Research is an integral part of our School strategy, with strengths across biological, cognitive, developmental, clinical, and social psychology. As a PhD student, you will be part of a supportive, vibrant and intellectually stimulating community.
Some questions we are often asked
- What does doing a PhD in Psychology involve?
A PhD is a qualification to do research. A PhD qualification thus allows you to have a career in research, whether in academic or a non-academic settings. A PhD qualification also qualifies you to teach at university leverl, although note that is is possible to teach some modules at university level without a PhD, depending on the country you are teaching in, the university and the field.
By the end of your PhD, you will be an expert on your particular topic of study. But, more importantly, you'll have acquired the skills to tackle new research questions independently.
To complete a PhD:
- you'll 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”
- you'll be expected to publish your data in academic journals and will have the opportunity to mix with the leading researchers at conferences
- you'll 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.
- What are the entry requirements?
Check our entry requirements on the Psychology PhD page of the prospectus.
- What funding is available?
The School of Psychology is offering up to 7 Doctoral Research Studentships for entry in 2023 for student-proposed projects with any supervisor. Entry can be in Sept 2023, Jan 2024 or May 2024 but all studentships will be allocated following the deadline on 6 January 2023 so please do not miss that deadline and specify your intended entry date on your application. Some supervisors have suggested research outlines of projects they would like to supervise. We will also have Psychology Doctoral Research Scholarships on topics proposed by supervisors which will be advertised on our Prospectus.
The University of Sussex is part of two UKRI Doctoral Training Programmes which provide funding for PhD students across the South East and South Coast respectively:
Keep an eye on the PhD funding opportunities and scholarships on the University website. Different funding schemes become available at different times of the year, and new opportunities are published regularly.
- 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 take lightly.
Most students go through a ‘bad patch’ where things don’t work, and/or motivation levels dip. For self-funded students, who are often part-time and juggling other commitments, this may increase pressure to quit more than it does for others (and indeed, our completion rate for self-funded students is lower). As such, we expect self-funded students to demonstrate, on application, a solid level of personal and professional commitment to their chosen topic of study, in addition to an appropriate level of academic ability.
We also ask potential self-funded students to submit a ‘financial plan’ with their application. The plan can be a brief (one paragraph) statement about how you will fund your studies, and it should also consider any contingency plans (e.g. redundancy, or if employed casually).
Check funding fees and additional costs on the Psychology PhD page of the prospectus.
- Does Sussex offer a 'Clinical Doctorate' or an 'Educational Doctorate' ?
We do not offer a PhD in 'Clinical Psychology' that would form part of the training to become a clinical psychologist nor a PhD in ‘Educational Psychology’ that would form part of the training to become and educational psychologist. Several of our supervisors are clinical psychologists, and it is possible to undertake a PhD in Psychology under their supervision but it would not be a PhD in Clinical Psychology.
- What are the stages involved in preparing my application?
- Decide what kinds of topics of research interest you. Students typically base this around their previous experience during lectures or running their project.
- Find a potential supervisor or find an advertised studentship. Check the application deadline!
- Do some preliminary reading (e.g. recent papers published in that field, including some by your potential supervisor)
- Contact your potential supervisor, normally via email. At this stage, you don't 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?).
If the potential supervisor expresses an initial interest, then this would be a good time to arrange a phone or zoom call (although email exchanges could remain an option). This isn’t part of the formal process, but it's a good way of ironing out any confusion and making sure this feels right before committing lots of time to the application.
- Write a draft of a ‘research proposal’ (we give you some tips on the “what should I write in my research proposal” section). You may also want to get feedback on the proposal from your potential supervisor before submitting it.
- 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 may require more than one research proposal. Give them names that make it clear which proposal relates to which studentship.
When you start each application, you'll need to specify whether you wish to study full-time or part-time, when you wish to start (your 'point of entry'), and the appropriate 'level'.
For each application, you'll need to complete 10 sections. You must include all the requested attachments, including CV, research proposal, degree certificates and transcripts (or interim transcripts if you haven't completed your degree yet), proof of English if required, and references/details of referees.
- How do I find a potential supervisor?
Most 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'. Some supervisors have also provided research outlines describing the kinds of PhD research they would like to supervise.
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’s never too early to approach a potential supervisor. Applications for funding for competitive programmes like the Commonwealth Scholarship and SENSS can take months to prepare.
It is necessary that the PhD supervisor(s) you pick are a good fit to your chosen discipline and your chosen research area/topic. Since the aim of the PhD s for you to become an expert on our particular topics of study, it is necessary for your PHD supervisors(s) to be expert(s) in your area as well, and for your research to be aligned with their research interests.
A frequent misconception we see among PhD applicants is thinking that any faculty memeber in the school of Psychology can potentially act as their supervisor just because the supervisor is in the discipline of psychology at large. For example a PhD applicant wishing to specialise in clinical psychology, with a desire to understand schizophrenia, might sometimes approach a faculty member who specialises in the social psychology of protests. Although both of these areas are in the discipline of psychology, the subfields are different and the research areas are incompatible. Hence, this would not be a good fit.
To sum up, when searching for a potential PhD supervisor, make sure that the faculty members you approach do research in the area of psychology you plan to specialise in and their research interests are aligned to yours. The way to check this is by reading their research interests on their web page and reading some of their work. Note, however, that it is also possible to be supervised by two or more people, including secondary supervisors outside of the School of Psychology, particularly when your topic is interdisciplinary and would benefit from different types of expertise.
- 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 three pages, including references. You should set the font size at a minimum of 10 points and the margins at a minimum of 1cm.
If you are applying for a SENSS studentship and the requirements for that are different, prepare your documents using the SENSS guidelines. Use the same documents for your application to Sussex and to SENSS.
Your research proposal should cover the following areas:
- 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.
- Gaps in our current knowledge
What don’t we know? Could the existing findings be explained differently? At the end of this section, outline your aims and hypotheses.
The level of detail needed here is likely to vary, but we're 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 need to be run first? What problems may occur, and how could they be addressed? This section need not cover the complete methodology for all three years of study. However, you're expected to specify how your initial idea could be developed or expanded upon over this longer timeframe.
- Reference list, preferably in APA format.
Around six well-chosen references would be acceptable, but there is no strict upper or lower limit.
- Should my potential supervisor comment on the research proposal?
If you are applying for an advertised studentship to work on a particular topic with a particular person, there is no need for them to comment on your draft.
If you are applying for an open call (in which you are developing your own ideas), there will be more need for dialogue between you and your potential supervisor. You should 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 they will not rewrite it for you. The proposal is one way of assessing you, so it's important that it primarily reflects your work and your ideas.
Give your supervisor enough time to read your proposal (at least a week) and leave enough time to make changes afterwards.
- Does the content of my research proposal commit me in any way should I obtain a place?
Your research proposal isn’t a contract to undertake the specified research, should you get offered a place. The structure of your PhD is likely to evolve and need not closely reflect the proposal you made at the time of application.
The research proposal fulfils two roles:
- it's 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 necessary supervision and resources.
- If I obtain a place, will I be required to teach?
We encourage our PhD students to teach, and we pay them as Doctoral Tutors to do so. This experience looks good on your CV, and it's both a personal reward and a challenge. If you are awarded a studentship which is funded by the School of Psychology then you will be required to teach and the details will be included in the advert.
Teaching typically involves:
- demonstrating during research methods and statistics classes
- associated teaching activities such as answering student queries and marking.
You'll work alongside a member of faculty who will have overall responsibility for delivering the module. You'll most likely work as a team with other PhD students to deliver the teaching.
- What is the difference between 1+3, +3, and +4?
A 1+3 implies that the studentship lasts for four years, but the first year is a Masters of Science (MSc) and the remaining years are for the (full time) PhD.
This studentship is suitable for students who do not have a MSc already. We typically fund only a small number of these each year and only as part of the SeNSS studentships.
Masters degrees linked to 1+3s include the MRes in Psychological Research Methods, 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.
- What does part-time study entail?
Part-time study involves completing the research within five years (with a minimum submission date of four years and a maximum of six years). If you are awarded a funded studentship you will be receive 50% of the full-time stipend for up to 6 years. Part-time fees are charged at 50% of the full-time fees.
If you start a PhD as a self-funded part-time student, our School Policy is that you should initially register for an MPhil with the possibility of upgrading to a PhD after a minimum of two years of study.
If you start a PhD full-time and wish to transfer to part-time (or vice versa) at some point in your studies because of a change in your circumstances (e.g. after parental leave) then this will usually be possible.
Some studentships can only be offered full-time because of time constraints on the funding.
- Can I register as a distance learner?
'Distance learner' is one of the options for 'mode of study' you can select on your application. It's intended for overseas students who will be residents abroad for most of their studies and can complete their experiments abroad.
Distance learners must study full-time and are required to spend at least three months at Sussex during their studies. This requirement can be fulfilled as one block of three months or several shorter visits (to be agreed at the start of the degree). Fees are 65% of the international rate for the periods spent abroad and 100% of the international rate for periods spent at Sussex.
Distance learners are usually self-funded or have obtained external funding.
- Will I be interviewed?
We screen all applications. 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 via Zoom.
- Should I apply to several institutions at the same time?
Short answer: yes.
The competition is very tight. We expect candidates to make multiple applications to different institutions, and it won't reflect poorly on you.
However, if it emerges that you're making multiple applications to study completely different topics, then it might look like you don't have a clear vision of what interests you. This could weaken your application.
- 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 handbook won't only guide you through the application process, but it will also be a helpful resource throughout your PhD studies.