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Ph.D. Basics

About Ph.D

A Ph.D. is short for a Doctor of Philosophy and is the most common type of doctorate degree in the U.S. Most doctorate degrees like the Ph.D. are referred to as terminal degrees, which mean that it is the highest level of education that can be attained in a field of study. Therefore, the best Ph.D. programs are usually highly competitive.

Although only certain disciplines award a Doctor of Philosophy, most do have doctoral degree program. Although the PhD is only 1 kind of doctorate degree, the 2 terms are often used interchangeably in the academic sphere since the Ph.D. is by far the most common type of doctoral degree.

In most cases, Ph.D.s prepare students to conduct research and analysis and to possibly teach at the college level. Other doctorate level degrees place less emphasis on research and more on the practical use of existing research and knowledge.

The total number of Ph.D.s recorded for the last 10 years was 45,561. The number of students who enter at the doctoral education level is quite low (only 0.25 of the total number who enrolled at the graduate level enrol at the PhD level). Further the completion rate of Ph.D. in India is only about 50 percent. With respect to gender, of the total number of Ph.D.s awarded, 66.4 per cent of the PhDs (i.e. 30,264) has been obtained by men, and only 33.6 per cent of the Ph.D.s (15,297) has been obtained by women. The percentage of women’s enrolments in higher education drops from 40 percent at the graduate level and 42 percent at the post-graduate level to 38 percent at the Research level.

Source: National Institute of Advanced Studies (2013)


Why earn a PhD?

There are several reasons why you should consider enrolling in a Ph.D. program, but your career choice is often the most important. If you are interested in teaching at the college level, almost all traditional 4-year colleges and universities require you to have a Ph.D. in the field in which you wish to teach. Most students who earn a Ph.D. in liberal arts disciplines like literature, history and philosophy become professors after they graduate. This is not the only career path open to you if you have a Ph.D. in liberal arts. However, it is by far the most common.

If you decide to earn a Ph.D. in a field outside the liberal arts like mathematics or the natural sciences, you may find that you may have more career options after you graduate. Ph.D. graduates from math, physics, chemistry, geology and biology programs often find jobs with government agencies or private companies as well as research and teaching positions at colleges and universities.

Doctoral degrees significantly improve your chances of finding employment and can often raise your level of income

However, you should be aware that Ph.D.s and professional degrees require a large investment of time, energy and sometimes money. In general, most Ph.D. programs in India  last between 2.5 and 4 years, although some professional degrees like law degrees can be earned in less time. In many programs, Ph.D. students must not only take classes, research and work on their dissertation but also teach classes for undergraduates.

Pros and Cons of a Ph.D.?

The pros and cons of earning a Ph.D. most likely depend on your reasons for earning the degree as well as your personal preferences.


Higher Income and Lower Unemployment: With a Ph.D. from an accredited university, you are far more likely to find a job than people at other education levels. And as an expert in your field, you will also likely to earn better pay for your knowledge and skills. A Ph.D. does not necessarily guarantee higher income and full-time employment, but it can greatly improve your chances of having both.

Prestige and Recognition: Prestigious professions like physician, attorney and professor all require you to earn a doctorate degree. Ph.D. programs are competitive, rigorous and time-consuming, and people who earn PhDs are usually recognized as experts in their field of study.


Cost: Some Ph.D. students are able to pay for their studies with federal and private grants, fellowships and teaching and research assistantships. However, not all students are able to find this kind of funding and must instead take out student loans to pay for their degree. Although there is no fixed price for a Ph.D. education, 2.5 to 4 years of graduate study have a huge difference in fees when charged by government institutions and those by in the private sector. A Ph.D. in humanities will cost Rs. 10,000-20,000 per year at a government institution but will cost Rs. 50,000-100,000 per year at private universities. In case of science and technology subjects, fees may be higher. Government scholarships like UGC-JRF are available to scholars in both the government and private institutions.

 Not Everyone Finishes Their PhD: Most Ph.D. programs will take you between 2.5 and 4years to complete and require you to complete a significant research project or dissertation. Given the pressures of academia, some Ph.D. candidates choose to drop out of their programs once they earn their masters degrees. There is nothing wrong with deciding that a Ph.D. is not right for you, but this decision can often limit your career prospective.

Each doctoral program and university has its own set of requirements that students must meet in order earn their PhDs.


Depending on your program and school, you will have to meet a minimum number of credits of coursework in your area of study. In general, the majority of these credits must come from graduate-level courses. If you are enrolled in a PhD program that does not grant a masters degree while you are in the process of earning your doctorate, then a previous masters degree can often count towards part of your degree requirement.


Most PhD programs do not allow you to move on to the dissertation or research aspect of your degree program if you do not have a certain minimum GPA in your coursework. This is typically a 3.0, but it can vary from school to school.

Foreign Language

Some disciplines like history or comparative literature require PhD students to meet a foreign language requirement. Some may simply require you to have completed a certain number of undergraduate courses while others may ask you to sit for an exam to demonstrate fluency.

Oral or General Exam

Another requirement that you must meet before you are allowed to begin your independent research and dissertation is to pass an oral or general exam. Depending on your area of study and the way in which your program is set up, your oral exam will either test your knowledge of a field or ask you to present your dissertation topic, your research plans and how this idea will contribute to scholarship in your field.

If your department’s oral exam tests your knowledge of the existing literature in your area of study, you will probably have to spend a lot of time preparing. Preparation for this kind of oral exam usually includes reading and synthesizing the important theories and ideas that other academics have written in your area of study. The actual oral exam will require you to answer questions from professors about this literature and how you plan to enrich or challenge it. After you pass the oral exam, will you be allowed to begin the research and writing portion of your PhD program.

Candidate Certificate

Once you pass the oral exam, you may receive a candidate certificate. This certificate indicates that you have successfully completed the oral exam portion of your doctorate program. It also gives you permission to begin work on your dissertation. If you decide not to write and defend your dissertation, you are still able to keep your candidate certificate.


Most universities have their own formats and guidelines for PhD dissertations. These rules often cover everything from font size and line spacing to how to write an abstract. Depending on your department, your dissertation may also have a minimum and maximum page length or word count.

Your dissertation must demonstrate your ability to use research techniques as well as show that you can choose a relevant problem or issue within scholarship and discuss it knowledgeably.

Doctoral Reading Committee

When you complete your dissertation, you must submit it to a group of scholars known as a reading committee. This committee is responsible for evaluating your dissertation project. Some schools allow doctoral candidates to choose the members of their own reading committees, while other schools appoint the members.

Once your reading committee has been assembled, they will determine whether your dissertation represents a significant contribution to scholarship in your field as well as whether your research and writing follows academic standards.

Leave of Absence

PhD students are eligible to take a temporary leave of absence from their studies if they need to. If you decide to take a leave of absence for 1 or more semesters and follow all of your university’s regulations, you probably will not have to go through a reinstatement process when you return.

Although every school has different policies, a leave of absence usually excludes you from certain student benefits but allows you to keep others. For instance, many schools allow PhD candidates who are on a leave of absence to continue using their school e-mail accounts and university libraries. However, you probably will not be eligible for university student housing, student insurance discounts or financial aid.


PhD students who have taken a leave of absence and wish to return may have to apply to be reinstated as an active graduate student. This process is usually straightforward and involves discussing your reinstatement with your department and your advisor, submitting an application and paying a fee.

Most schools require their graduate students to finish their PhD program and dissertation within a certain amount of time. In some instances, a leave of absence may count towards your maximum allowed study time. Therefore, you should consider how a leave of absence will affect your overall plan for the completion of your PhD.

Final Exam or Defence

Once you submit your dissertation to the reading committee, which will read, comment on and ultimately approve of your dissertation, you will have what is called a final exam or dissertation defence.

Guidelines and Format

The specific guidelines for your dissertation defence will vary by school and department, but most defences follow the same basic procedure. Once your dissertation is complete, you must submit it to your doctoral reading committee. When the reading committee has examined your dissertation and your supervisory committee has agreed that you are prepared to sit for your final exam, you will then be allowed to register for the final exam.

Video Conferencing

In some cases, members of the reading or supervisory committee or the PhD candidate may participate in the dissertation defence via video conference. Each school and academic department has its own guidelines for using video conferencing during a defence. If you think that you might need to use this technology for your dissertation defence, be sure to ask your department about its rules.


Once your dissertation has gained the approval of the reading and supervisory committees, you may be required by your school to publish it. Some schools cover the cost of publication while others require you to pay for it.


There are many ways to finance your PhD program, including fellowships, assistantships, awards and student loans.


Fellowships are a type of scholarship that is usually only available to graduate students in masters and PhD programs. Students who receive fellowships are known as fellows. Fellows are typically awarded financial resources to pursue research in a particular field of knowledge.

Most fellowships are based on a student’s academic merit and their research interests. These funding opportunities are highly competitive and very prestigious. Fellowships are most often associated with your university, your department or an independent scholarly organization. Every fellowship has different application criteria as well as a different way of providing funding. For example, some fellowships give students monthly funding for several years while others provide a 1-time award in a lump sum.

Applying for fellowships is similar to applying for PhD programs. You should give yourself at least 6 months to gather the application materials, which often include personal statements and letters of recommendation. Because fellowships are so competitive, you should apply to as many as possible rather than just 1 or 2.

Although it is possible to win a fellowship for your study in an online PhD program, it is highly unlikely. Fellowships look for students who have outstanding academic records and online PhD program are usually not viewed as favourably as PhD programs at a traditional schools.


The 2 most common types of assistantships available to PhD candidates are research assistantships and teaching assistantships. Research assistants work on research projects with faculty members in their department, and they are not usually required to teach. Teaching assistants work with students in classrooms, labs or discussion sections. They might also help professors grade tests and term papers or prepare their lecture materials for undergraduate students.

Research and teaching assistants are almost always offered through the department in which you study. In some cases, you may be qualified to teach or research in an interdisciplinary department. In exchange for your work, you may receive a direct salary or simply a tuition waiver. If you plan to become a university researcher or professor, these assistantships will also provide you with valuable experience.

Because research and teaching assistantships almost always require you to work on campus, these types of opportunities are not usually available to online PhD students. If you plan to work as a university researcher or lecturer after you finish your PhD, you should strongly consider attending a traditional brick-and-mortar PhD program.

Awards and Prizes

Awards and prizes also provide financial support for graduate students who demonstrate strong academic abilities. However, unlike scholarships or fellowships, there is usually no application for an award or prize. Rather, they are awarded to students who have completed outstanding projects or scholarly articles.

Since there is no application for awards and prizes, a professor must usually recommend your article or project to committee. Academic awards and prizes are a great way to strengthen your resume. However, they are usually relatively small amounts of money, and you should not rely on them to be a significant source of funding for your PhD program.

Student Loans

Although it is best to find funding for your PhD that you do not have to repay, you may need to use student loans to help cover the cost of your doctorate degree. Student loans are available from the central government or from private lending institutions.

Government Loan

Government of India in consultation with Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and Indian Banker's Association (IBA) has framed a Comprehensive Educational Loan Scheme to ensure that no deserving student in the Country is deprived of higher education for want of finances. The new scheme covers all type of courses including professional courses in schools and colleges in India and abroad.

The Salient features of the scheme are as under:


  • The scheme envisages loans up to Rs.7.5 lakh for studies in India and up to Rs. 15 lakh for studies abroad.
  • For loans up to Rs. 4 lakh no collateral or margin is required and the interest rate is not to exceed the Prime Lending Rates (PLR). For loans above Rs. 4 lakh the interest rate will not exceed PLR plus 1 percent.
  • The loans are to be repaid over a period of 5 to 7 years with provision of grace period of one year after completion of studies

Tax Benefit

  • Repayment of an education loan is deductible under section 80E of the Income Tax Act. The yearly limit for deduction is Rs. 40,000 (for both the principal and the interest). Only loans taken for higher education - full time studies in any graduate or post-graduate, professional, and pure and applied science courses - may claim deduction. The deduction will be available for a maximum of eight years starting from the day you start repaying.
  • Equitable Access to quality higher education has been a concern of the University Grants Commission. To this purpose the Commission, besides encouraging colleges and universities to provide for liberal financial support to the meritorious but needy students, has also been instrumental in educational loan scheme. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has issued guidelines in this regard to all commercial banks. A large number of banks have already launched educational loan schemes. Provided below are links to the respective website of individual banks offering such facilities.

Private Education Loans

You can also take out education loans from private lending institutions like banks or credit unions. However, private loans require you to undergo a credit check and often have fluctuating interest rates during your repayment period. You should think carefully before you take out private education loans to fund your PhD.


Whether they are online or offline, PhD programs require you to be organized, have good study habits and excellent time management skills.

Study Tips

If you gain admission to a PhD program, the chances are good that you are a pretty good student. However, it is always good to review good study habits.

Manage Your Time

While you are enrolled in your PhD program, you are responsible for managing your time wisely and making time to study. Although it is difficult to work outside of your program, you may be required to work as a teaching or research assistant, so it is important to recognize that you may have other responsibilities besides studying and completing assignments.

Once you know which classes you must teach and attend, try to create a schedule of every activity and assignment for which you are responsible. If you have a realistic idea of how long it takes to do these things, you will find it much easier to balance your various responsibilities.

Study Well and Study Wisely

It takes more than just willpower to study. You need to understand how you study best, including when and where you are most productive. In order to study well and study wisely, you must first know what works for you personally.

If you study better at 1 time of the day over another, you should try to arrange your schedule so that you are free to study during these hours. If you are most alert and focused during the morning hours, try scheduling your courses or teaching hours during the afternoon or evening.

Most people also find it helpful to study the most challenging topics first. Motivation is almost always higher when you begin to study, so you should tackle your toughest assignments or readings early in your study session.

Make sure that you study in an environment that is conducive to concentration. For most people, this means finding a place that is quiet and that has plenty of natural light. Small factors like these can have a large impact on your productivity.

Also remember to take regular breaks while you study. These help you to maintain focus and allow you to study longer because they provide your brain and eyes with rest. It is also wise to make time for personal interests, such as seeing movies, playing sports or spending time with friends. Enjoying free time activities allow you to relax and avoid burnout.

Read and Take Notes

Effective reading and to note-taking is not as simple as it may seem. In order to get the most out of a reading assignment, you should take the time to preview the text before you begin reading it. If you recognize that there are sections that you already know, you can simply skim over these. Pre-reading also helps your mind to develop an overview and a context for the more detailed information in the text.

You should also keep a dictionary handy. If you find that you read slowly, try moving your eyes across the page faster. Try to avoid highlighting large sections in books or articles. Instead, underline single words or phrases that are important to the central ideas of the text.

Also remember to be selective when you take notes. Trying to write everything down can be very time consuming and impractical. Use abbreviations and symbols to cut down on how much you write. And remember to review your notes once you are finished with the text. It is not enough to take them; you must also use them.

Oral or General Exams

Your oral exams are an important milestone on your path toward earning your PhD. Once you pass your oral exams, you are free to pursue your research and begin your dissertation.

Get to Know Your Committee

Regardless of whether you get to choose your own committee or whether it is selected by your department, you should get to know the members. Meetings with your committee members can be informal conversations, but the point is to get a better understanding of how they approach the exam and what they expect you to know. For example, it is acceptable to ask your committee members if there are any specific areas in your field in which they would like you to demonstrate knowledge. What they tell you will help you formulate a reading list and a study plan.

Read, Synthesize, Repeat

Once you have spoken to your oral exam committee, you should begin to develop a reading list that you will use to prepare for your exam. Some PhD programs allow you to choose your own field for the oral exam, while others provide you with specific guidelines.

Depending on your school, your PhD program and your committee, the guidelines and expectations for your reading list will vary widely. However, almost all schools require you to include the most important books and peer-reviewed journal articles in your field.

It is usually a good decision to make your reading list as short as possible. The point of an oral exam is to demonstrate your knowledge in a scholarly field, and the literature that you choose for your reading list is 1 indicator for how well you know your topic. Be sure to discuss your reading list with your dissertation advisor and members of your oral exam committee. They may have suggestions and valuable input regarding what you should study.

Although your oral exam may not require you to submit anything in writing, you should still be sure to write as much as possible about the books, journal articles and authors that you are studying. Many students use a system of notecards to identify the important points in each book and article. However, remember that oral exams are not meant to test how well you can memorize facts. Instead, your committee uses the oral exam to see how well you understand the field in which you work, including how the different ideas and theories relate to each other.


Be sure to practice for your oral exams with friends, family or other students. If you are enrolled in an on-campus PhD program, you will probably have fellow students who are also preparing for their oral exams. If you are in an online PhD program and are not near any other students, practice with your family and friends. Practicing your oral exams is a very important part of your preparation. Although you may have all of the knowledge and information in your head, you must also be able to discuss and explain it in a natural manner.

Once you have completed your first practice exam, make notes of what you did well and where you could use improvement. Repeat this process several times and be sure that you focus on improving the areas that you feel are weakest.


Planners and Forms

You can download a number of planners and forms you can use to help plan your PhD below.

Particular Description Download PPT
Thesis Planner - Moveable tasks This planner allows you to work out the timeline for the major tasks of your PhD Download PPT
Thesis Planner - No tasks This blank planner shows you three years which you can then fill in Download PPT
Six Month Planner - Moveable tasks The Six Month Planner lets you map out your tasks for the next six months Download PPT
Six Month Planner - No tasks This blank planner shows you the next six months which you can fill in Download PPT
Completion Planner - Moveable tasks This Completion Planner allows you to work out the timeline for the major tasks of the final year of your PhD Download PPT
Completion Planner - No tasks This blank Completion Planner shows you the final twelve months of your PhD Download PPT
Particular Description Download Form
This Six Months This form helps you identify your targets for the next six months Download Form
This Week Use this form to map out your tasks for the coming week Download Form
To Day List Use this form to plan out your day and identify when the important jobs are going to get done Download Form
The Next Thing To help you get clear about your very next task Download Form
Writing Audit Use the Writing Audit to work out how much writing you have done and update it as you add new words Download Form
Meeting Agenda A template agenda for meetings with your supervisor Download Form
Meeting Notes A template for noting down the outcomes of your meetings with your supervisor Download Form
Plan B This form allows you to identify potential risks in your project and document possible solutions Download Form