Are you a postgraduate student who has just finished a Masters and thinking of applying for a PhD? In some cases, you might be an undergraduate who has chosen to opt for a PhD? Are you thinking about applying to the UK or looking into a US PhD but confused about the decision?
Below are some important findings about my own experience of a UK PhD. It will also help you to understand the 4 vital differences between a UK and a US PhD, and the main factors you need to consider.
1.The application process and interviews
In the UK, generally you apply directly to a lab for an advertised project or a funded PhD position. Alternatively, you may contact the supervisor and then look for funding by developing a grant proposal together, which is a tougher option. I kind of did the latter, as although the proposal was there, I had to secure my funding. I was really lucky to get one from the fully-funded international scholarship at my University.
In the US, the PhD application process consists of a more centralized application to the institution you are applying to. Generally, there is a requirement for standardized tests like TOEFL or GRE subject tests. Very thorough and long interviews are conducted with the potential students, to check for skills like critical analysis, before you are finalized. You may also be offered tours of the University, and may be invited to various faculty events before you are accepted.
It is a wide-known fact that one of the biggest differences is that UK PhDs don’t tend to have any courses or exams involved, whereas in the US at least for the first two years you have to be taking regular courses and sit for exams. Also in the UK, you work on your PhD project in the same lab from day one till the end. However, US PhDs get the chance to do rotations, and choose their lab during the course. As things are becoming more global and unified, even some UK doctoral training centers (DTCs) now offer the first year of PhD to undergo a few rotations in a couple of labs. However, there are still no exams! Yippee!
3. Length of PhD
As a fact, UK PhDs tend to be shorter, with a length of 3 to 4 years, whereas US PhDs tend to be on average between 5 to 6 years, as they include the first few years of courses and teaching.
US PhDs seem to be an expensive option, as due to a longer study time, the costs add up. Scholarships also seem to be limited in the US. Although veterans, i.e. people who have served the military, in the US seem to be offered large discounts in their tuition fees.
With the UK, the overall costs are lower, and bravo! if you get some fully-funded opportunity, like myself, which covers both your tuition and bench fees, you are in a better position. Nowadays, you might come across more partly-funded opportunities, which do not support your living costs, but help you finance your tuition fees. Of course, even that is BIG help!
To conclude, I would say that even though PhD style and structure seem to be country-specific, all PhD experiences are unique. You would only get to know yours when you enroll into one!