PhD Projects – What is it & how to do one

When researching for your PhD program, you may encounter terms such as PhD projects, thesis, and more. What is a PhD project?

In this post, we explore what a PhD project is, and how is it different from say, PhD thesis and dissertation. We also look at what PhD students do to complete their project. 

What Is A PhD Project? What’s The Aim?

Diving into a PhD project is like embarking on a grand academic adventure at a university. It’s not just about getting that coveted title but about pushing the boundaries of knowledge in your chosen field.

The heart of a PhD lies in its project, a rigorous exploration led by you, the doctoral candidate, under the mentorship of seasoned faculty members.

A PhD project is usually documented down as a dissertation, thesis, or other research papers that would contribute to the current body of knowledge.

Imagine working on a project that not only challenges you intellectually but also has the potential to transform how we understand a particular phenomenon.

A PhD in economics might dissect the intricate dance of market forces and policies, providing fresh insights that could inform better decision-making in corporate America or even shape public policy.

The PhD project isn’t a solitary journey. It thrives on diversity, drawing strength from a rich tapestry of backgrounds and perspectives.

Recognising the value of this diversity, initiatives like The PhD Project, founded in 1994, have been pivotal. They aim to:

  • increase the representation of minority groups in business schools,
  •  enriching the academic environment and, by extension,
  • the corporate landscape.

Through unique events and a robust support network, including partners like LinkedIn, these initiatives empower doctoral students, providing scholarships and resources to navigate the academic world.

These efforts underscore the importance of bringing historically underrepresented voices into academia.

By fostering a more diverse faculty, universities can inspire and educate the next generation of leaders, ensuring that the classroom reflects the diversity of the workforce and the customer base it serves.

What Do a PhD Student Do In A PhD Project?

When students are in their PhDs, they perform a myriad of tasks. Here are some that they do, as they complete their PhD programme: 

In-depth Research

At the core of a PhD project is the pursuit of new knowledge. Students engage in: 

  • rigorous investigation,
  • analyzing data, and
  • exploring vast literatures to uncover novel insights in their field.

Whether it’s deciphering historical manuscripts or applying complex mathematical models, this foundational activity is where innovation begins.


Building a broad and diverse network is crucial.

PhD students connect with peers, faculty, and professionals across various platforms like LinkedIn, and at academic conferences.

These connections provide support, foster collaborations, and open doors to opportunities in academia and industry.


Guided by experienced professors, PhD students receive invaluable:

  • advice,
  • direction, and
  • support.

This mentor-mentee relationship is pivotal, offering insights from seasoned academics who’ve navigated similar paths and can share the nuances of academic and professional development.

Academic Writing

Crafting a dissertation is a monumental task that hones a student’s writing prowess. This extensive document encapsulates their research findings and contributions to the field, requiring clear, concise, and compelling communication.

PhD students spend hours learning how to write good academic writing. This is usually achieved by:

  • Attending workshops
  • Fixing drafts reviewed by more experienced academic
  • Reading many research papers.

Presenting at Conferences and Seminars

Sharing research with the academic community is a key aspect of a PhD project. In fact, most PhD programs require their students to present papers.

Students present at conferences, engage in scholarly debates, and receive feedback, enhancing their research and building their reputation.


Many PhD students also take on teaching roles, leading undergraduate or graduate courses. This experience is not just about imparting knowledge but also about inspiring and guiding future generations, honing their own skills in communication and leadership in the process.

PhD Project vs PhD Dissertation

A PhD dissertation is the essence of your doctoral journey, distilled into a single, substantial document. It’s the narrative of your PhD project, a tale of discovery, challenge, and innovation.

In the world of academia, this dissertation is your passport to the realm of scholars. It’s where you present your research findings, meticulously compiled and critically analyzed, to your university and the wider scholarly community.

A PhD project as a voyage across the vast ocean of your field, where you chart unexplored territories and navigate through the complexities of your research question.

The dissertation, in contrast, is the logbook of this journey, capturing every eureka moment and every storm weathered. Faculty mentors, often guide you in weaving this narrative, ensuring your story not only contributes to academia but also enriches the diversity of thought within it.

This is where the potential to inspire the next generation of researchers lies, especially those from historically underrepresented backgrounds, fostering a more inclusive and dynamic academic workforce.

PhD Projects Explained

A PhD project is a comprehensive research endeavour undertaken by doctoral students to contribute new knowledge to their field. Its aim is to develop critical thinking, research skills, and subject-matter expertise, culminating in a dissertation that showcases the student’s findings.

Through this rigorous process, PhD candidates are prepared to become the next generation of scholars, educators, and leaders, capable of addressing complex challenges and advancing their disciplines.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.