What is a PhD student or PhD candidate? [Updated]

For those that are thinking about doing a postgraduate degree, it’s not always clear exactly what a PhD entails. You may have heard the stereotypical PhD motivation as “doing research to progress humanity”. However, the actual day today life of a PhD student isn’t as nearly as grand.

A PhD student is someone who is enrolled in a postgraduate doctoral degree program. PhD students will typically perform original research and write up a dissertation to communicate the results to their peers. Some countries also require PhD students to take exams as part of their course.

This article will help you understand what a PhD student is, what they do during a typical day and what the benefits are of getting a PhD.

What Is a PhD Candidate?

A PhD Candidate is an individual who is currently enrolled in a doctoral program at a university or other tertiary education institution.

They are usually referred to as “PhD students” or “PhD candidates.”

In order to qualify for the PhD, a candidate must complete all of the program’s coursework requirements and write and defend a dissertation that presents original research.

The dissertation must be approved by their faculty advisor or dissertation committee in order to complete the degree. The dissertation committee is made up of other experts in the field that are looking for an original contribution to further the academic field.

Candidates may also be required to take additional coursework beyond the general requirements of their program in order to qualify for the PhD. Doing coursework is very typical in universities in the United States of America.

After completing all of these requirements, they will officially become a PhD student and will receive their diploma after defending their dissertation and receiving approval from their faculty advisor or committee.

What a typical PhD program involves

A typical PhD program involves a combination of coursework and independent research.

Students are expected to build upon their existing knowledge by taking advanced courses in their discipline or related areas, while also conducting original research that contributes to the larger body of knowledge in the field.

A typical PhD student schedule is dependent on the field and subject area. However, there are some things that are common for nearly every PhD student. You can find out more about a typical PhD student schedule in my other article – click here.

PhD student daily schedule

Depending on the program, students may be required to complete seminars, comprehensive exams, and/or a dissertation.

In more modern PhD’s you are able to prove that you have generated significant contributions to a field by publishing your results in peer reviewed papers. This is known as PhD by publication. It is typically comprised of five or more peer-reviewed publications presented together with a literature review and joining chapters.

Traditionally, a PhD dissertation is composed of several chapters exploring an area of study in-depth, and must be defended before a panel of experts in the field. During their doctoral studies, students may also have opportunities to gain teaching experience and participate in internships or other professional development activities.

Ultimately, completing a PhD program culminates with the publication of one’s research findings and a public presentation of their work.

The PhD dissertation

The PhD dissertation is a substantial document that presents original research and analysis in a specific field.

It is the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and focus on a particular topic and research question.

The average length of a PhD dissertation submitted at the University of Minnesota was been created by Marcus Beck:

Generally, theses and dissertations in the mathematical sciences, economics, and biostatistics are usually brief due to utilizing mathematical equations to substantiate their findings as opposed to illustrations and extended explanations.

On the contrary, English, communication studies, political science, history and anthropology normally consist of more pages and words since they require a larger number of words to verify and go into detail regarding their results.

The dissertation should demonstrate the student’s mastery of their chosen field of study and their ability to communicate their findings effectively.

A thesis should also present an innovative contribution to the existing body of knowledge on the subject.

The dissertation should be organized in a logical manner, with an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion and conclusion sections.

Furthermore, it should adhere to all relevant academic conventions for structure, citation style, grammar and referencing.

Ultimately, it should be a piece of work that reflects the student’s academic excellence and future potential as a researcher in their chosen field.

The success of your PhD is also very much dependent on your supervisor. Let’s take a look at the most important things about choosing your PhD supervisor.

The importance of PhD supervision

Choosing a PhD supervisor is an essential part of the research process.

They act as a mentor and provide guidance to help guide their student’s research, ensuring that it meets the necessary standards required by the University.

The supervisor also provides support in developing research questions and methods, and can give feedback on drafts of your thesis and peer-reviewed papers.

This feedback helps keep the student on track with their project and prevents costly mistakes in the future.

A great supervisor also acts as a sounding board; they can discuss ideas with their student, helping them to develop deeper understanding of their topic.

Ultimately, a good supervisor can make all the difference in achieving successful results from a PhD program. With their experience and knowledge, they can ensure that students are tackling their projects in an efficient and effective manner.

If you want to know more about choosing a PhD supervisor check out my YouTube video below.

How to become a PhD candidate

Becoming a PhD candidate is a rigorous process that requires dedication and hard work just to get admitted to the degree.

Here are the steps that you need to complete to become a PhD student or candidate:

  1. The first step is to complete a bachelor’s degree in the field you wish to pursue your research in.
  2. Next, you will need to apply for admission into a PhD program, which typically involves submitting an application, providing letters of recommendation from professors or employers, and often taking an entrance exam.
  3. Once accepted, you must then create a research proposal outlining your proposed area of study and submit it for approval by the university’s Graduate Studies Committee.

Finally, after completing any required courses and passing an oral examination to defend your PhD, you can be officially awarded the title of PhD candidate and begin your dissertation research.

Will a PhD degree give you an advantage career-wise

Having a PhD degree is a mark of distinction that can give you an advantage career-wise.

As a degree holder, employers and recruiters will recognize your level of academic achievement and that you have made a significant commitment to the study and research of your chosen field.

With a doctorate, you can open up more opportunities for higher-level positions with increased responsibilities and better pay.

You may also be able to pursue research or teaching positions in universities, as well as leadership roles in private businesses.

A PhD degree can also provide you with the skillset to become an expert in your field, allowing you to become an authority on certain topics.

How long does it take to finish a PhD?

Completing a PhD, or Doctorate, is no small feat.

On average, it can take four to seven years of hard work and dedication to finish one. I know of one PhD student who took 10 years to complete his PhD.

The length of time it takes to complete a PhD varies depending on the field of study and the

Regardless of the field, completing a PhD is an impressive accomplishment that requires tremendous effort over an extended period of time.

Do you need to write a full dissertation as a Ph.D. Student?

As a Ph.D. student, it is almost always necessary to write and present a dissertation as part of your doctoral program. Although, it is now common for a PhD to be awarded on the basis of publication in peer-reviewed journals.

A dissertation is an original research paper in your chosen field of study that you must complete in order to obtain a doctorate.

Most doctoral programs will require students to complete their dissertation and defend it orally before they are awarded their Ph.D.

The research topic must be approved by the doctoral committee and should reflect the student’s understanding of the chosen field of study while presenting new findings or theories within that field.

Once completed, the dissertation must be defended at an oral examination before a panel of faculty members from the university who specialize in that particular field of study.

The successful completion of this oral defense allows for students to progress towards obtaining their doctorate degree and fulfill all requirements for graduation from the PhD program.

Can you complete your PhD degree online?

Completing a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree online is becoming increasingly popular. But should you do it? Here is my YouTube video about finishing your PhD online:

With the advancement of technology, students can now study from their own home and have access to quality education with no need to travel or attend physical classes.

With an online PhD program, you can make progress towards your doctor of philosophy degree at your own pace while still being able to maintain a work/life balance. However, it comes with some drawbacks that include its perceived prestige.

Part of the PhD experience is interacting with your peers and having rigourous academic debate. Make sure that you choose an online PhD program which allows you to interact significantly with your fellow students and helps you be part of your field.

Attend conferences, seminars, and other academic presentations so that you don’t miss out on any of the important aspects of training for academia.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to know about what a PhD student is and what they do.

Deciding to do a PhD can be a very challenging decision. Many people make the decision without really understanding or knowing what a PhD student is or does.

It is a very challenging time in many people’s lives as they are embarking on a multi-year research challenge. This failure and overcoming issues are the number one factor in people deciding that they are going to leave academia stop

Speaking to current PhD students, choosing your supervisor carefully, and ensuring that you are actually interested in the research questions that you will be investigating go a long way in ensuring that you get the most out of your PhD experience.

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.