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Studying for a PhD

Students usually take three or four years to obtain a PhD. During this time, they will work mainly on their own research project.

This will involve:

  • designing their study
  • carrying out the research
  • making sense of the results.

As PhD students are discovering new things, it is really important that they tell people about them. This may be at a conference.

PhD students often get the opportunity to travel to exotic places to speak about their work, and by publishing their findings in scientific journals or books.

It is very exciting to think that someone from the other side of the world can read about the work you did in your PhD.

Doing a PhD is hard work but it is fun. PhD students meet lots of people and develop a wide range of skills.

They have opportunities to become involved in a wide variety of different events including:

  • visits to schools, as in the Elevator Pitches
  • running societies for other PhD students
  • organising seminars, workshops and conferences on their specialised subject.

The award of the PhD puts students in an excellent position to follow a rewarding career path and - the thing that often makes their families most proud - allows them to use the title of 'doctor'.

What is doing a PhD really like?

There is no such thing as a typical day in the life of a PhD student.

Doing a PhD is very varied and what you do will not only depend on the type of research being conducted but will also change on a day-to-day basis.

Heather Melrose

PhD student in the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences

Heather Melrose, PhD student in the Institute of Cardiovascular SciencesHeather gives an overview of the types of things she is involved in as a PhD student.

“Doing a laboratory-based PhD means a lot of my time is spent in the laboratory doing lots of different experiments.

“There are a lot of new and varied techniques to learn and ways in which to use them. Getting to grips with new techniques or equipment can be tricky at times, but there are plenty of friendly faces in the lab to help out.

“I then have to analyse and interpret any results I generate, to come to conclusions about my project area.

“This year, I have had the opportunity to present my results (and hear about other peoples’ results) at a number of conferences including ones in Birmingham, London and Oxford – here's hoping for somewhere a little warmer next year!

“It’s not all strictly lab-based though, I’ve had the chance to talk to the public about my research at events such as 'Meet the Physiologist' at the Museum of Science and Industry.

“At the moment I am also helping to supervise a sixth-form student who is doing a short project in the lab.

“At the end of my PhD, I will have to write-up all my findings into an extended essay called a 'Thesis' (which can be hundreds of pages long). It will explain why I did my experiments, what they showed and what we can learn from them.

“This is not my favourite part of the course, especially the grilling I can expect in my 'viva' at the end, but I know I’ll feel proud of all the work that I’ll have done.”