What to expect from your PhD

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Hear from our postgraduate researchers and academics about their experience in the Institute for Transport Studies. Watching in China? Watch this video on YouKu

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.

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

We offer three types of research degrees:


The Doctor of Philosophy is our main research degree. The PhD is awarded on the basis of a thesis (300 pages or 100,000 words) and examiners must be satisfied that you have discovered, interpreted and communicated new knowledge through original research. This must be worthy of publication in international and national peer reviewed journals, which might reasonably be expected from a competent, hard-working student after three or up to four years of full-time study (five years or up to seven years for part-time or split-site study). Examiners must also be satisfied that you possess good general knowledge in your area of research.

We also offer an alternative style of doctoral thesis known as the ‘PhD by publication’ route, which encourages candidates to publish and to include their publications as, or within, their final submission. This model of thesis can only be submitted where the supervisory team supports this format of submission and is satisfied it is appropriate and meets the protocol in place for that Faculty.


The Master of Philosophy is awarded on the basis of a thesis (200 pages or 60,000 words) and examiners must be satisfied that you have been able to interpret and communicate knowledge through research and/or scholarship of publishable quality which would satisfy peer review, and which might reasonably be expected to be completed after two or up to three years of full-time study (four or up to six years for part-time study). You must also satisfy the examiners that you possess a good general knowledge in your area of research. This degree would be suitable if you have 2 years of sponsorship for your research degree study.

Split-site PhD

This is a combination of part-time and full-time study and is intended for highly qualified individuals. If you would like to study for a research degree in transport while spending most of your study period in your home country, the Split-site PhD programme might be the ideal scheme for you.

A Split-site PhD is designed to give you access to academic supervision from the Institute of Transport Studies, whilst keeping costs affordable and allowing you to remain in your current circumstances - such as your location and job. This form of part-time PhD study can be particularly suited for those who work in countries other than the UK, in Universities, research institutions and similar organisations.

The standard period of study is five years, with a maximum time limit for submission of your thesis of seven years. The entry requirement is a relevant degree equivalent to a a UK undergraduate honours degree 2.1 (or equivalent) or higher and a masters degree. The English Language requirement is higher than normal and is IELTS 6.5 with not less than 6.0 in any skill area (or equivalent).

You would be required to be in full-time residence in Leeds for at least eight months within the five year standard period of study. At least six months must be spent in Leeds in Year 1 so that appropriate training can take place. You must be present in Leeds during Year 2 for the formal assessment for transfer to full PhD registration and then at a later stage for the examination of the thesis.

The supervisors are appointed at the University of Leeds and a “local” advisor must also be appointed. The “local” advisor should be employed by a HEI, Research Institute or Commercial or Industrial Organization with significant research component or reputation and should be readily available for consultation. The “local” adviser must be familiar with the UK system for the award of research degrees, and must be approved by the University of Leeds. You must provide a statement of support confirming that relevant resources and facilities are in place for your research. A clearly planned research project must be in place before the research commences.

PhD by Distance Learning 

Our PhD by distance learning programme allows you to benefit from expertise and supervision from an academic in the Institute for Transport Studies, while conducting research from a location that suits your circumstances.  

How long does it take to do a PhD?

To do a PhD, you’ll usually need to dedicate 3 years full-time or 5 years part-time, 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 your research topic

If you’ve already got a research area in mind, you can first explore our research areas 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, you could browse the PhD opportunities we’re currently offering, and see if you can find a PhD project that interests you.

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

Taught courses

Your supervisor or School may require you to attend taught courses as part of your research degrees training plan. These could be either undergraduate or Masters level, or can be more specific to your training needs. You will discuss these requirements with your supervisor and the module leader, and add details of these to your annual training plan.

What a typical full-time PhD looks like

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, you will attend a School Induction event to welcome you to the School and to provide an opportunity for you to network with other Postgraduate Researchers in the School. You will be encouraged to undertake online modules introducing you to the support you can expect to receive whilst while doing your research at Leeds. 

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 skills that you already possess, the demands of your research degree project, and future employment.

You will be admitted as a ‘Provisional PhD’ in the first instance. Within 12 months of your start date, you will need to undergo a transfer assessment to full ‘PhD’; this involves submitting a written report and having a formal oral examination with appointed examiners. Sucessful completion enables progression into the remaining years.

You will do a first presentation of your research at the School’s spring PGR conference and attend the annual Universities Transport Study Group conference.

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 your own research findings.

At the end of year 2, an annual progress review takes place which involves submitting a written piece of work and a time plan for completion of the research degree. You will then hold a meeting with the full supervision panel to review progress. 

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.

We offer an alternative style of doctoral thesis known as the ‘PhD by publication’ route, which encourages candidates to publish and to include their publications as, or within, their final submission. This model of thesis can only be submitted where the supervisory team supports this format of submission and is satisfied it is appropriate and meets the protocol in place for that Faculty.

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.