Doing a PhD with us

Discover the ins and outs of PhD research at Victoria University of Wellington—the number one research institution in New Zealand.

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.

PhD coursework

A PhD at Victoria University of Wellington does not normally involve coursework. You may be required to do some coursework during provisional registration to support your research—any courses you pass won't be credited towards your degree, but you won’t pay extra fees. Any coursework depends on the approval of your supervisor.

Upgrading a Master’s

If you’re currently enrolled in a Master’s thesis at Victoria University of Wellington and your project is larger than anticipated, you may be able to transfer to a PhD. This depends on the availability of suitable supervision.

Thesis language

In most cases your thesis will be written in English, but you can choose to write in te reo Māori if you have appropriate language skills. If you want to write in Māori, you need to discuss it with your supervisor as early as possible.

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.

For candidates enrolled in professional doctorates your Part 1 coursework is the equivalent of the provisional registration year.

Progress reports

Throughout your studies, you will meet regularly with your supervisors and be required to complete six-monthly progress reports. During your provisional registration, however, the research proposal is also a crucial indicator of progress.


Your research will be conducted within one of the University’s schools. The school, generally made up of several programmes (subject areas), is responsible for ensuring that you have access to suitable supervision and research facilities.

Multi-disciplinary study

If your research straddles different disciplines, it is possible to study across two faculties or schools. In such cases, it is desirable for you to have a supervisor from each discipline; however, you will be registered with only one school. If you feel your research is interdisciplinary, it is important that you note this clearly in your application.

Full-time and part-time study

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.


Full-time students are expected to spend at least 30 hours per week on their thesis; half-time students need to devote at least half that time.

Working during your PhD

Working at the University

Speak to the Postgraduate Coordinator of the school you wish to study in about the possibility of work as a tutor or demonstrator. Remember, a full-time student is expected to devote a minimum of 30 hours per week to their thesis.

There may be restrictions about how many hours you can work if you are an international student or hold a scholarship.

Working full-time

Candidates must be careful not to overload themselves with paid work. Half-time students are expected to spend at least 15 hours a week on their thesis. You will also 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

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. It is ideal if university research supports or complements research going on elsewhere.

Any questions about ownership of data and permission to publish need to be sorted out in advance of the thesis being undertaken. Discuss matters with the Postgraduate Coordinator in your school and your probable supervisor.

Studying at a collaborating institution

In some circumstances, you may be able to undertake a PhD at Victoria University of Wellington while working at another institution. Crown Research Institutes, some hospitals, and some industrial organisations have research facilities which complement those at Victoria University of Wellington.

A formal agreement between the University and the collaborating institution will be required. Please discuss matters with the school at Victoria University of Wellington in which you would like to study.

Transferring from another university

In some circumstances if you have begun your PhD at another university you may need to transfer to Victoria University of Wellington. Contact the Wellington Faculty of Graduate Research to discuss this.

If you have withdrawn from PhD study at another university, Victoria University of Wellington will need to look at your academic record from your former university, but your application will be considered on its merits. If you spent several years on your thesis at the other university without making adequate progress, that might influence the decision regarding your admission.

Mature students

We strongly encourage older students to undertake PhD studies as we believe that your 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.

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.