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Other reasons for doing PhD research

Reasons for doing PhD research
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© Christine Langer-Pueschel /

In the previous step you discussed your personal reasons for undertaking a PhD. You may have mentioned some of the following:

  • to continue studying in the UK or in the UK system at a higher academic level;
  • to enable a career in a university after gaining a PhD;
  • to advance a career outside of academic life;
  • to be able to use the title of ‘Doctor’.

Seeking to undertake a research degree at PhD/DPhil level is a big step up from Masters degree (which is the normal route preceding application to a PhD, although part-time and distance learning applicants can often be already employed, or out of the academic system for a while, or even retired and only now ready for the doctoral challenge!). Some international students who have come to the UK to study for a Masters degree do apply to proceed to PhD. However, Masters degrees consist mainly of taught components – modules with lectures and seminars, etc. By contrast, PhD programmes typically only feature taught or training modules in the first year of study. The majority of the time is spent in independent study, guided by supervisors. In this respect, PhD study best resembles the dissertation component of Masters study – but extended over three years (or, as noted, six years if a part-time or distance learning PhD).

You should indeed be aware that there is also a significant ‘step change’ in the standards and expectations of PhD research.

Normally Universities would only accept applicants to a PhD with a very good to excellent first (BA, BSc) degree and a very good to strong Masters (e.g. a ‘merit’ and ‘distinction’ level pass); there will be equivalents for all such grades and degrees in qualifications outside of the UK, so please look to what your potential host university requires – likewise for language proficiency if your first language is not English (we will discuss this again later).

Occasionally a PhD proposal builds from a Masters dissertation/ thesis topic. However, admissions tutors to PhD programmes do not tend to look favourably on applications where the proposed research closely resembles what the applicant has already done for a Masters level dissertation. An undergraduate or Masters dissertation is generally a synthetic study (by which we mean that it wouldn’t necessarily be wholly original research, drawing on published materials, although it may contain some new data generated by survey or interviews, for example), whereas the scope and scale and questioning of a PhD are much greater. Nonetheless, such dissertations often will have provided the recognition of a gap in a field or issues with current research in a specific field, and from these recognitions may come the basic question or theme for your doctoral research proposal. This course will let you build a case for this.

For professionals or employed applicants, dissertations and MA degrees may be memories far in the past, but you will have undertaken report-writing and studies since your University degrees to prepare you for taking on a PhD. In your proposal, draw on such professional experience to show your knowledge of the field proposed. In particular, in Business there is the DSocSci route where you are seeking to enhance your practitioner status through distance-learning doctoral study (taught and research).

© University of Leicester
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Discovering Your PhD Potential: Writing a Research Proposal

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