What to expect from your PhD

A food science and nutrition PhD student on the University of Leeds campus

To complete a postgraduate research programme, you’ll need to be dedicated and passionate about your area of study. But it’ll be well worth it. Being a doctoral student is challenging, but incredibly rewarding.

What is a research degree?

You are expected to carry out a programme of research in a particular area under the supervision of a primary supervisor and one or more co-supervisors.

We offer four types of research degrees: 

• Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - 3 years full-time or 5 years part-time

• Integrated PhD – 4 years full-time

• Masters by Research (MSc Res) - 1 year full-time or 2 years part-time

PhD by Distance Learning – 3 years full-time or 5 years part-time

A PhD is the most internationally recognised research qualification, and is the most commonly pursued research degree at Leeds.

How long does it take to do a PhD?

To do a PhD, you’ll need to dedicate 3.5 years, during which you’ll be generating new knowledge and considering that new information in relation to existing information. You’ll carry out a programme of research under the supervision of a primary supervisor and one or more co-supervisors, have the chance to strengthen your research skills and knowledge, and develop a really wide range of qualities. Whether you want to develop your career in industry or in academia, a PhD programme can help you to get where you want to be.

Choosing a research topic for your PhD programme

If you’ve already got a research area in mind, you can first explore our research areas and potential supervisors to decide if your area of interest is a good fit with our departments. If you find a match, simply contact the academic for that area to discuss your research idea in more detail. If you don’t have a specific research area in mind, browse through our PhD project opportunities for an idea of the sort of projects we would accept applications for. 

Undertaking a research degree is both enormously challenging and rewarding which is why you must choose a research topic you are passionate about.

To complete your PhD, you will need to dedicate 3 years of study up to a maximum of 4 years, during which, you will be generating new knowledge and appraising that new information in terms of the wider body of knowledge. Not only will it provide you with the opportunity to strengthen your research skills and knowledge, it will help you develop a much wider range of attributes, whether you want to develop your career in business and industry or in an academic environment.

Taught Courses

Your supervisor or School may require you to attend taught courses. These could be either undergraduate or Masters level, or can be more specific to your training needs. Some courses you may need to formally enrol for, again dependant on if there is any formal assessment. You will discuss these requirements with your supervisor and the module leader, and add details of these to your annual training plan.

Choosing your research topic

If you have a research area in mind, you can first explore our research and supervisor profiles to decide if your intended research topic is likely to fit with any of the research the school is already undertaking. If there’s a match please contact the academic for that research area to discuss your research topic in more detail.

What a typical full-time PhD looks like 

Below is an overview of year one, two and three.

Year 1

When you apply, you will be assigned a supervisor who will provide guidance and support throughout your PhD. Your supervisor will be an expert in their field and will become your most important contact. They will be on hand to help you from day one - agreeing a research project that is original and feasible and advising you on all aspects of the research and thesis preparation.

Prior to or soon after you register at the University, your school will inform you of the induction process. This will include a 'Welcome to the University for Research Students' and ‘Starting Your Research Degree’ workshop where you will be able to explore further what is involved in getting a PhD and the training and development opportunities that can support you.

Within one month of starting your degree, you will be required to complete a training plan with your supervisor. This training plan will be tailored to reflect the demands of your current project and future employment.

At the end of your first year (second year for part-time students), you will be assessed through a transfer report and an oral examination. Successful completion enables progression into the remaining years.

Year 2

In your second year of research, you will be expected to consolidate the work undertaken so far and deepen your understanding of your chosen research area.  You should be gaining results and outcomes for the thesis you will submit at the end of year 3. 

You will have opportunities to attend and present at conferences and research events. This will allow you to meet and network with colleagues and peers, not only from across the University but also from the wider academic community at national and international events. You will have opportunities to hear about the latest research happening in your specialism and to present and share you own research findings.

At the end of year 2 a short evaluation takes place through the submission of a paper and an interview with an independent member of staff.

Year 3

At the end of your research, you will prepare a thesis (of up to 100,000 words), which describes your research and your original contribution to knowledge; the thesis is assessed by an oral examination (viva voce).  During your research, you will be expected to give seminars and write papers for scientific journals and conferences. 

Throughout your time at Leeds, you will have access to a broad programme of skills training and professional development. This will help you complete your research effectively and to keep you at the leading edge of developments in learning and teaching, innovation, enterprise and knowledge transfer to help you succeed in your future employment.