The PhD Degree

To many Post Graduate students, PhDs can seem like an elusive end point, with a minimum of 3 years research work in New Zealand, Australia and Britain; and a minimum of 5 years work, including course work for PhD completion in the United States. (Be aware that other countries requirements can differ again – it pays to know what is required before you start applying!) Also be aware that these numbers are minimums again, as often PhDs can extend into the following year, and once again this is often dictated by funding.

The aim of PhD is to give you extensive experience in a single area, to make you an expert with the skill to pursue future research in that particular area. Furthermore, it signals to a prospective employer that you can stick with a project for an extended period of time, and it provides a nice opportunity to get some more of those wonderful papers to tack on your CV. If you want to pursue you own, self-directed research in the future, you will need a PhD. That said, don’t overestimate it’s importance – as simply having a PhD is not enough to guarantee you a career in research science – especially in a world with such tight science budgets, and such competition between peers. The technical aim for a PhD is to:

“Demonstrate the candidate’s ability to carry out independent research and must also be a significant contribution to the knowledge or understanding of the field of study.”

In New Zealand, completion of a PhD requires you to compose a thesis (60,000 – 100,000 words), give presentations on your research and on other topics at your institution and at conferences. You will be expected to publish your results in peer reviewed literature, which means reading and writing papers alone and understanding the peer review process. You are expected to provide progress reports, as usually (for about the first year) you will only receive a ‘preliminary’ enrolment until you decide on a specific topic and provide evidence that you should be able to complete that within the remaining 2 year window (which can be extended out for a further year and often is!) Finally your work will be assessed by 3 examiners: one from your Host University, one from another New Zealand University and one from an Overseas University. This often includes an oral defense.

For more detailed information on what is involved at each stage of a PhD take a look at our specific sections:

  • Planning Your PhD
  • Funding Your PhD
  • Picking a Supervisor and Topic
  • Picking a University
  • During Your PhD
  • Skills to Develop – What do employers want and value?

Completing a PhD can mark the true beginning of your career as a research scientist. It also provides a nice ‘exit point’ for those who decide not to continue on in academia, whilst still having a weighty qualification behind your name! A doctorate provides employers with a large sample of your work and research capabilities, but it is unlikely (unless your PhD is truly groundbreaking!) that you will be hired directly from here as a leading research scientist. What a PhD does allow you to do is to gain employment in a Post-Doctoral position to further your research career.

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