PhD Students

By Uni Compare  · Nov 16th 2021

The PhD is a long-standing UK qualification and has been part of the fabric of UK universities for as long as higher education has been around.


How do PhD students cope with the stresses of PhD qualifications and how many papers should a PhD student publish?

PhD Students

What is a PhD student?

A PhD research student takes on a project focusing on a particular topic. They will zone in on a research hypothesis, explore it and write up the results. Once they complete this they obtain a Doctor of Philosophy degree - which is the highest level of higher education.

A PhD research student will spend between three to seven years - full or part-time - completing their thesis which will add value to the research world in their chosen subject.

What does a PhD student do?

So, what do you do as a PhD student? Doctorate students work on a research project or hypothesis for several years, completing a large piece of work that is original in that subject area. The thesis will provide new research and insight in its contribution to that field.

Other than completing their huge thesis, a PhD student could be teaching, with many teaching or working as assistants within their department at university. Some institutions expect their PhD students to do this, whilst others offer it as an optional extra. You could find yourself assisting with lectures or tutorials and helping with supervising undergraduates.

Most PhD students are still full-time students, they are often passionate and engrossed in their particular field and work part time jobs whilst completing their degree.

But if you’re wondering how many papers does a PhD student publish? It’s typically their thesis that is completed in the end, but this could change after their doctorate, as many continue in the academic field.

However, regarding how many papers should a PhD student read? This is entirely down to the individual learner, although it’ll most likely be hundreds. A thesis can be 80,00-100,000 words, and the amount of research needed is substantial, much more than the 12,000 word Master’s dissertation. This is why it takes so long to complete.

The student finance PhD loan offers up to £25,000 for those wanting to become an academic doctor.

What is it like to be a PhD student?

The life of a PhD student will vary for each person but the foundations will be the same; studying, working, and research.

PhD student life is full of papers, reading and analysing, as well as researching their own topic. It may include lectures and seminars that they teach as part of their Doctorate, it might involve a part time job they do on weekends, but every PhD student’s day-to-day life can differ.

Some may document their journey through a PhD student blog, whilst others may still live at home, much like individuals in any area of life, they’re all unique.

Working towards a doctorate is a lengthy and intense process - but it offers huge rewards. The average age of a PhD student in the UK is usually someone in their 30s. PhD’s expect their students to have a Master’s and undergraduate degree which take some time to complete. Further, most PhD’s cost a lot if you can’t secure funding so this may take time-saving up for. Because of all of this PhD students can range from 22-years-old to 60 - the possibilities are endless.

University PhD Students

What makes a good PhD student?

There isn’t an essential checklist to being a good PhD student, but there are several things you can do to ensure you keep yourself on track.

Strong time management is one of the vital parts of studying for a Doctorate. Treat it as a full time job and set enough time aside each day to work on it, it’s a long and difficult process that can be broken down into pieces and seem more manageable. This will help when you’re writing your thesis, as all the time and effort you’ve put into it will start showing, as well as providing experiences of working to a schedule. Although you should put a lot of time into your work, it’s just as important to enjoy life, socialise and allow yourself ‘down time’.

Don’t send large pieces of work to your supervisor - they also have large workloads - instead, send short submissions regularly to receive constructive and helpful feedback. This will be more productive as you’ll have the chance to assess the points highlighted instead of having less support on huge pieces of work that are thousands and thousands of words.

It’s fine if other areas of life are taking up too much of your time, like teaching, being a student representative, or work and life commitments. If this is the case address the situation maturely and calculate how much time you can give and what you need to realign. It may be that you work fewer hours or you stop going out three times a week.

Your PhD degree or other areas in your life should work in a balance. For example, how many hours should a PhD student work? This is down to you and how much you have to get through each day and week.

This is down to how much the university pays it’s PhD students for working at their establishment as a lecturer or in student support.

How to manage your time as a PhD student?

For any prospective PhD student, the average week can depend on a number of factors; your learning style; the subject area; work patterns and facilities like lab access; what stage you are at for your PhD; what you have agreed with your supervisor; personal preference for working patterns and the university’s regulations.

Some students can work between 25 to 70 hours a week - depending on all of their commitments. Completing a doctorate is hard work and the individual areas of the thesis require different demands on your time. Peer pressure and overbearing supervisors may contribute to feeling like it’s taking up a large part of your life, but address each issue as it comes along and it won’t feel so uncomfortable or that it’s ‘too much work’.

It’s important to remember that your supervisor and university want you to complete a successful PhD and they are essentially supporting you - they want you to come out with something amazing!

For a lot of people, finishing a PhD degree is a huge academic achievement, as it’s the final product of several years of commitment, higher education, and the earned right of being specialised in your topic.

Who can supervise a PhD student?

A strong and positive student-supervisor relationship is vital to the success of your degree. Supervisors are appointed to supervise any work you do.

Supervisors are friendly enough people, but if you feel you need to work on your relationship, be honest about it with them - you’ll be with them for several years! And the final resort is changing your supervisor by speaking to the department and university, however, this is an extreme circumstance that most PhD students don’t need to do.

Uni PhD Students

How much does a PhD student earn in UK?

This is down to how much the university pays it’s PhD students for working at their establishment as a lecturer or in student support. The PhD student salary for UK universities can vary, so it’s worth checking before applying to study for a doctorate at that establishment. Not all universities require their PhD students to work whilst they study, if this is the case, you won’t get a ‘salary’ but may receive financial support for living costs and tuition fees.

Next, there are many different types of PhD student jobs available outside the university grounds. University towns or cities usually have higher retail and restaurants available, because of the student life and atmosphere in general. These are great at offering more flexible hours, including evenings and weekends, which can be perfect for your research.

However, a PhD student salary is something that can’t be calculated as an average, as it’s down to the individual and how much they are working.

Strong time management is one of the vital parts of studying for a Doctorate.

How much does it cost to fund a PhD student?

This is an important question if you live at home, with parents, with a partner or even on your own. There is PhD loan student finance in the form or PhD studentships or scholarships from universities, research councils and charities. There is also a PhD student loan provided by the government which you end up paying back via your earnings afterwards.

Securing funding can be a major worry for a lot of PhD students as it costs a pretty penny to complete the doctorate. However, there are lots in place to aid those who are embarking on the journey. For example, PhD student council tax is free, meaning students don’t have to pay council tax. If you are living with one other person who isn’t a student, they can apply for 25% off of their bill, as they’re seen the same as a single person living in the accommodation. But this isn’t in place for a full household (unless you’re all students!). Additionally, as soon as you submit your PhD you must start paying your council tax.

Next, as a lot of PhD students are mature or at an older age than the typical student population, some may be interested in buying a home with a partner, friend or even on their own. Because of this, many wonder about PhD student mortgage options. A mortgage is a contract with the bank on a property, where the bank or building society will buy the property, and you pay back what you owe in mortgage repayments every month. It isn’t the easiest thing to secure, and if you’re studying for a PhD you should work out if you can afford to apply for a mortgage before going ahead with either. Doctorate students don’t earn a high salary, as they are studying and working around their research project.

However, it could be a viable option following the completion of your PhD and once you secure a job. For international student PhD funding in UK, it can differ as most universities offer places to those living in the UK. It doesn’t mean there aren’t options out there, as some institutions have clauses they can work around to offer PhD studentships or scholarships to international students.

It’s worth checking with your chosen universities to find out if they provide funding to international students before applying.

PhD Student

Are there student loans for PhD programs?

The student loan game is changing in the UK and the government now offers a PhD student loan. The student finance PhD loan offers up to £25,000 for those wanting to become an academic doctor. The amount you receive is not based on you or your family’s income and is not means-tested.

However, for anyone looking into PhD funding student finance options they should know the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) may take your loan into account when working out any benefits you receive, if you’re applying for Universal Credit, as an example.

The PhD student loan is paid directly to you and you can use it for your fees and living costs, and it’ll be divided equally across each year of your course.

You can also apply for it in any year of your degree, but if you apply after your first year you might not get the maximum amount, as it’s goal is to support PhD students throughout the entire doctorate. If you apply after the first 12 months you might receive around £10,906 per year.

What is the difference between PhD student and candidate?

So, what’s the difference between PhD student and PhD candidate? They are actually separate things with a thesis or final exam in the way. It works similar to a postgraduate diploma and a Master’s degree, where people are awarded the diploma if they don’t complete or choose to do the dissertation at the end.

A candidate is someone who has fulfilled all the requirements for the PhD degree except the thesis. This could also be an option for anyone who needs a break - PhDs are a long and difficult process!

Some institutions allow you to become a Candidate of Philosophy instead, or grant a Master’s degree en route to the doctoral degree. It can also be referred to as PhD ABD, which means ‘All but Dissertation’.

In theory, everyone is a PhD candidate or student until they submit their project or thesis, but the title has to be awarded by the university if you choose to take a break or not to finish your final dissertation. Not all universities offer the option of becoming a PhD candidate, so if you’re having troubles during your doctorate talk to your supervisor as the first port of call.

A PhD research student takes on a project focusing on a particular topic.

How to make money as a PhD student?

Funding a PhD can be tough - but it’s not impossible. Many choose to take on part time jobs, either at the university or outside. First, most PhD student employment status is someone who is working - as the rent and living costs aren’t going to pay for themselves!

If you need to make money, look at writing your CV as a PhD student. You’ll need to apply for jobs that’ll offer hours that can work around your schedule. A PhD student CV doesn’t need to go into detail about your doctorate or research if you’re looking to work in the retail, food or warehouse sector.

Set up your CV like you would for any job opportunities you regularly would, input your greatest achievements and set it out smartly and clearly. Then you can apply for jobs that suit your needs and ability.

How to write a reference letter for a PhD student?

When PhD students are applying for their course via a Research Council or university they will usually write a proposal. This may include a reference letter, or a recommendation letter for a PhD student from a professor they’ve worked with before. They allow the panel or admissions department to discover why they should offer a place to that individual.

When you are looking to fill out your proposal, you should seek a letter from someone who has seen your hardwork and who is able to sing your praises - because you want to show the best side of you!

If you’re writing a reference for a PhD student, focus on the good things they’ve done, especially within the academic and research field. A PhD student needs to be focussed, committed, dedicated and hardworking, as well as holding many other great attributes.