Masters to PhD

A number of Masters students go on to study for their PhD, choosing to remain in academia and pursue a 3-4 year original research project. PhD study can be incredibly rewarding and opens up a variety of future career paths, explored in more detail below. However, it is a large undertaking and requires a high level of commitment and dedication.

If you are thinking of going on to study for your PhD, here are a number of key points to consider when contemplating the move into further postgraduate study.

Why do a PhD?

Masters students choose to do a PhD for a number of different reasons, which vary from one individual to another. However, some of the most common reasons include: 

  • To pursue a particular career path: Many academic jobs, including those of university lecturer and researcher, require you to have completed a PhD. It may also be necessary for certain research jobs within industry. 
  • To improve your career prospects: During the course of your PhD you will develop valuable skills that may be of benefit to an employer. It is advisable to research your chosen career before taking this step. 
  • To further your knowledge in a particular subject area: A PhD is a unique opportunity to dedicate a large amount of time and energy to a subject that you are passionate about, and engage in original research on that topic.

Find out more: Prospects offers some helpful advice on deciding whether to undertake a PhD.

Skills needed  

Before choosing to pursue a PhD, it is worth considering the kind of skills required in order to successfully achieve completion of your PhD. These skills may differ somewhat from those necessary at Taught Masters level. PhD study is not for everyone: have you got what it takes?

  • Research skills: Highly developed research skills are key to a successful PhD. From taking in a lot of information, making accurate notes and reading around your subject thoroughly, to using the library and other resources effectively and seeking out the right kind of information: all of these things are crucial when beginning your research project. You must be prepared to undertake significant original research. 
  • The ability to work alone: Getting your PhD requires you to spend a lot of time alone, often away from a typical work environment. While there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with your department, your peers and the wider research community, much of your work will be conducted alone, with your supervisor providing support on a regular basis. 
  • Self-motivation: Can you make your own timetable and stick to it? Can you set your own deadlines and keep yourself motivated? Can you start (and finish!) projects of your own volition? PhD study can offer flexibility, but much of what you accomplish on a day-to-day basis will be down to you, and keeping yourself on track is a vital skill. 
  • Project management: Your PhD is essentially one big project spanning a number of years, and it is down to you to manage that project. Planning your research, organising your timetable, managing your time and staying on track are all crucial to completing the PhD, from the first year to the last. Your supervisor will be there to support and guide you, but responsibility for successfully completing the project is down to you.
  • Networking: During your PhD, making connections with other academics and researchers in your field is a critical aspect of your future career development, particularly if you are considering a career in academia. These connections can enhance your own research - providing feedback and new ideas, as well as highlighting opportunities for experience, collaboration and future jobs.

Find out more: The University Graduate School offers a range of courses aimed at improving the skills of doctoral researchers.

Funding

PhD study can be expensive, and there are a variety of different funding options to consider, including:

  • scholarships from research councils (see below) and outside funding bodies
  • University scholarships
  • employers
  • self-funding: through part-time work, savings, or other sources 

It is important to research your options early and thoroughly.

Find out more on the Prospects pages on funding postgraduate study

Research councils

Find out more from the funding section of our Considering Further Study website.

Where to study

There are benefits to remaining at the same institution – during the course of your Masters you will have gained academic contacts within your department, including any potential supervisors. You will be familiar with your department, the University and Birmingham itself, and may have identified particular research areas you wish to pursue.

However, it is also worth researching opportunities at other institutions – a change of institution can offer a fresh perspective and emphasise other exciting elements of your research.

Search for PhDs here:

Find out more: Students thinking of continuing their postgraduate study at Birmingham can explore a range of opportunities here on the Postgraduate Doctoral Research Courses pages.

Hints and tips 

Be informed

Before making the final decision about whether the PhD is right for you, talk to your supervisor or personal tutor and ask them for advice. Talking to existing PhD students in your school and finding out their opinions and suggestions can also be helpful in understanding what life as a doctoral researcher is really like.

  • Find out more: Events such as Café PhD are a great way of finding out about PhD study from current researchers in your college. 

Be honest

PhD study is a big commitment, and being upfront with yourself about what it entails is the best way to approach your decision. Thinking about whether you meet the skills criteria, what kind of research you want to do, and how the PhD will fit into your life is crucial. 

Be involved

Even though it is the most important aspect of your PhD, your period of study can be much more than simply research. Becoming involved with your department, attending conferences and university events, and taking opportunities to share and present your research are great ways of making the most of the PhD experience.

Masters to PhD case studies

Doctoral Researcher in Civil Engineering, Risk and Asset Management in Railways

Manu read an MSc Civil Engineering and Management and is now a Doctoral Researcher in Civil Engineering, Risk and Asset Management in Railways:

Read Manu's case study (PDF - 229KB)

PhD, College of Arts & Law

Katie read a Masters in American Studies, and went on to a PhD in the College of Arts & Law:

Read Katie's case study

Want to do a PhD at UoB? Ask a Mentor: pg.bham.ac.uk/ask

Self-enrol on the PGR Careers Outside Academia canvas course to view more.