What is a PhD, anyway?

Mention your progress toward or achievement of this degree, and you’re sure to be met with wide eyes and a sure proclamation of how smart you “must” be. In the eyes of the public, a PhD is synonymous with an almost Olympian level of honour.

But, if you were to ask any person at random what a PhD is, you may find this admiration based on very little – or incorrect – knowledge of what’s actually entailed.

So, what is a PhD?

A PhD is an original and significant contribution to a particular research area; the objective is to demonstrate the author’s capacity for a sustained program of research.

It’s usually completed in 3-4 years (full-time), is fee-free, and is generally entered into by mature-aged students (as a point of interest, the average age of PhD students at commencement is 31); these are individuals who have either progressed directly from their university studies, or those embarking on a PhD out of some time already spent in the professional sector.

How much does it cost me?

The PhD itself is fee-free; the significant contribution to a research area is seen by the government as a benefit to society as a whole.

Depending on your application and institution, you may even be given a scholarship, which can pay around around $27,000 per annum; however this does limit your ability to work in regular employment, including with the university.

In most circumstances, PhD candidates are employed by their institution as casual teaching staff if they’re not already working full-time in an industry other than tertiary education.

What about the structure?

A PhD sets out to answer a specific research question, which can then be divided into a number of sub-questions which may end up forming the different chapters. It can vary between institutions and disciplines, but a PhD is usually comprised of the following:

  • Synopsis
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Methodology
  • Literature Review
  • Analysis/Discussion
  • Conclusion.

These can constitute particular chapters, or may be covered organically in a mix of chapters. For example, an empirical thesis would probably have the above discrete structure with a ‘Results’ chapter after the Literature Review.

A more theoretical thesis would have the Literature Review worked through each chapter and would be structured around particular research questions, rather than concrete sections; it would not have separate ‘Results’ or ‘Analysis’ sections. These would also be worked into each chapter to address particular questions.

Do I need to be super intelligent to do a PhD?

Absolutely not. In fact, the successful completion of a PhD has far less to do with intelligence than it does with determination and stamina. And this is a concept shared by majority of academics.

What’s the best thing about having a PhD?

You mean aside from being called Doctor?

Just kidding. The best thing is getting through stages like The Valley of S*** (relatively) unscathed, diving deep into the research topic you’re exuberantly passionate about and, upon completion, seeing the fruit of your work inspire and influence others in their own research.

Have any questions about the PhD experience? Contact us and we’ll publish our answers as blog posts.

– Alex & Courtney



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s