PhDs and research degrees

What is a PhD / research degree?

Research degrees are the highest level of qualification awarded by universities in the UK, and are at level 8 of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). Candidates carry out an independent research project under supervision over an extended period of time, before submitting a thesis or dissertation consisting of original material.

Research degrees offer a challenging and exciting opportunity to work at the cutting-edge of research: if you have these qualities we can offer a rich, dynamic and supportive environment in which to pursue research. At the University of Exeter, research students are supported by our Doctoral College.

We offer a range of research degrees, including:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
  • Master of Philosophy (MPhil)
  • Masters by Research (MbyRes)
  • Engineering doctorate (EngD)
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Master of Surgery (MS)
  • Professional doctorates (such as EdD and EngD)

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Master of Philosophy (MPhil)

The MPhil, although a qualification in its own right, is often used as a route to the longer PhD. A PhD is only awarded when the results make an original contribution to knowledge in the field, which is normally assessed by a written thesis and oral examination.

Thesis / PhD by publication

Research degrees usually involve the completion of a written thesis, although alternatives may be allowed where suitable. Alternatives can include the presentation of part or all of the thesis as a multimedia document or a piece of art, or a record of professional practice in the form of a series of case-studies, which must be accompanied by a commentary. If you are interested in completing a thesis by alternative submission please contact the appropriate department to discuss this during the application process. If you publish research you have undertaken during your studies, it may also be possible to include such work in its published form in your thesis.

If you already have a portfolio of suitable quality published work which demonstrates a coherent research direction, you may be eligible for the PhD by Publication. This option reduces the study duration, and you will work with a supervisor to produce an integrating chapter explaining how the publications form a coherent whole.

Masters by Research

The MA or MSc by Research lets you obtain a research degree without the commitment of a longer-term PhD. Not to be confused with the taught MRes degree, it’s ideal for people interested in pursuing a specific shorter-term research project, perhaps while working. You will have the option to apply to transfer to an MPhil or PhD.

Professional doctorates

Professional doctorates combine a significant taught element with production of a research thesis, and are designed to help members of specific professions develop both their academic and professional knowledge (eg educational psychologists, clinical psychologists, teachers and lecturers).

Engineering doctorate (EngD)

An EngD is a four-year research degree awarded for industrially relevant research. The degree provides a more vocationally oriented approach to obtaining a doctorate in engineering commensurate with that of a PhD. You can find out more about the EngD degrees we offer on our Engineering webpages.

Doctor of Medicine (MD)/Master of Surgery (MS)

These professional degrees contain no taught element and, like a PhD, are only awarded if an original contribution to knowledge is made. The degrees are normally completed in two-to-three years full-time (four-to-five years part-time), and require a clinical degree or equivalent. Please see our Medical School webpages for further information.

How long does a PhD take?

A PhD takes three-to-four years when studied for full time, and six-to-seven years when studied for part time. And MPhil takes two-to-three years full time, and four-to-five years part time.

Can I study for a PhD by distance learning or split-site study?

There are opportunities to study for a University of Exeter PhD without living locally: in some circumstances it may be appropriate for you to study with us whilst registered as a distance-based student, or if you have access to appropriate academic facilities, as a split-site student. All off-campus students receive supervision and support from our staff and are normally expected to attend the University for limited periods.

Details of which research degrees offer distance learning or split-site study are on individual subject pages.

How can I pay for my PhD?

There are many ways to fund a research degree, from full studentships that pay your tuition fee and a significant living stipend, to small grants from educational charities and trusts. You can find out much more about funding your research degree on our regularly-updated PhD funding pages.