School of Psychology

Psychology PhD FAQs

FAQs for anyone considering applying for a PhD in Psychology


1. What does doing a Phd in Psychology involve?

A PhD is a qualification to do research. By opting to do a PhD you are, to some extent, committing yourself to a career in research (although not necessarily in a University setting). By the end of your PhD you will be a world-expert on your particular topic of study. But, more importantly, you will have acquired the skills to tackle new research questions independently and you are by no means constrained to keep on studying exactly the same topic that you specialised in for your PhD research. To successfully complete a PhD you will need to write a thesis: a “substantial original contribution to knowledge or understanding… based on what may be reasonably expected of a capable and diligent student after three years of full-time study”. Although the thesis is necessary, there is more to doing a PhD than collecting data and writing a thesis. You will be expected to publish your data in academic journals and will have the opportunity to mix with the leading researchers at conferences. You will develop as a person by navigating through difficult problems, finding creative solutions, and developing a self-driven approach to work through the guidance and support of your supervisory team and the academic community.

2. Why should I choose Sussex for my PhD in Psychology

Research lies at the heart of the School of Psychology. Our cutting-edge research aims to enhance understanding and provide innovative approaches to key psychological challenges and issues. We are engaged in research across the broad range of the discipline.

Sussex was ranked in the top 10 for research in the ‘Psychology, Neuroscience and Psychiatry’ panel in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. 86% of our research was recognised as world leading or internationally excellent.

The School of Psychology is one of the largest centres for the study of psychology in the UK. We have nearly 50 academic faculty, about 80 research students and more than 100 postgraduate students taking Master's degrees. Our undergraduate intake is over 500 a year, which gives us an academic community of well over 1000 people working in a rich and supportive learning environment.

You will join an active community of PhD students who meet regularly for research seminars, training sessions and discussion groups within Psychology and across the University. We also organise monthly lunches, exclusively for Psychology PhD students, at which you will be able to talk to other PhD students about how things are going and learn about one particulary element of the PhD (e.g. funding research activities or the format of your thesis) from our Director of Doctoral studies.

The University of Sussex believes that the diversity of its staff and student community is fundamental to creative thinking, pedagogic innovation, intellectual challenge, and the interdisciplinary approach to research and learning. We celebrate and promote diversity, equality and inclusion amongst our staff and students. As such, we welcome applications from all, regardless of personal characteristics or background.

Students' descriptions of their PhDs at Sussex

3. What qualifications do I need to do a PhD

Minimally we require that students from the UK have a 2.1 or above in psychology or (occasionally) a closely related discipline. If you have completed an MSc in the UK we will require you to have been awarded a 'merit' or 'distinction'. In reality, competition is very tight and many of our intake have first class degrees at BSc level or a ‘distinction’ at MSc level. It is becoming increasingly common to have an MSc before undertaking a PhD. If you don’t have an MSc then you can still be accepted on to our PhD program but you should expect to attend postgraduate level classes in your first year of PhD in addition to conducting research for your PhD. We will, however, look at your overall profile of grades on your transcript and not just the overall classification. For instance, we would look favourably on candidates who got excellent grades in their project or research methods class, or students who showed a big improvement over the course of their degree.

Students with degrees from overseas, should look at the Psychology PhD page of the prospectus under 'Entry requirements' which explain the qualifications we require you to have achieved depending on the country in which they were awarded. Our admissions office will determine how your qualifications map on to the UK system. Our English language requirements are IELTS 7.0 (not less than 6.5 in each section) or Internet TOEFL with 95 overall (at least 22 in Listening, 23 in Reading, 23 in Speaking and 24 in Writing).

4. What sources of funding are available?

PhD studentships for 2019/20

There are no studentships available for entry in 2019/20 at present

PhD Studentships for 2020/21 (entry in September 2020)

The School of Psychology is offering up to 6 Doctoral Research Scholarships through open competition for entry in September 2020. Successful applicants will be awarded a stipend for 3.25 years (tied to the UKRI studentship rates, currently £15,009 p.a.). UK/EU PhD fees and research and training costs are also covered. Doctoral Research Scholars will also be offered a 3 year fixed term contract, as a Doctoral Tutor, to teach up to 165 hours per year (0.1FTE Grade 5.1 (currently £25,941 p.a. pro rata), covering contact time, preparation, and marking). Doctoral Tutors will begin teaching in the second term of their studies.   

These studentships are entirely funded by the University and are available to any area of psychology and to students from any country (but the studentship will only pay for fees at the UK/Home rate). We recommend that you should approach members of faculty who undertake research in the academic area you are interested in, to discuss your research ideas and find out whether they they are interested in providing supervison, before submitting your application. Deadline Monday 20 January 2020 (23:59)


These are UK government funded and full studentships are available only to UK/EU citizens (eligibility requirements an be found in link), and funded through the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).  The ESRC covers most areas of psychology (including some neuroscience areas, but not biomedical research). There is both an open call for student-led projects, but also a number of collaborative studentships, where the project is already specified (see project below). Applicants for the open call can also be considered School studentships. Deadline 20 January 2020.

A fully funded studentship is available for a UK/EU student, supervised by Kate Cavanagh. Deadline 20 January 2020.

The University was awarded a grant to fund a Doctoral Scholarship Programme   ‘From Sensation and Perception to Awareness’.  This funds seven PhD studentships a year.  Deadline 31 January 2020.


These offer 4 years of funding in which the first year consists of a series of lab rotations. The deadline for applications is 6th January 2020.  Applicants whose research falls within the remit of both the Psychology PhD and the Sussex Neuroscience PhD should apply to both schemes to maximise their chances.

  • National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) & University of Sussex Applied Research Collaboration “Starting Early” PhD Scholarships (advert available during the week of 13/1/20) 

The School of Psychology, University of Sussex is offering TWO PhD scholarships (3 years full-time) commencing September 2020. These studentships are co- funded with the NIHR Kent, Surrey and Sussex Applied Research Collaboration (KSS ARC) which aims to develop applied health and social care research across the region for the benefit of patients and the public.The PhD scholarships are linked to the KSS ARC youth mental health theme (“Starting Early”) led by Professor Fowler and involving other key faculty in the School of Psychology. We welcome applications from prospective students interested in the below topics:

• Identification of early mental health risk indicators related to school functioning and development of relevant screening strategies. • Evaluation of new and established school-based mental health intervention models. • Evaluation of novel detection and intervention strategies for community-based youth mental health services, with a particular focus on social connectedness and the use of digital and peer support formats.

The research will involve mixed-methods approaches, including co-production and formative qualitative studies with young service users, peers and families identified through schools and youth service settings. A particular interest is in developing an understanding of the needs of young people and their families in neglected coastal and rural communities.

Deadline: Sunday 23 February 2020 (23:59)

 The University of Sussex is a member of the SoCoBio Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council. Successful applicants follow a four-year research skills training programme and will have their PhD tuition fees and living allowance (currently £15,009 for 2019-20) covered for the four years. They will also have access to further funds for research expenses. They will benefit from laboratory rotations in year one, a placement, taught modules in entrepreneurship and data management and from Socobio summer schools and conferences.

2 of the advertised projects are supervised by supervisors from the School of Psychology

Deadline: 28 January (23:59)



5. What does my funding cover?

Although funding rates do vary according to the source of funding, the sources above would normally cover fees, living costs, and most research expenses (including some funds for conference travel).

Students from within the EU may only be eligible for ‘fees only’ (i.e. no living costs paid) if they do not meet residency requirements (resident for 3 year+ in the UK) and are applying for Research Council (e.g. ESRC) studentships. Please ask in advance if you are uncertain.

6. Can I self-fund?

It is possible to self-fund and we consider self-funded applications throughout the year. However, self-funding is a significant commitment and not one to be taken lightly. Most students go through a ‘bad patch’ in which things don’t work and/or motivation levels dip. For self-funded students, who are often part-time and juggling other commitments, this produces a stronger pressure to quit than it does for others (and indeed our completion rate for self-funded students is lower). As such, we would expect self-funded students to demonstrate, on application, a very strong level of commitment (personally and professionally) to their chosen topic of study in addition to demonstrating an appropriate level of academic ability. We also ask potential self-funded students to submit a ‘financial plan’ with their application – this can be a brief (one paragraph) statement about how you will fund your studies and should also consider any contingency plans (e.g. redundancy, or if employed casually).

Fees, funding and living costs 

7. What are the stages involved in preparing my application?

You can apply to do a PhD with any faculty member in the School of Psychology (see below and also the FAQ below 'How do I find a potential supervisor'). However, if you are applying for an advertised studentship to work with a particular person on a pre-specified topic then steps 4-5 may be briefer or omitted altogether. In general, the research proposal is one way for us to assess your understanding of the literature so it is still useful (and a required part of your application) even if it is on a pre-specified topic. Read the advert carefully and contact the named person if you are uncertain about this.

1. Decide what kinds of topics of research interest you. Students typically base this around their previous experience during lectures or running their own project.

2. Find a potential supervisor (see below) or find an advertised studentship (our studentships are listed under the FAQ 'What sources of funding are avaliable',on the Psychology PhD page of the prospectus under 'Funding and fees' and also at or Check the application deadline!

3. Do some preliminary reading (e.g. recent papers published in that field, including some by your potential supervisor).

4. Contact your potential supervisor, normally via email. At this stage, you do not need a definite plan. You need to indicate why you find the topic interesting and send your CV (which should list all courses taken to date and grades obtained). You may also want to ask questions to them (e.g. what new lines of research are you hoping to pursue? Are you hoping to take on new PhD students?).

5. If the potential supervisor expresses an initial interest then this would be a good time to arrange a phone call or Skype call (although email exchanges could remain an option). This isn’t part of the formal process but is a good way of ironing out any confusion and making sure this feels right before committing lots of time to the application.

6. Write a draft of a ‘research proposal’ (tips on doing this are below). You may also want to get feedback on the proposal from your potential supervisor before submitting it.

7. Submit the online application
You will need to create an account and then you can apply for up to 3 different courses (e.g. Neuroscience 4 year PhD + Psychology PhD). If you are applying for more than one funded studentship in Psychology you only need to submit one application but you can require more than one research proposal if that is appropriate (giving them names which make it clear which proposal relates to which studentship).

When you start each application you will be asked to specify whether you wish to study full-time or part-time; when you wish to start (your 'point of entry') and choose the appropriate 'Level'.

For each application you will be required to complete 10 sections and you must include all the requested attachments including CV, research proposal, degree certificates and transcripts (or interim transcripts if you have not completed your degree yet), proof of English if required, references/details of referees.

International students who are liable to pay overseas fees should also explain their plan to cover the difference between home and overseas fees.


8. How do I find a potential supervisor?

Most academic members of faculty in the School of Psychology are eligible to act as supervisors of research students. You can find a list of our academics, organised according to our four research groups on the Psychology PhD page of the prospectus under 'Our Supervisors'.

You should ask potential supervisors whether they are likely to be taking on any PhD students in the coming year as an initial step. It is possible to be jointly supervised by two people, including supervisors outside of Psychology.

It is never too early to approach a potential supervisor, applications for funding for competitive programmes like the Commonwealth Scholarship can take months to prepare.

9. What should I write in my research proposal?

The research proposal should be approximately 1,000 to 1,500 words in length and not exceed 3 pages including references, be set at minimum 10 font type with margins a minimum of 1cm.

The first section should cover the background to the studies. What do we know already? Why is this topic interesting and important? You should assume that you are writing it for someone who has a good general knowledge of psychology but who is not an expert in that particular area of research.

The second section should cover gaps in our current knowledge. What don’t we know? Could the existing findings be explained differently? At the end of this section it would be important to outline your aims and hypotheses.

The third and final section should propose a methodology to address these issues. The level of detail needed here is likely to vary but we are interested in your ability to think critically. What kinds of control conditions are needed? What exactly would we need to measure? What kind of pilot studies may be needed to be run first? What problems may occur and how could they be dealt with? This section need not cover a full methodology for all 3 years of study. However, you are expected to specify how your initial idea could be developed or expanded upon over this longer time frame.

Please add a reference list, preferably in APA format. Around 6 well chosen references would be acceptable but there is not strict upper or lower limit.

10. Should my proposed supervisor comment on the research proposal?

If you are applying for an advertised studentship to work on a particular topic with a particular person then there is no need for them to comment on a draft of this.

If you are applying for an open call (in which you are developing your own ideas) then there will be more need for dialogue between you and your potential supervisor. It is important that you discuss the direction of your research proposal with your potential supervisor before you start writing it. After completing a draft, it would be good for your supervisor to comment on it and provide feedback but he/she will not rewrite it for you. As the proposal is one way of assessing you, it is important that it primarily reflects your work and your ideas. It is also important that you give your supervisor enough time to read it (at least a week) and you give yourself enough time to make changes afterwards.

11. Does the content of my research proposal commit me in any way should I obtain a place?

Your research proposal should not be considered as a ‘contract’ to undertake the specified research should you get offered a place. The research proposal fulfils several roles. It is one way of assessing your ability to identify important scientific questions and think about potential research solutions. It also enables us to assess the extent to which we may be able to support you in terms of providing the necessary supervision and resources. The structure of your PhD is likely to evolve over time and need not closely reflect the proposal you made at the time of application.

12. If I obtain a place will I be required to teach?

We encourage our PhD students to teach and pay them as Doctoral Tutors to do so. Psychology Doctoral Research Scholars' are expected to accept a 0.1FTE Doctoral Tutor contract for 3 years in addition to their scholarship. Students funded by other schemes are also encouraged to apply for a 0.1FTE Doctoral Tutor contract.

Teaching typically involves demonstrating during research methods and statistics classes together with associated activities (answering student queries, marking). This experience looks good on your CV and is both a personal reward and challenge. You would be working alongside a member of academic faculty who would have overall responsibility for delivering the module and you will most likely work as a team with other PhD students to deliver the teaching.

13. What is the difference between 1+3, +3, and +4?

A 1+3 implies that the studentship lasts for 4 years but the first year is an MSc and the remaining years are for the (full time) PhD. This would be suitable for students who do not have an MSc already. We typically fund only a small number of these each year and only as part of the SeNSS studentships. MSc degrees linked to 1+3s include the MRes in Psychological Research Methods, MSc in Applied Social Psychology, MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience, and MSc in Foundations in Clinical Psychology and Mental Health.

A +3 implies that the studentship is for 3 (full-time) years. Most of our studentships tend to be +3.

A +4 implies that the studentship is for 4 (full-time) years. These are offered as part of the Sussex Neuroscience PhD scheme and occasionally for other students.

14. What does part-time study entail?

Part time study involves completing the research within 5 years (with a minimum submission date of 4 years and a maximum of 6 years). Most part time students are self-funded. Our School Policy is that self-funded part time students should normally initially register for an MPhil with a view to upgrading to a PhD after a minimum of 2 years of study. The ESRC also supports part-time mode of entry. Other studentships tend to be offered only on a full-time basis but a request to transfer to part-time can be granted if circumstances change (e.g. after maternity leave).

15. Will I be interviewed?

We screen all applications first: some candidates are rejected straight away and others are placed ‘on hold’ for further consideration.  All short-listed candidates will be invited to an interview and, if necessary, we can interview via Skype.  Unfortunately, we are not able to cover costs of travel for candidates invited for interview.

16. Should I apply to several institutions at the same time?

Given that competition is so tight, it is expected that students will make multiple applications to different institutions. This does not reflect badly on you. However, if it emerges that you are making multiple applications to study completely different topics then it might look like you don't  have a clear vision of what interests you and this could weaken your application.

17. What else should I be reading to prepare myself?

We strongly recommend Phillips and Pugh “How to Get a PhD: A Handbook for Students and Their Supervisors”. This will not only guide you through the application process, but will be a useful resource throughout your PhD studies.