How PhDs in science work in the UK

PhD process roundup! Here is how science PhDs in the UK work.

Posted by Danny Schnitzler on January 09, 2021 · 3 mins read

First – yes, you are still a student.

But you are also at work. I resent being called a student unless I am asking for a student discount. Because, yes, I am matriculated at the university, but I don’t have exams. I don’t get Easter, summer, or half-term breaks. I get payed a stipend (not much, but it’s enough to live off of – hence the student discounts). It is definitely work, and in reality, you end up working crazy long hours and some weekends too.

Stipend and funding

If you are going to do a PhD in science, you need to be funded. Either, you apply for a project that is already funded (most common), or you apply for funding (less common). Fully funded PhDs usually come from research councils, charities, or the universities themselves. These projects have already been written and applied for by project supervisors, so you don’t need to worry about defending why your research is worth it. However, if you decide to apply for funding, you first need to find a project supervisor willing to supervise you. This route is tricky and funding is very difficult to get. I had initially started this process with a supervisor before I found my project. A good place to look for funded projects is here. Here is a list of places you could look into applying for funding.

The money you need is not only for you to live off of, it is also to pay university fees (tuition fees), lab fees (animals, reagents, glassware, etc.), training costs (e.g. specialised courses), and conferences (travel grants, poster printing etc.).

Working and writing

You are usually funded for 3-4 years. It will be specified by each funding body, so make certain you know when your deadlines are. You will be expected to write a report after the first few months of your PhD, which will be followed by a thesis committee meeting. This is just to make certain you know what the project is and what you will be doing. Next, you have to write a first year report. This is a little scarier, because you need to have a thesis committee meeting so they can approve your progression to the next year. Every year you will have a thesis committee meeting to get the support you need to carry on. Finally, you need to write the big book. The thesis. More on this to come.