What are the benefits of doing PhD in UK?

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In a nutshell, a PhD in the UK offers a shorter time period, international research standing, multiple PhD structures, opportunity to experience industry during your PhD, adequate PhD stipend, multiple options for funding your PhD, an extended post-graduate work permit, and easy options to settle in the UK by taking indefinite leave to remain (ILR) after PhD.

In this post, I am going to discuss what are the benefits of doing a PhD in the UK. The UK attracts tens of thousands of students every year and a majority of them want to make it home. This is because the UK offers many benefits to its residents and workers.

A PhD should not be done by any student for the sole purpose of immigrating to another country, however, if you are going to dedicate your next 3-4 years to a tiny (but significant) question, which may or may not be of monetary value to you afterward, then the UK offers many unique benefits to international PhD students and graduates.

Average PhD stipend in the United Kingdom (UK)- except London£18,769 per year
Average PhD stipend in London£16,062 per year
Average living cost (including rent) for students in the United Kingdom (UK) (for larger cities e.g., London)£25,932 per year
Average living cost (including rent) for students in the United Kingdom (UK) (for smaller cities e.g., Nottingham)£13,668 per year
Average post-doc salary in the United Kingdom (UK) (work in university after PhD)£33,593 per year
Average post-PhD salary in the United Kingdom (UK) (work in industry after PhD)£28,000 per year
Useful numbers for international PhD aspirants looking to get a PhD in the United Kingdom (UK) and settle after graduation.

1.UK offer best PhD Research Structure

UK PhD research structure has many benefits including (a) a shorter PhD, not due to the PhD duration of 3-4 years but because the PhD students are hired based on their maturity regarding research as well as their ability to research projects faster. (b) a friendly ground for interdisciplinary research facilitated by dedicated institutions to research e.g., UKRI and nine area specialist councils working together. (c) high collaboration rates and evidence of collaborative research outputs when it comes to international research collaboration.

Best research environment for interdisciplinary PhD research. UK is really investing in research and innovation through many councils which fall under the UKRI (UK research and innovation. These councils are working and funding the cutting-edge research conducted across UK institutions. This makes the collaboration between different bodies easier. Thus, setting the ground for collaborative research and interdisciplinary research opportunities.

Best for international research collaboration. UK-based researchers are really making a difference by collaborating with other countries. In fact, this trend to combine research resources and findings is going up every year. thus, making UK research internationally acclaimed.

Also Read: Why a UK PhD is totally worth it for international Students?

Diverse PhD research paths depending on your needs. The UK provides different PhD structures depending on your PhD topic, area of research, or funding opportunities. (a) A PhD by thesis involves a heavy research component. Here the aim is to make you an independent academic researcher. (b) An integrated PhD usually has a one-year master’s before you start working on your PhD project. (c) A professional doctorate is oriented toward the application of your expertise in a particular industry. (d) A PhD by publication may be the option for those who already have several publications around a particular problem.

  How to fund a PhD as an international student In the UK?

Opportunity to explore your own idea or follow other researchers. UK PhD application process is competitive, however, there are points that might make this application process easier for you. (a) An advertised PhD project. This type of invitation to apply is more common in STEM sciences, where a researcher advertised a proposed area of research and hire PhD students interested in that particular area. This is useful because early career researchers e.g., PhD students may not have that deep insight into a particular problem and the need for its solution. (b) On the other hand, there are also options to apply if a PhD student is interested in an independent PhD project: the applicant proposed his/her own topic of interest in the research proposal and statement of purpose.

Further Reading: 8 big differences between the US and UK PhD experience

2. UK is best for Industry Experience during PhD

Dedicated institutions in the UK that provide PhD support to the experience industry. If you want to go to the industry after PhD study then Industrial Case PhD studentships might be the best option for you. Here PhD projects are funded by Industrial Cooperative Awards in Science & Technology (CASE). EPSRC CASE PhD Studentships provide (a) exposure to industry work (usually 3 months) and (b) the opportunities to sharpen your business and management skills.

Combining your academic research training with industry experiences. It is beyond doubt that an industry experience in the UK can give you a head start if you intend to join the industry after your PhD. Academia, indeed, is slowly realizing the fact that not all students can be employed in an academic research environment. More and more universities in the UK are pushing forward the industry impact programs to support collaborative PhD projects.

Benefits of Industry Experience during PhD. There are a lot of benefits of an industry experience during your PhD including (a) access to the advanced equipment which a university lab might not be able to afford, (b) exposure to applications of your expertise in an industry environment, (c) a signal to the hiring managers post-PhD that you are employable, so saving you from traditional recruitment stereotypes which most PhD graduates face when making the switch. In fact, many studies reveal that many PhD graduates who did internships during their studies are offered a higher starting salary in the industry.

OpportunitiesPhD with an Industry ExperiencePure Academic PhD
Flexibility in durationNot muchYes
Technical ResourcesMoreLess
PhD StipendUsually higherFixed nationwide in the UK (except London)
Soft-skills trainingHighLow
InterdisciplinaryHighLow
ConnectionsHigher in IndustryHigher in academia
Publish ResearchRestrictionsEncouraged to publish
An experience in Industry during PhD really benefits both the PhD student and industry partner. Universities are also recognizing this edge and are trying to be supportive. This can make working for industry as “joining the dark side” easier for PhD students. Source: Industrial PhDs: Exploring the dark side

Further Reading: A PhD in the industry? by Dr. Karin Bodewits, the author of an interesting book: You Must Be Very Intelligent: The PhD Delusion.

3. UK offer multiple options to fund your PhD

Financial support for international PhD students in the UK comes from (a) government organizations e.g., UKRI (UK research and innovation) and its councils, (b) independent grant providers e.g., commonwealth, (c) universities scholarships e.g., president PhD scholarship at imperial college London, Lancaster PhD scholarships for developing countries as well as (d) industry funding e.g., ICASE studentships.

  6 Reasons that a UK Doctorate is hard for international applicants

Unlike other governments like US, Canada, Germany, and Australia the UK government may not seem very generous when it comes to funding international PhD students, mainly by limiting 30% UKRI scholarships to international PhD students. However, there are a lot of opportunities to fully fund your PhD in the UK.

According to the latest policies, UKRI (the research council that funds PhDs in the UK and organize 9 sub councils specializing in different areas of study) can only allocate 30% of funds for international PhD students. Still, there are a lot of opportunities for you as an international PhD student to fund your PhD in the UK. particularly, when 25000 new PhDs are being recruited

“Many PhD students at UK universities do not complete their PhD in the average three- to four-year time frame.”

Source: How Long Might It Take to Get Your PhD?

Diverse ways to get a fully-funded PhD in the UK. To get a fully-funded PhD studentship you can search for the PhD employment opportunities on jobs.ac.uk, EURAXESS UK, and findaPhD. Make sure to look out for grand scholarship programs for international students like commonwealth for developing as well as developed nations. Here is a good list of many different opportunities to get a fully-funded PhD scholarship in the UK. Each university in the UK also offers various scholarship opportunities every year, make sure to check the university website where your prospective PhD supervisor is working.

Funding may not require assistantship work. The good thing about fully-funded studentships in the UK is that they do not usually mandate teaching assistantship responsibilities for you and they are usually sufficient to go through your PhD years without any other support. However, you should keep in mind that they are usually offered for 3-4 years of your PhD, so the time limit can put pressure on you to complete your PhD while on funding or look for alternate work opportunities which are often available in form of part-time work.

Note about extra income opportunities. Keep in mind that if you want to make extra income during your PhD you must find work allowed under your visa conditions. There are many income opportunities that may not be allowed to you if you are PhD student in the UK under a tier-4 visa. Thus, if you want to start a business alongside your PhD, are interested in passive income ideas, or freelancing you may not be allowed to do such work if you are a PhD student in the UK.

UK (domestic student) tuition fee waived if fundedYes
International student tuition fee waived In most cases
Availability of funding through assistantship work Yes
Opportunities to increase income with extra workYes
Education and research budgetIncrease (drastically) every year
UKRI Funded Scholars8,000 (each year and increasing)
Funding Difficulty for PhDEasy if you are interested in someone’s research
UK’s dedication to research and your chances of qualifying for a PhD scholarship.
Tips on how to get a fully-funded PhD scholarship in the UK

4. UK is best for post-PhD industry Career

Source: PhD Comics

As an international PhD graduate you are allowed to work in the UK for 3 years post-PhD on a graduate work visa permit, you can use this time to test the market for jobs, switch employers, and explore new opportunities. Don’t worry, UK employers are welcoming to PhDs.

  Range of PhD stipends in the US by field of study

You can work in Industry after PhD. In the UK, international PhD students who take PhD in industry or an internship are much more likely to migrate from academia to industry. It is true that industry may consider PhDs overqualified, however, in many roles and positions a PhD is a requirement. This is because we are in an era where workers who can understand complex data and find new solutions to problems are in high demand. If you as a PhD graduate can send a signal to hiring managers for such potential then they are a very good chance you will get the work in the industry.

It’s good to choose industry after PhD in the UK. Do you know what the most asked question by PhD students is? They are always asking, “What are my career options with a PhD?” Although PhDs overall have less job satisfaction than other groups in the industry and working in academia is stressful due to conditions such as high workload, absence of work-life balance as well as modest salaries.

Working in academia after PhD might be difficult. If you want to work in academia after PhD in the UK, your chances might be slimmer because (a) UK academic job is fiercely competitive and there are far fewer permanent or even temporary job opportunities in UK academia, (b) usually you need to switch institutions or even country to gain new exposure as a post-doc, this might conflict with your dream of settling in the UK.

Related: Post PhD, Where Do I Go From Here?

5. UK is best for settling after PhD graduation

Three steps to settle in the UK after PhD. (a) You can apply for a graduate visa in the UK after completing your PhD. PhDs have an advantage here because they are allowed to work on this visa for 3 years. (b) This means you have ample time to establish your job network and find a good employer who is willing to sponsor your skilled worker visa. (c) Next, you need to apply for indefinite leave to remain after 5 years of working on a skilled worker visa.

Why settle in the UK as a PhD graduate? The UK is welcoming to knowledge workers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and high potential individuals. All these options increase your chances to get permanent residency in the UK. Plus, the UK is attractive to a talented workforce around the world with its best healthcare, education as well as environment. In fact, London attracts more skilled workers than any other area, this may be because London is a hub for technology and innovation.

Applying to PhD positions and scholarships as international student

A step by step process to get a full-funded PhD in UK. Source: How to secure fully-funded scholarship in the UK
A step-by-step process to get a fully-funded PhD in the UK. Source: How I secured a fully-funded scholarship in the UK

In the UK, PhD application and scholarship application processes are lengthy, time taking, and demand much proactive thought on your part. This is because

  1. the research proposal (a comprehensive document of what you are going to do during your PhD project) need time, focus and research alignment with prospective supervisor.
  2. the visa process for student visa in UK is a step by step process and UK visa policies are very strict.
  3. the language readiness requires you to take English proficiency test with high scores required for a PhD application if English is not your first language.

The good thing about PhD application process in the UK is that you can prepare all documents yourself and detailed guides are provided by each university to avoid the hassles of any third parties or agents. Here are the step-by-step guides to applying for a PhD in the UK from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Bath. Many other universities require you to follow similar steps. For more details on how to apply, you can directly ask your intended postgraduate or research department for any assistance in PhD application.

How to apply for a funded PhD in the UK

FAQs about benefits of a UK PhD

Why do a PhD in UK?

For international PhD students UK offers (a) best research structure and environment, (b) a diverse set of options to fund a PhD, a shorter time period to complete the PhD, (c) opportunities to widen your academic network or gain industry experience during your PhD, (d) a high tech market to employ your research skills in high paying jobs, (e) and the option to make UK your home if you want to stay after your PhD.

How to settle in UK after PhD?

Settling in UK after PhD is a three step process. First, you can apply for graduate visa (validity for 3 years) permit after completing your PhD in UK. Second, you need to apply for a skilled worker visa. Finally, you can apply for indefinite leave to remain after working for 5 years on a skilled worker visa.

Can I work while doing PhD in UK?

Yes, you can work during your PhD years in the UK. However, you should note the limitations of your work permit. As a full-time international PhD student you are only allowed to work part-time for 20 hours. Please note that you are not allowed to look for any opportunities that may be recognized or come under freelancing, passive income or any other business.