Published: 22 May 2023

Frequently asked questions about doing a PhD

Applying for doctoral study is a big commitment. We’ve gathered some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve encountered to help you make your decision.

How long will it take me to complete my doctorate?

This will depend upon the course and the funding period, but usually they take between three to four years. Part-time doctorates will take around six to eight years. The workload involved is unlikely to allow you to complete a doctorate in less than this time.

Will I be able to live on campus?

New postgraduate students, including those who are progressing from a taught programme, are guaranteed a place in accommodation, provided the following three conditions have been met by Tuesday 1 August 2023:  

1. You have applied for accommodation 

2. You have met the conditions of their formal academic offer 

3. The University is in receipt of the requested academic fee deposit. 

These guarantees only apply to students taking up accommodation from the start of the academic year in September 2023; courses starting outside of these dates will be prioritised for accommodation and will be subject to availability. 

Will I have exams and oral presentations or is it just research and a dissertation? 

Ultimately, your doctorate will be assessed through peer review, examination of your written thesis, and your ability to discuss and defend your research in a viva voce examination.

There will also be other formal reviews to assess your progress throughout your studies. This will include six-monthly progress reviews and a confirmation examination after your first year of study. You will also be expected to present your work to a range of different audiences and write about your work in a number of forms while you are studying here.

Do I need a supervisor before I apply for a doctorate?

You don’t need to arrange a supervisor before applying, but it is highly recommended that you contact any academics who you think might be interested in working with you. That relationship will be really important to you during your doctorate so you’ll need to make sure you find someone who shares similar research interests and who you can work with.

Please refer to the PhD programme web page or the relevant studentship that you are applying for to check whether contacting a supervisor in advance is essential. 

What is expected in a research proposal? 

Some but not all of our PhD programme require a research proposal to support your application. For more information about this, please see our PhD proposal guidance. To check if the PhD programme you wish to apply for requires a research proposal, please refer to the PhD programme web page. 

Will I be able to teach while at Surrey?

Yes. You will receive an email outlining which modules require doctoral researchers as part of the teaching team before each semester. Dependent upon the requirements, you can choose one which interests you and attend an interview. If successful, you will have the opportunity to teach.

Can I work as a research assistant?

There are sometimes opportunities for researchers to help research groups with projects. These are published by email through our on-campus recruitment agency, Unitemps.

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