2020 applicants
Postgraduate study

Research degrees

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World-class support, training and supervision

A research degree at Essex gives you the chance to investigate your chosen topic in real depth to reach a profound understanding.

In communicating that understanding, through a thesis or other means, you have a rare opportunity to generate new knowledge. Your research degree allows you to develop high-level skills, enhances your professional development and builds new networks. It can open doors to many careers.

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We have an international reputation for the quality of our research, meaning we provide you with an outstanding and supportive environment to undertake research study.

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Our research degrees

We offer three research degree routes: Masters by Dissertation (MSD/MAD), Master of Philosophy (MPhil), and PhD. Each route requires you to conduct and present your results of original research.

Masters of Arts by Dissertation (MAD)/ Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD)

A Masters by Dissertation sits at the same level as a taught Masters degree (MA/MSc), but is purely research-based. Although these courses do not include any taught components, modules designed to enhance your understanding of research methods are usually optional. You are examined by viva*. A Masters by Dissertation is a good choice if you have a specific research interest, or already have a topic in mind. They can also prove good precursors to a PhD.

Master of Philosophy (MPhil)

With an MPhil you will scrutinise a particular topic, independently producing a single large research project, and are examined by viva*. Throughout your studies you will be supported to gain a range of research skills; in some instances, if you are making good progress, you could convert to a PhD. 

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

A PhD is one of the highest forms of degree that can be awarded, and results from you making a unique and meaningful contribution to your field. As well as undertaking a large, independent research project throughout your studies, you will also be examined by viva*. You are supported by a dedicated member of academic staff, known as a supervisor, to gain a range of research skills. 

Integrated Doctor of Philosophy

An integrated PhD enables you to undertake a selection of taught modules during your first year, designed to prepare you for your PhD, by enhancing your knowledge of a specific subject. Depending on which department you belong to, you may be able to also gain a Masters qualification on successful completion of your first year. As well as undertaking a large, independent research project throughout your studies, you will also be examined by viva*.

Doctor of Medicine (MD)

The equivalent of a PhD, but available only in the fields of biotechnology and molecular medicine, our MD degrees are open to medically qualified staff working at a NHS Trust which is linked with the University of Essex. You are examined by viva*.

Professional Doctorates

Professional Doctorates are equivalent to a PhD in level and are the ideal choice for experienced professionals who wish to progress in their chosen careers, or for recent graduates who are hoping to establish themselves within a specific industry. Our Professional Doctorates are delivered by our School of Health and Social Care and our Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies, and combine professional training, teaching and research in a way that is relevant to current practice. Your thesis is examined by viva*.

*The Viva (short for viva voce) is an oral examination in which examiners (usually 2) poses questions to the candidate about their thesis.

Details of our course types and entry requirements are in our course listings.


You are allocated a supervisor who guides you through the different stages of your research degree. In some cases, you may have joint supervision by two members of our staff. Receiving support is a key feature of your experience at Essex and you have regular meetings to discuss your progress. Twice a year you have a supervisory board meeting which provides a more formal opportunity to discuss your progress and agree your plans for the next six months.

Part-time study

Most of our research degrees are available as part-time study to Home and EU students and those international students with the necessary immigration status to do so. Part-time study is normally undertaken on a half-time basis, with your minimum period completed in twice the duration of the full- time equivalent. Study and attendance requirements may vary in volume and timing, from year to year and from programme to programme.

Distance learning

If you are resident overseas, and hold very high qualifications and/or have considerable relevant expertise, you may register for either a part-time or a full-time research degree without residence at our University.

You must demonstrate that you have the necessary research skills (or that arrangements have been made to acquire such skills) and evidence of a high level of ability in the English language, if your first language is not English. Supervisory arrangements will be specified individually and will include, for example, the frequency and mode of contact with your supervisor and the periods of time to be spent at Essex.

Codes of practice

Yes, we have a formal code of practice for our research students, outlining the responsibilities of both you and us. This covers admission and selection procedures, through to supervision and progress monitoring, to final examination.

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Research training scheme

Our innovative research training scheme, known as Proficio, awards each of our research students up to £2,500 which can be put towards training courses and attending conferences. This funding will enable you to curate your own tailored training plan, developing the skills and knowledge you need to create an outstanding piece of research.