Doing a PhD with us

Find out a bit more about our PhD programme, including options for multidisciplinary research, the doctoral timeline, your thesis, and working while studying.

Schools and multi-disciplinary study

Your research will be conducted within one of the University’s schools, although you may be based in a related centre or institute. Your school is responsible for ensuring that you have access to suitable supervision and research facilities. Most schools manage multiple PhD programmes, each for a different subject area.

If your research straddles multiple disciplines, you may need to study across two schools. In such cases, it is desirable for you to have a supervisor from each discipline. You'll be registered with only one school, typically that of your primary supervisor.

If you feel your research is interdisciplinary, it is important that you note this clearly in your application.

PhD timeline

Full-time students must be enrolled for a minimum of three years, although it is not uncommon to take four to complete your thesis. Part-time students must be enrolled for a minimum of six years.

Provisional and full registration

You’ll spend the first six to twelve months writing a full research proposal. During this time, you will be ‘provisionally registered’ for the degree. Once your proposal is approved, you will be fully registered and may proceed with your research and the writing of your thesis.

You’re expected to complete the provisional registration inside one year. The period may be shortened if you write the full research proposal and convince your supervisors and school that you’re a suitable candidate in a shorter time.

If you fail to demonstrate satisfactory progress during provisional registration your school may decide to terminate your candidature.

Find out more about progressing to full registration

Progress reports

Throughout your studies, you will meet regularly with your supervisors and be required to complete progress reports in May and November each year. During your period of provisional registration, the research proposal is also a crucial indicator of progress.

Find out more about progress reporting.

Submission and examination

Full-time students are expected to submit their thesis for examination within three to four years. Your thesis will then be read by three expert examiners. You will also be required to defend your thesis in an oral examination which you are expected to attend in person, in Wellington.

Find out more about examination.

Your doctoral thesis

Your thesis must be a body of work that demonstrates your ability to carry out independent research, and constitutes a significant and original contribution to knowledge or understanding. This contribution may include critical, experimental, theoretical or creative components, but the end result must be a single integrated study.

It must not exceed 100,000 words in length, including scholarly apparatus such as footnotes, appendices and bibliography. The Dean of Graduate Research may grant you permission to submit a longer thesis, but only in exceptional circumstances. The word limits differ for those enrolled in professional doctorates, check your programme regulations for further information.

Research papers

In some areas, a PhD may comprise a series of research papers linked with a commentary. This will depend on your topic, and the approval of your supervisor.

Thesis language

Your thesis must be written in English or in te reo Māori, unless you have prior approval from the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Research. If you have appropriate language skills and choose to write your thesis in te reo Māori, you should discuss your plans with your supervisor as early as possible.

Find out more about the University’s Use of Te Reo Māori for Assessment Policy.

Read our guidelines for doctoral theses

Working during your PhD

To successfully complete a PhD, you'll need to prioritise your studies and not overload yourself with paid work. You are expected to spend at least 30 hours each week on your studies if you're a full-time student. If you're studying part time, you'll need to spend at least 15 hours each week.

Working at the University

There may be work in your school as a tutor or demonstrator—talk to your postgraduate coordinator about the possibilities. There may be restrictions about how many hours you can work if you are an international student or hold a scholarship.

Working full-time while studying

Some part-time students are also in full-time paid employment, but this can be challenging. You'll need to have regular meetings with your supervisor, and if your progress is not considered satisfactory, your candidature may be discontinued.

Research to support your employment

It is highly desirable that the University's research supports or complements research going on elsewhere. If you currently work for a non-university research organisation, the research for your PhD can be designed so it complements the work you do for your employer.

You will need to clarify any questions about ownership of data and permission to publish in advance of the thesis being undertaken. You should discuss the situation with your school's postgraduate coordinator and your probable supervisor.

Studying at a collaborating institution

You may be able to be based at another institution with complementary facilities—such as a Crown Research Institute, hospital, or industrial organisation—while undertaking a PhD at this University.

Find out more about studying off-campus

Mature students

We strongly encourage older students to undertake PhD studies as we believe that their life experience contributes immeasurably to campus life and the quality of the research community. Academic expectations and assessments, of course, are equally rigorous for all students.

Before you apply, it is recommended that you have a full and frank discussion with your prospective supervisor to ensure that your intentions and aspirations align. Student Learning offers specific support for mature students.