Skip to main content

What is a PhD?

Technically speaking, the PhD, or ‘Doctor of Philosophy’, is the highest qualification that a student can achieve. Practically speaking, it’s a 3 to 4 year individual research project involving advanced scholarship focusing on a specific area of interest to you within the field of sociology, and which makes an original contribution to knowledge.

Each student’s experience of the PhD is unique – some will undertake primary data collection through fieldwork and interviews, while others will do all their research in the library – but all PhDs require a high degree of self-motivation, self-reflection and self-discipline in order to be completed on time and in a way that accomplishes all they originally set out to do. Contrary to the stereotype of a PhD being a lonely experience, in Warwick Sociology you’ll have plenty of opportunities to interact with your peers, supervisors or other colleagues through conferences, workshops and study groups both on and off campus − and through these, you’ll get important insights into your own topic and keep you engaged in the wider academic community.

Throughout this process, all PhDs also gain valuable skills in research, writing, public speaking, networking and critical thinking which are important not only in academic careers, but also in many other professions.

What is a PhD in the UK?

A PhD in the UK is distinctive as it involves an individual research programme. In Sociology, it does not include compulsory taught modules, though you are able and encouraged to pursue additional training through the University. Instead of examinations, your progress will be marked through regular reports and presentations, culminating in the final viva (oral examination) process where your thesis will be read by experts in your field.

Normally you will be expected to complete your thesis in three years, with a maximum registration period of four years if you require additional time. In contrast with some other countries, where a PhD can stretch to 7 to 8 years full time, a PhD in the UK is shorter because there is no significant taught component to the course.

There are also opportunities for PhD students to take up sessional teaching of undergraduate seminars within the department; many of our PhD candidates take advantage of this opportunity. Teachers are appointed by the University only on the recommendation of the Head of Department after completing an application and consulting with their supervisors. Current PhD students are given priority for teaching. Teaching can provide you with valuable experience if you wish to pursue a career in academia.