Common types of doctoral programme in the UK
UK doctoral candidates are registered as students. Many undertake their doctoral work on a full-time basis based at a university, but many others do their research part-time alongside full-time or part-time work or are based elsewhere e.g. in a research institute or private company.
For individuals, a major choice is whether to undertake a doctorate on a full-time or part-time basis.
Nine researchers who've undertaken a part-time doctorate in the UK reflect on their experiences in our series of films. Most chose the part-time route due to financial, family and work commitments.
There are two main types of doctorate:
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD or DPhil) is the most common and familiar form of doctoral qualification. It's undertaken while registered at a higher education institution and assessed through a thesis or portfolio based on the extended research conducted. An increasing proportion of PhDs are through structured doctoral training programmes and/or involve collaboration with business or other organisations
- Professional or practice-based doctorates (EdD, DBA, DSocSci, DProf, etc) may be the choice of mid-career professionals as continuing professional development or as a means to alter their professional trajectory. They may also be undertaken earlier in a career as a means of gaining specific skills. These programmes are normally located in the work environment of a doctoral candidate’s profession or related to their area of practice; for example, they are often undertaken by artists, musicians and health professionals. Sometimes linked to a licence to practice, they are often designed to meet the needs of that profession. They normally include a structured period of initial research training and the assessed outputs may include practice-based materials, as well as a written commentary or thesis.
Usually the period of study for a UK doctoral degree is 3-4 years full-time or 6-8 years part-time. Some programmes can be undertaken as ‘distance learning’ (i.e. at the candidate’s location rather than the awarding institution). Learn more about what it is like to do a doctorate.
It is also possible to undertake a masters in research. The most common qualifications are:
- Master of Philosophy (MPhil). Usually a two year (full-time) degree, some institutions initially register their doctoral candidates for this degree and undertake a formal upgrade to the doctorate after 12-18 months
- Research Masters (MRes). This is specifically designed as a course to prepare students for doctoral research.