Trying to wrap your head around how PhD programs work? We don’t blame you. Sometimes it feels like you need a PhD just to figure out how to get a PhD.
So, with a little help from our academics and some current UQ PhD candidates, we’ve broken down the application and preparation process into 10 manageable steps:
- Complete prior research
- Choose your topic
- Find a PhD supervisor
- Write your PhD proposal
- Identify potential scholarships
- Gather required documents and apply
- Determine if you'll continue working during your PhD
- Calculate how long you’ll be researching your PhD
- Develop the traits and behaviours of a good PhD student
- Apply and get accepted
Let’s discuss how to get a PhD in Australia – from choosing your topic to getting stuck into the actual research.
1. Complete prior research (if necessary)
You don’t necessarily need a master’s degree to start a PhD. However, you do need to have completed extensive research. This might involve an academic research program (such as a bachelor's degree with an honours year or a Master of Philosophy), research conducted in your professional career, or a combination of both. The important thing is that you can demonstrate experience in conducting effective research, as this is a key part of the PhD selection criteria.
2. Choose your topic
Whether you’re developing a thesis on a topic you’ve already worked on or branching out into a new area of interest, you’ll want to know early what kind of topic you want to research for your PhD. Finding a niche that sparks your curiosity is important for ensuring you’ll stay inspired during the 3+ years ahead.
Keep in mind that you generally have two options here. You can complete a PhD by:
- joining an existing research project in an area that interests you
- start a fresh research project that aligns with your specific goals.
3. Find a PhD supervisor
One of the essential steps to consider when thinking about how to get a PhD is finding someone to guide you through the process.
Approaching academics about your PhD can be intimidating, but shortlisting and selecting the most appropriate person / team to supervise your research project is important. By choosing your mentor carefully, you can ensure you’ve got someone in your corner who understands your research, has relevant expertise, and will be there to support you throughout your journey.
4. Write your PhD proposal
Check with your supervisor to see if they require a formal PhD proposal (most will, but not all). If so, with their guidance, it’s time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).
Even if your supervisor doesn't explicitly ask for one, a PhD proposal is a valuable document for outlining the scope of your research and giving your project its initial momentum – so it might be worth writing one either way.
5. Identify potential scholarships
Dedicating yourself to research sometimes means sacrificing your income in the short term, though it can lead to more financial security in the long term. To help support yourself during your studies, you can apply for PhD scholarships and funding.
6. Gather required documents and apply
It’s time to jump online and do the official application process. Aside from your research proposal, you should also prepare to provide your:
- academic CV
- academic transcript
- degree certificate(s)
- English language documents (if needed)
- ID (such as a passport)
- two references / letters of recommendation from people who can comment on your research experience.
7. Determine if you'll continue working during your PhD
Some PhD candidates continue doing part-time or casual work while completing their research. However, this isn't easy and may not be feasible in most cases; it takes serious time-management skills to juggle any kind of job alongside a full-time PhD. So, think carefully about whether you’d like to keep working in some capacity or commit your attention fully to your research.
8. Calculate how long you’ll be researching your PhD
To complete your PhD within the standard 3.5-year* timeframe, you'll need to be organised with a clear project plan. Of course, the very nature of research is that you'll discover unexpected things and take unplanned detours along the way. So, your plan should include contingencies for any obstacles you might hit to ensure you still complete your research on time.
*In special cases, you may be able to request an extension of your tuition for up to 4 years, but that is the maximum time allowed for a PhD.
9. Develop the traits and behaviours of a good PhD student
We know you’ve already got what it takes, but there are some skills and attributes you could cultivate or practise to make your upcoming journey a little smoother. Between writing your proposal and meeting with potential supervisors, be sure to set some time aside to work on yourself as well.
10. Apply and get accepted
All the preparation is done. You’ve equipped all the gear, chosen your guide and mapped out your route. It's time to apply and set the wheels in motion.
Submit your PhD application