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Undertaking a doctoral programme is different to what you may have experienced as an undergraduate or master's student. At the doctoral level, you should think of yourself as a professional researcher, albeit at an early stage of your career.

As such, you have much more autonomy over how you work – and this means that you need to plan and manage your own time to achieve your goals. This guide sets out the things you will need to consider when planning your time.


Full-time PhD: Minimum/Expected: 3 years | Maximum: 4 years

Part-time PhDMinimum: 4 years | Expected: 5 years | Maximum: 6 years


Length of a PhD thesis

Most standard PhD theses are between 60,000 and 80,000 words, with the maximum permitted length normally being 90,000 words.

Core work

On an ongoing basis, your doctoral programme involves you:

  • undertaking research
  • meeting your supervisor on a regular basis
  • regularly reviewing and updating your learning needs assessment (LNA)
  • attending relevant training and networking events, including Reading Researcher Development Programme (RRDP) sessions, School/Department sessions, research seminars and Doctoral and Researcher College social events
  • thinking about your future career.


Key activities: full-time programmes

Alongside the more general, ongoing work, there are several key activities that you need to undertake on your doctoral research journey.

Year 1

In the first three months, key activities include:

  • attending induction sessions and Health and Safety briefings
  • reading the University Code of Practice on Research Students (PDF, 0.4 MB)
  • meeting your supervisor and agreeing the schedule for your work and meetings
  • developing your research questions and approach
  • carrying out a learning needs assessment (LNA)
  • submitting a written piece of work, if required by your School/Department.


By the end of the year, key activities include:

  • giving an oral presentation of your research to an appropriate audience
  • identifying relevant external conferences to attend
  • undergoing a Year 1 review of your progress.


Year 2

Key activities include:

  • producing one or more research outputs for publication
  • giving an oral presentation of your research to your School/Department
  • presenting at an external conference
  • undergoing Confirmation of Registration.


Year 3

Key activities include:

  • producing one or more research outputs for publication
  • completing a good draft version of your thesis by the middle of the year
  • presenting at an external conference
  • undergoing a Year 3 review of your progress
  • submitting your thesis by the end of the year.

Examination (referred to as the viva)

Once you have completed and submitted your PhD thesis, it is examined by two independent examiners. Your examiners will read your thesis and then give you an oral examination know as a viva, which normally lasts two to three hours.


Key activities: part-time programmes

A part-time research programme incorporates the same activities as for a full-time programme, but structured over five or six years. In particular, the key milestones are as follows. 

 Stage  Key activity
 Year 2  Undergo Confirmation of Registration within 30 months of starting your doctoral research programme.
 Year 4  Enter the final writing-up stage.
 Year 5  Submit your thesis by the end of the year.
 Year 6  The maximum submission date is 72 months after starting a doctoral research programme.

Find out more about part-time doctoral study 

Working hours and patterns

You will decide your own working hours and patterns in a way that suits you, but also ensures that you are making steady progress towards passing your doctorate. The majority of your time will be spent working at the University in a laboratory or office.

Although you will be able to take time off for holidays and other breaks, you will be expected to work on your research all year round, rather than following University semester dates.


Part-time work

If necessary, you may undertake part-time work alongside your doctoral programme, as long as this does not detract from your ability to meet the demands of your research.


Find out more

Download our comprehensive guide to PhD study

The Doctoral and Researcher College has produced a guide to help you keep on track, which explains how we monitor and assess your progress. In particular, it describes the Confirmation of Registration process – the formal assessment that takes place approximately halfway through your programme.

Read the Doctoral and Researcher College guide to keeping on track (PDF, 0.3 MB) 

The University's Code of Practice on Research Students outlines a minimum set of requirements for all parties involved in the awarding of doctoral degrees.

Read the University's Code of Practice on Research Students