PhD students in the lab

Types of qualifications

The main aim of any research programme is to carry out original research that furthers knowledge in your chosen subject field. This will involve working under the direction of one or more supervisors who is an expert in your field, and sometimes as part of a team, with other students and staff.

We offer the following research degrees – each requires a significant time commitment to achieve, usually three years full-time.

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

What is it?

This is the most common kind of doctoral programme. Normally it takes three years full-time to complete, the majority of which is spent carrying out original research. We also offer a number of international PhDs, which allow you to split your time between Imperial and one of our partner universities overseas.

Successful undertaking of a PhD degree requires certain abilities, such as initiative and the capacity for critical but constructive thinking. You will also require a thorough understanding of the relevant academic discipline and competence in relevant techniques.

The majority of Imperial’s PhD students attend the College on a full-time basis. However, some choose to attend part-time, involving one to three days of study per week.

To complete the PhD you will need to complete a thesis of up to 100,000 words. You will also be examined orally (known as a viva voce examination) by two or more examiners. In this assessment you must demonstrate that your work has made a contribution to knowledge in your subject field.

Career path

Extremely diverse, both within and outside academia. Often followed by further research as a postdoctoral researcher within a university.

Engineering Doctorate (EngD)

What is it?

A four-year research degree of similar standing to a PhD. At Imperial, it is offered in certain EPSRC-funded Centres for Doctoral Training.

Most of your time (50–75% depending on the project) is usually spent on an industrial placement, undertaking research on behalf of your host company. You also spend around nine months taking advanced technical and managerial courses.

You will be assessed by formally taught elements assessed by examination or coursework. Satisfactory performance in the taught elements is a requirement for transfer to EngD registration.


What is it?

Aimed at clinicians. Often shorter and more focused on clinical research than a PhD.

Split PhD scheme

Our Split PhD scheme allows you to carry out some of your research abroad, either in the field or at an overseas institution.

Arrangements are normally confined to institutions with which the College has established links and in cases where the research problem requires local fieldwork, for example, the study of a particular aspect of geology or biology.

Students on the Split PhD scheme are required to be in physical attendance at the College for a minimum of 12 months out of the normal 36 months duration of a PhD programme.

Before applying for a split PhD, you are advised to first discuss this with the Imperial department of interest at the admissions stage. Please be aware that not all departments in the College will necessarily entertain applications for a split PhD.

If the department is open to a Split PhD proposal, you should submit a covering note with your application explaining why it would be advantageous not to pursue your proposed research project wholly at Imperial, together with a copy of your local supervisor’s CV. If your Split PhD proposal is approved, the department will advise you of the next steps to progress your application.

You can find more information about Split PhD's on the How to apply section of our website.