your education in exchange for participation in research or teaching responsibilities at the university.

This is also where PhD scholarships, grants, bursaries and other forms of funding come in. As a PhD student, you may also be eligible to apply for financial aid at some programs. It’s up to you to figure out how you will fund your doctorate degree and your research. Fortunately, this is a common requirement for PhD students and there are many options out there, from PhD loans to scholarships to assistantships and studentships to government funding.

If you like, you can also apply exclusively to fully funded PhD programs, but this might limit your choices. Some students also work during their PhD in a part-time program, but of course it’s better not to rely only on your earnings to fund your degree.

Once you’ve submitted your application or been accepted to a PhD program, what next? Here’s a look at the PhD application timeline and curriculum you can expect, from the first meeting with your program supervisor to your graduation and beyond.

1. Initial Meeting with Your Academic Advisor

One of the first things you’ll do as a PhD student is meet with your academic advisor or supervisor. This is the university faculty member who will act as your mentor and guide throughout your PhD program. You may have a faculty member assigned to you or you may be able to choose your own advisor. Choose your advisor carefully, since they’ll be a significant resource for you in the years to come!

2. Research Proposal

Writing your research proposal is usually part of the application stage of getting a PhD, but it is essentially the first step in this journey. Once you’ve chosen a topic, you’ll write a research proposal to submit to a PhD admissions committee. It’s basically your offer of what you’ll be researching during your time as a PhD student and what you plan to contribute to the program and the field of interest. It’s important that your proposal is unique and presents fresh ideas or will bring new knowledge to your field of study. If the topic you want to research has been done before and isn’t “new”, your proposal may be rejected, and you’ll be denied admission.

Some programs may ask you to submit your research proposal later in the program or submit an updated version of your research proposal once you’ve completed required coursework or your literature review. Be ready to answer research proposal questions from your advisor and make any necessary changes. From there, your PhD committee or academic advisor will need to approve your proposal and give you the green light to start conducting research.

3. Coursework, Electives and Exams

For the first year or two of a PhD program, you’ll be completing the preliminary work of your thesis or dissertation. You may also use this time to complete required advanced coursework in your degree or take electives that interest you.

Once you’ve completed the coursework required for your PhD, you’ll take a written examination (sometimes called the ‘preliminary’ or comprehensive exam ). This exam will determine whether you’ve successfully completed the coursework requirements and have the necessary skills to continue your PhD program. Once you’ve passed it, you’ll be able to move on to the next phase of your program, which is conducting your own research and preparing to submit your thesis.

4. Extracurriculars

During your time as a PhD student, you’ll be expected to participate in a number of activities and extracurriculars, in addition to your coursework and independent research.

Teaching Responsibilities

Many PhDs will have teaching responsibilities, including hosting undergraduate seminars or acting as a teaching assistant providing feedback and grading assignments. If you’re a PhD in a science department, you might work as a lab supervisor for undergraduate students. PhDs might take on these roles as part of their program or they may fulfill them through an assistantship program.

Attending Academic Conferences

PhD students also attend academic conferences and events in their field, which allows them to expand their professional network, socialize with their colleagues and discover the latest innovations and developments in their field. You may have the chance to present during these events, which is not only an excellent addition to your resume but another way to network, improve your presentation skills and introduce your own work to your peers.

Grad Student Publishing

PhD students publish during their program to increase their academic profile and gain some experience with the academic publishing and peer review process. It’s not always a stated requirement to graduate, but publishing is a vital part of academic, as demonstrated by the saying “publish or perish” in academic circles. Whether or not you’ve published during your time as a PhD student will also certainly come up during postdoc interview questions , and you’ll be expected to talk about your experiences.

5. Research and Data Collection

Around the third year, you’ll go through the process of getting your research proposal approved and start conducting your own original research. As you work, you’ll take detailed notes and begin drafting your thesis. This is where the research-intensive work of a PhD is centered. You’ll also be doing a great deal of reading in your proposed area of research for the literature review. The review gives you a solid understanding of your research area and background information that will inform your original research.

6. Writing Your Thesis

Your research will take place over several semesters, and as you work, you’ll start working on your thesis or doctoral dissertation. This period of research and writing will also include regular reviews with your advisor or PhD committee to update them on your progress and working on other projects. For instance, you may be expected to publish as a graduate student in academic journals or continue with extracurricular work in your department.

7. Thesis Submission and Thesis Defense

The final step of completing your PhD is submitting your thesis for edits and knowing how to prepare for thesis defense . Your advisor will be helping you with these steps, but you’ll also need to get ready for the formal, oral defense of your thesis in front of your PhD committee. They will ask you common thesis defense questions and you’ll need to take them through the entirety of your research project from start to finish. The committee will then ask you questions and make a decision on whether to approve your research or make suggestions for changes.

Once you’ve completed your defense and you’re approved, congratulations! You’re on your way to the last step of getting your PhD.

8. Graduation!

The last step of your PhD journey is graduation! Once your thesis is approved, you can apply for graduation and attend the formal ceremony if you choose to receive your degree.

From here, you’ll look at how to find a job after grad school , start preparing for job interviews and enter the workforce.

No matter which field you’re in, getting accepted to a PhD program is extremely competitive. The level of competition of course will vary by university, discipline and the type of program, but any way you look at it, getting into grad school is not super easy.

Once you’ve been accepted to a program, you’re in for many years of hard work as you complete your studies and conduct your research. This educational journey will be well worth it for you in the end, but there’s no denying it’s a tough process to go through alone. Of course, you’ll have an academic advisor supporting your throughout your PhD, but there are more resources that can help you on every step of this journey, which we’ll cover briefly next.

Of course, your university will have many student support services you can take advantage of, from career counseling to writing workshops to student family support and financial aid. When you\u2019re searching for a PhD program, take a look at the student support services available to you. "}]">

The journey to get a PhD is a long and complex road, but it can be well worth all the time, effort and hard work for those individuals who want to advance their education, pursue a specialized career or deepen their knowledge of their field. To learn how to get a PhD, start with choosing the right program for you and navigating the PhD application process. From there, it’s all about learning what to expect from your PhD program and the steps you’ll need to take to graduate. Explore the options open to you, find out what resources are out there to help you succeed, and plan out your pursuit of a PhD from start to finish.

To get a PhD, you’ll first need to research PhD programs in your field, check the admission requirements and decide which one is the right fit for you. From there, you’ll need to submit a PhD application, write your research proposal and attend PhD interviews. Once you’re accepted, you’ll meet with your PhD supervisor or academic advisor and get started on completing your program. This includes taking any required coursework, conducting your own research and compiling data, participating in extracurriculars, writing your thesis or dissertation, studying for exams and preparing for your thesis defense. 

The admission requirements for a PhD are similar to the requirements for any graduate program. They usually include your transcripts and GRE scores, a grad school statement of purpose, a PhD motivation letter, letters of recommendation, a resume or research interest statement, and an interview. You’ll also need to submit a research proposal.

The general timeline for how to get a PhD is to start by deciding whether a doctorate degree is right for you, research potential programs, start applying, attend interviews, meet with your academic advisor and start diving into your research and coursework. After you’ve completed your program, it’s time to think about how to find a postdoc position and what you want to do with your new degree.

It usually takes between 4 and 7 years to complete a PhD, though there are some programs which are shorter and some that may take up to 8 years.

Yes, there are ways to complete a PhD without a master’s degree, including direct entry PhD programs. Note that these types of programs tend to be more competitive than average, and may have additional requirements.

Getting into a PhD program is quite competitive, depending on the university, the field of study and the type of program. However, you can increase your chances of getting into a PhD program by being well prepared, doing your research and creating an excellent application package.

It’s never too late to further your education. Some students may go straight from their bachelor’s to their master’s and on to a PhD, or some might even skip the master’s altogether. But there are plenty of PhD students who choose to go back to school after working in their field for many years, and there is no age limit on when you can go back and earn your PhD.

Applying to a PhD is a huge step and an important personal choice. Whether you pursue a master’s or a PhD might depend on what your career goals are, whether you have the drive, money and time to complete a PhD, and what you hope to accomplish with a doctorate degree.

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  • PhD in USA – A Guide for 2020/21
  • Finding a PhD

A PhD in USA takes approximately 5 – 6 years of full-time study and can cost between $12,000 – $45,000 per academic year. PhD programs in USA differ from that in the UK and Europe in that students must first take taught classes, coursework and exams before starting their research project.

Why Do a PhD in USA?

The United States has long had some of the most distinguished universities and advanced PhD programmes in the world. Combined with curriculum flexibility, rigorous teaching methods, vast funding opportunities, breathtaking campuses and significant career prospects, it’s no wonder that it is one of the most sought-after study destinations for research students.

In addition to comprehensive training standards, here are a few other reasons why a student may choose to undertake their PhD in the United States:

  • Longer learning timeframes – A PhD in the US lasts longer than a PhD in the UK or Europe. This allows students to more confidently transition from undergraduate to postgraduate studies; more commonly referred to as ‘graduate studies’ in the US. This gives you the opportunity to learn more about your subject, research methods and academic writing in general before starting your research project.
  • World-class universities – It’s no secret that some of the most well-known higher education institutions that continue to dominate global rankings are based in the United States. Although many factors go into determining whether a position is right for you, a PhD at a high-ranking American university will undeniably have many benefits, from excellent learning standards to access to innovative equipment and deep expertise.
  • International network – The US has long been a popular choice among PhD students around the world. As such, the US hosts a diverse and multicultural learning environment in which many research students will quickly feel at home.
  • Opportunities – With over 4,000 universities in the US, we can safely say you will have plenty of opportunities to find the ideal combination of project, supervisor and university that works for you.

Universities in USA

Universities in the United States can be divided into two types: public universities and private universities.

Public universities are financed by the state in which they are based. Because of this, public universities charge less for students from within the state and more for students from outside the state, including international students.

Private universities are not financed by their state, but by private donors, research funds and tuition fees. For this reason, private universities generally charge higher tuition fees than public universities and require all students to pay the same amount, regardless of whether they come from out-of-state or abroad.

According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021 , eight of the top ten universities in the world are located in the United States. These are:

Method of Study

The main difference between a PhD in the US and a PhD in Europe lies in the program structure. Whereas a European PhD essentially consists of a single phase lasting three to four years , an American PhD consists of three different phases, each with its own time frame.

  • Phase One – The first phase lasts approximately two years and focuses on building a basic foundation for the doctoral student. This phase consists largely of taught components such as lectures, tutorials and laboratory sessions, in which the student learns more about theoretical concepts and research methods within their discipline.
  • Phase Two – The second phase can be considered an assessment phase, which runs both periodically alongside and at the end of the first phase. Here, students complete coursework and take exams on the basis of the material they have covered of which they must pass in order to proceed to the third phase.
  • Phase Three – The third phase lasts approximately three years and resembles the European PhD structure. During this period, the student undertakes an independent research project, including forming a research design, conducting experiments, writing a thesis (more commonly referred to in the USA as a dissertation) and sitting a viva exam.

Teaching Requirements

Besides structure, a key difference between a PhD program in the US and in Europe is the focus on teaching requirements. In the US, doctoral students are expected to lecture, lead tutorials, host laboratory sessions, mark coursework and provide office hours for undergraduate students. Although students studying in European will likely contribute to these at some point during their study, this would normally be on a voluntary basis and involve less time commitment.

Research Flexibility

Another difference is project flexibility. In Europe, students typically apply to a PhD project predetermined by a supervisor, and although there may be some scope to adapt the project, depending on the funding provider , it will usually be limited to how the project is carried out rather than what it is about. In the US, however, a student applies to become a doctoral candidate within a department rather than applying for a particular research project. This is because students are expected to decide on their thesis topic (also commonly referred to as a dissertation research topic) near the end of their first phase after they have developed a better understanding of their subject and know where their interests lie. Therefore, research students in the US generally have more flexibility and influence in the direction of their research than students in the United Kingdom or Europe.

PhD Admission Requirements in USA

PhD admission into US universities can be highly competitive, both because of the limited number of positions and the large number of annual applicants.

The eligibility requirements for a doctoral program in the USA can generally be divided into four sections:

How to Apply for a PhD in USA

  • Grade Point Average (GPA) – in the US, a scoring system known as Grade Point Average is used to measure academic ability. A student’s GPA is calculated as a weighted score of the subjects they study during their undergraduate degree; an equivalent score is calculated by universities for international applicants. Although universities rarely set minimum GPA requirements for doctoral study, it’s worth being aware that a GPA of 3.0 is equivalent to a UK second class honours (2:1); the typical entry requirement for UK universities.
  • Graduate Records Exam (GRE) – most universities will require you to take a series of examinations known as Graduate Records Exams, which are used to determine your suitability for graduate study. GREs will assess your analytical, reasoning and critical thinking skills as well as your depth of your subject.
  • Student aptitude – in addition to academic ability, US universities also look for characteristics of a strong researcher. These include traits such as engaging in the subject in your own time, e.g. by attending talks and conferences, demonstrating a high degree of independence and enthusiasm, and a general passion for your subject.
  • English Language Proficiency – international students whose first language is not English must sit language exams such as IELTS or TOELF to demonstrate their English language proficiency.

International students will also require a F1 student visa in order to study in the US, however, you would typically apply for this after you have secured a place into a doctorate program.

How to Apply for PhD in USA

When applying for a PhD position at a graduate school, the application process will differ between universities, however, they will all typically ask for the following:

  • Academic CV – a short document summarising your educational background and current level of experience .
  • Personal statement – a document which outlines why you believe you are suitable for PhD study and your passion for the subject.
  • Academic transcripts – a complete breakdown of the modules and their respective marks you have taken as part of your previous/current degree.
  • GRE scores – a transcript of your Graduate Records Exam results.
  • Research statement – a condensed version of a research proposal outlining your general research interests, if required.
  • Recommendation letters – references from several academic referees who endorse your qualities as a person, your abilities as a student and your potential as a doctoral researcher.

Application Deadlines and Fees

Since PhD programs in the United States have taught components, they commence at the same time as all other taught degrees, and therefore share the same application deadlines and start dates. This corresponds to an application period that typically begins in August and ends in February. Admission decisions are typically made in April, with successful students starting in August/September.

When you apply to a graduate school, you will be expected to pay a fee for each doctorate application to cover the school’s administrative costs for processing your application. The fee varies from university to university, but typically ranges from $50 to $100 .

Funding your PhD in USA

It’s very common for a PhD student to receive financial aid in the form of a PhD scholarship; in fact, this will be the case for the vast majority of students in the US.

PhD funding can be ‘fully funded’ covering the student’s graduate program tuition fees, accommodation and living costs, or ‘partially funded’ covering the student’s tuition fee only in part or full.

Besides funding, a graduate student can take on an assistantship, such as a graduate teaching assistant or research assistant, in which they take on a part-time salaried position at the university alongside their studies.

Due to the international and collaborate nature of American universities, there are also a number of international scholarships available, such as the Fulbright Scholarship and the AAUW International Fellowship .

PhD Duration in USA

In the US, a PhD takes approximately 5 – 6 years to complete if studying full-time, and 8 – 10 years if studying part-time.

If you already have a Master’s degree, your first phase can be shortened by one year at the discretion of the university.

Cost of a PhD in USA

The cost of a PhD program in the US can vary considerably depending on the type of university, i.e. whether it’s a public or private university, the doctoral course, i.e. whether it’s in a STEM subject such as computer science, engineering or a non-STEM subject, and whether you are a home or international student.

In general, however, the typical annual tuition fee for a PhD in the US is between $12,000 and $45,000 per academic year.

As with any doctoral degree, additional costs may include travel for collaborations, bench fees, accommodation and living expenses.

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How to tackle the PhD dissertation

Finding time to write can be a challenge for graduate students who often juggle multiple roles and responsibilities. Mabel Ho provides some tips to make the process less daunting

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Writing helps you share your work with the wider community. Your scholarship is important and you are making a valuable contribution to the field. While it might be intimidating to face a blank screen, remember, your first draft is not your final draft! The difficult part is getting something on the page to begin with. 

As the adage goes, a good dissertation is a done dissertation, and the goal is for you to find balance in your writing and establish the steps you can take to make the process smoother. Here are some practical strategies for tackling the PhD dissertation.

Write daily

This is a time to have honest conversations with yourself about your writing and work habits. Do you tackle the most challenging work in the morning? Or do you usually start with emails? Knowing your work routine will help you set parameters for the writing process, which includes various elements, from brainstorming ideas to setting outlines and editing. Once you are aware of your energy and focus levels, you’ll be ready to dedicate those times to writing.

While it might be tempting to block a substantial chunk of time to write and assume anything shorter is not useful, that is not the case. Writing daily, whether it’s a paragraph or several pages, keeps you in conversation with your writing practice. If you schedule two hours to write, remember to take a break during that time and reset. You can try:

  • The Pomodoro Technique: a time management technique that breaks down your work into intervals
  • Taking breaks: go outside for a walk or have a snack so you can come back to your writing rejuvenated
  • Focus apps: it is easy to get distracted by devices and lose direction. Here are some app suggestions: Focus Bear (no free version); Forest (free version available); Cold Turkey website blocker (free version available) and Serene (no free version). 

This is a valuable opportunity to hone your time management and task prioritisation skills. Find out what works for you and put systems in place to support your practice. 

  • Resources on academic writing for higher education professionals
  • Stretch your work further by ‘triple writing’
  • What is your academic writing temperament?

Create a community

While writing can be an isolating endeavour, there are ways to start forming a community (in-person or virtual) to help you set goals and stay accountable. There might be someone in your cohort who is also at the writing stage with whom you can set up a weekly check-in. Alternatively, explore your university’s resources and centres because there may be units and departments on campus that offer helpful opportunities, such as a writing week or retreat. Taking advantage of these opportunities helps combat isolation, foster accountability and grow networks. They can even lead to collaborations further down the line.

  • Check in with your advisers and mentors. Reach out to your networks to find out about other people’s writing processes and additional resources.
  • Don’t be afraid to share your work. Writing requires constant revisions and edits and finding people who you trust with feedback will help you grow as a writer. Plus, you can also read their work and help them with their editing process.
  • Your community does not have to be just about writing!  If you enjoy going on hikes or trying new coffee shops, make that part of your weekly habit.  Sharing your work in different environments will help clarify your thoughts and ideas.

Address the why

The PhD dissertation writing process is often lengthy and it is sometimes easy to forget why you started. In these moments, it can be helpful to think back to what got you excited about your research and scholarship in the first place. Remember it is not just the work but also the people who propelled you forward. One idea is to start writing your “acknowledgements” section. Here are questions to get you started:

  • Do you want to dedicate your work to someone? 
  • What ideas sparked your interest in this journey? 
  • Who cheered you on? 

This practice can help build momentum, as well as serve as a good reminder to carve out time to spend with your community. 

You got this!

Writing is a process. Give yourself grace, as you might not feel motivated all the time. Be consistent in your approach and reward yourself along the way. There is no single strategy when it comes to writing or maintaining motivation, so experiment and find out what works for you. 

Suggested readings

  • Thriving as a Graduate Writer by Rachel Cayley (2023)
  • Destination Dissertation by Sonja K. Foss and William Waters (2015)
  • The PhD Writing Handbook by Desmond Thomas (2016).

Mabel Ho is director of professional development and student engagement at Dalhousie University.

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  1. How to get a PhD: Steps and Requirements Explained (2022)

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  2. The Top 8 Must-Know Tips For PhD Preparation: How To Get Started

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  3. How to get a PhD: Steps and Requirements Explained

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  4. How to Get Started with PhD Dissertation? A Detailed Guide

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  5. How to get your phd? study.com

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  6. How Long Does It Take To Get a PhD?

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  1. how to get a PhD ? #phd #phdmemes #phdhelp

  2. Introduction to PhD

  3. 5 Common Reasons PhD Applications Are Rejected

  4. PhD and Work

  5. Jobs after PhD? Is it worth doing a PhD from India?

  6. PHD


  1. 10 things you need to know before starting a PhD degree

    5. Embrace change - don't get bogged down in the details. Felix Shaw - one of our bioinformatics researchers at EI - put it best when he said, " it felt like I was running into brick walls all the way through [my PhD]… you'd run into a brick wall, surmount it, only to run straight into another. It's true.

  2. Applying for a Ph.D.? These 10 tips can help you succeed

    The key is knowing what to do to prepare and how to compile and submit a strong application. We hope these 10 tips will help you get started. 1. Be true to yourself: First and foremost, consider your goals. Many students are initially interested in pursuing a Ph.D. because they want to become a professor.

  3. How to Apply For a PhD: Step-By-Step

    Step 1: choose your research area. The first, and most obvious, step to applying for a PhD is to decide what research area you want to work in. Whether you're looking for an Arts and Humanities PhD or a STEM one, each individual subject is made up of a vast array of research topics. Most PhD courses will expect students to have a degree in a ...

  4. PDF GRAD Guide to Applying to Ph.D. Programs

    A Ph.D. is a research degree that involves the production of original knowledge and scholarship. Doctoral degrees have traditionally been regarded as training programs for academics. As such, a Ph.D. program differs from undergraduate or Master's studies. Most Ph.D. programs involve some initial coursework (specific requirements for ...

  5. Twenty things I wish I'd known when I started my PhD

    20. Enjoy your PhD! It can be tough, and there will be days when you wish you had a 'normal' job, but PhDs are full of wonderful experiences and give you the opportunity to work on something ...

  6. How to Prepare for and Start a PhD

    Most research departments and lab groups will hold regular meetings, and it's helpful to get involved in these at the start of a PhD.Your department will probably hold research seminars - these are another chance to show an interest and get involved with other members of the university. There are likely to be plenty of other organised events, too.

  7. The PhD Journey

    7 stages of the PhD journey. A PhD has a few landmark milestones along the way. The three to four year you'll spend doing a PhD can be divided into these seven stages. Preparing a research proposal. Carrying out a literature review. Conducting research and collecting results. Completing the MPhil to PhD upgrade.

  8. How To Get a PhD [2024 Guide

    Regardless of the topic you choose to focus on, the journey toward your doctorate will likely begin with earning a bachelors degree and end with a public defense of your doctoral dissertation. 1. Earn an Undergraduate Degree. The road to a PhD begins with earning an undergraduate degree from an accredited school.

  9. How to Prepare a Strong PhD Application

    Prepare for the Standardized Tests. Most PhD programs require students to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Having high test scores is a key part of an application as it tests skills learned over the course of many years in school. Quantitative skills are especially important when applying to doctoral programs in business areas.

  10. How to get a PhD: Steps and Requirements Explained

    Earning a PhD is no easy feat. It takes most students years to do so. Let's look into the steps someone must take to get a PhD. Step 1: Complete an undergraduate degree. Before you can take the next step toward your PhD, you'll first have to receive a bachelor's degree through an undergraduate program at a reputable university.

  11. Five tips for starting (and continuing) a PhD

    As it's the start of the academic year I want to share a few of my own tips along those lines, to help get your PhD off to a good start, and keep it on a trajectory you're happy with: 1. Keep notes on everything you read. My PhD, like many, kicked off with lots of reading of textbooks and academic papers. My reading has ebbed and flowed ...

  12. PhD FAQs

    17. In summary, PhD stipends are really not that different to grad starting salaries. Please don't be put off from a PhD simply because for a few years you might be earning a bit less than if you were working in another job. Depending on what you want to do with your career, having a CV may lead to higher salaries.

  13. A Beginner's Guide to Starting the Research Process

    Step 1: Choose your topic. First you have to come up with some ideas. Your thesis or dissertation topic can start out very broad. Think about the general area or field you're interested in—maybe you already have specific research interests based on classes you've taken, or maybe you had to consider your topic when applying to graduate school and writing a statement of purpose.

  14. What are the steps in getting a PhD?

    The work required to complete a PhD varies across academic disciplines and universities, though earning a PhD typically requires the following elements: Completing coursework. Completing one or more doctoral residency experiences. Passing a comprehensive assessment or exam. Developing and completing an independent research project.

  15. The Path of How to Get a PhD

    Here's a look at the PhD application timeline and curriculum you can expect, from the first meeting with your program supervisor to your graduation and beyond. 1. Initial Meeting with Your Academic Advisor. One of the first things you'll do as a PhD student is meet with your academic advisor or supervisor.

  16. Doctor of Philosophy

    A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD, Ph.D., or DPhil; Latin: philosophiae doctor or doctor philosophiae) is the most common degree at the highest academic level, awarded following a course of study and research. The degree is abbreviated PhD and sometimes, especially in the U.S., as Ph.D. It is derived from the Latin Philosophiae Doctor, pronounced as three separate letters (/ p iː eɪ tʃ ˈ d iː ...

  17. First Year PhD Student Advice

    PhD student advice for first year. At the beginning of my PhD it was a bit difficult to know what to do and where to get started. Along the way I have figure...

  18. PhD in USA

    In general, however, the typical annual tuition fee for a PhD in the US is between $12,000 and $45,000 per academic year. As with any doctoral degree, additional costs may include travel for collaborations, bench fees, accommodation and living expenses. A PhD in USA takes 5-6 years, costs between $12-45k per year and has a different structure ...

  19. Ready for a Doctorate? Clarifying Your PhD Requirements

    Standard PhD requirements in the UK are a Bachelors degree with at least an upper second class honours degree (2.1). You may also need a Masters degree with a Merit or Distinction grade. All your previous qualifications must be in a field of study relevant to the PhD you are applying for. Typically, Arts and Humanities PhDs are more likely to ...

  20. How Long Does It Take To Get a PhD?

    A PhD program typically takes four to seven years, but a variety of factors can impact that timeline. A PhD, or doctorate degree, is the highest degree you can earn in certain disciplines, such as psychology, engineering, education, and mathematics. As a result, it often takes longer to earn than it does for a bachelor's or master's degree.

  21. My top tips for starting PhD students : r/GradSchool

    If your meetings are all "camera on", put on some nice clothes. Get a good ergonomic chair and do your work at a desk. Don't just slump into the couch with a laptop for 8 hours a day, you'll wreck your back. It's okay to take a mental health day once in a while.

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  24. How to tackle the PhD dissertation

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    Zella Kahn-Jetter, PhD, third from the left, sharing a farewell meal with USD alumni and students. Zella Kahn-Jetter, PhD, PE, has shattered glass ceilings throughout her distinguished career in mechanical engineering. Despite facing challenges and stereotypes, she has amassed an impressive collection of "firsts," paving the way for future ...