A PhD is essential if you wish to follow a career in academic research and very helpful if you want a research job in industry. You will undertake a large piece of original research, written up as a thesis.

In the UK PhD programmes now also include elements of training to develop your transferable skills. UK PhD programmes normally last 3 – 4 years. They are usually completed within a university, however there may be opportunities to study within other laboratories and research institutions via schemes such as CASE PhDs.

An idealised academic career progression diagram

Choosing the right PhD is crucial, not only in terms of the subject choice, but also in terms of the academic supervisor and his/her research group. Make sure you research these carefully before applying as you will bespending three to four years with them in a relatively close environment, so it is important that you have a rapport (you can find this out when you attend interview by asking to meet the other research group members).

Applying for a PhD is similar to a Master’s course but if you have identified a research group you would particularly like to work with, you can write speculatively by sending them your CV and a letter of introduction to make you stand out in the crowd.Make sure your application is highly targeted and refer to their publications and recent research stating how you will be able to contribute.

If you are from outside the Europea Union (EU) or the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), you may have to apply for an Academic Technology Approval Scheme certificate from the UK Foreign Office.

PhDs and Master’s courses are advertised on websites, departmental noticeboards, magazines such as the NewScientist and also by word-of-mouth. 

Our career profiles will give you an idea of where a PhD could take you.

Here are our CV tips for writing your academic CV


Most bioscience PhDs are fully funded; your funder pays your tuition fees, money for your research and a stipend to support your living costs. As these are tax-free, you could end up earning a similar amount to many first-time jobs.

You cannot apply directly for the money yourself; instead the funding comes with the PhD (rather like a salary). PhDs are mostly publicly funded via the various Research Councils who are responsible for co-ordinating and funding particular research areas. Research Council funding is open to UK and EU students.

CASE studentships (Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering) are jointly supervised by academic and industrial partners and include additional funding from an industrial partner on top of Research Council funding. These often include the opportunity to work at the industrial partner and experience work in industry.

Health charities such as Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK and the Wellcome Trust also fund PhDs that fit their areas of interest.

Links and further information