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Postgraduate Study - PhD and Research Degrees

Types of research degrees

What is a 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 DClinPGR and EngD)

You can find out about the length of each type of degree on our degree durations page.

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.

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 part-time, distance learning or split-site?

In many instances, it's possible to study your PhD in a way that suits you. This may be part-time, around work or childcare, or from a distance. If you have access to appropriate academic facilities, becoming a split-site researcher may be an option. All off-campus research students receive supervision and support from our staff and are normally expected to attend the University for limited periods. 

Further information about split-site study

Further information about part-time study

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

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 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).

Professional Doctorate, Psychology (DClinPGR)

The Professional Doctorate programmes in Psychology are different from conventional PhDs, which essentially offer training in academic research skills. These programmes all include taught academic and clinical research modules as well as applied psychological practice (DClinPsy and DPPClinPrac) and leadership (DClinPsy and DClinRes). All programmes include a major research project dissertation.  Find out more

Engineering doctorate (EngD)

An EngD is equivalent in level to a PhD and is awarded for industrially relevant research. The degree provides a vocationally oriented approach to obtaining a doctorate in engineering. You can find out more about the EngD degrees we offer on our Engineering page.

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 require a clinical degree or equivalent. Please see our Healthcare and Medicine page for further information.