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A Guide to Doing Your PhD in Australia

If you’re an international student who has completed higher education studies, you might now be considering studying a doctorate degree, also known as a PhD. In Australia, this is the highest level of study and, once completed, can unlock doors to better employment, higher wages, and industry recognition.

Here’s a handy guide on how to apply, what to expect, and where to find further information for your exciting next step.

What is the difference between honours, a master’s and a PhD?

An honours is an extra year of study in Australia. To qualify you need to have completed your undergraduate degree, otherwise known as a bachelor’s degree, to a high standard. This is often considered a stepping stone to further postgraduate study.

Graduates with a bachelor’s degree might consider a graduate certificate, which usually takes one semester of full-time study and can help you specialise in your chosen career path. One step up from a certificate is a graduate diploma. This type of study takes one year of full-time study and can often be continued on from the graduate certificate.

A master’s by coursework is similar to a graduate diploma but takes a little longer and is regarded as a higher qualification. In most cases, you need a relevant bachelor’s degree; however, in certain circumstances, extensive relevant work experience might be accepted instead. This type of course typically takes 18 months to complete. A master’s by research takes two years of full-time study and is based on a research project supervised by a university academic.

A doctorate by research or a PhD is the highest level of study offered in Australia. A PhD requires submission of a thesis that is assessed by examiners who determine whether the research is worthy of the qualification. A PhD student must show through their thesis that they have made a significant contribution to their field. Once graduated, the candidate may use the title of Doctor.

How does a PhD work in Australia?

A PhD in Australia is usually studied over the course of three years. While some students take a little longer, extensions are subject to funding, as well as other important factors. Domestic students may have the option to study part-time but as an international student, you must study full-time in order to be eligible for a student visa.

According to the Australian Government, fees to study a PhD range from A$19,000 to A$78,000 per year, depending on the education provider. There is a chance you may not have to pay the full amount if there is funding available, which is common in Australia. Most universities have funding for promising PhD students set aside. Get in touch with your chosen university directly to find out what scholarships are available to international students. The Australian Government also runs Destination Australia, which funds eligible education providers in regional areas to offer scholarships to both domestic and international students. The government also offers the Research Training Program for participating universities.

International students also need to consider the cost of living while abroad to qualify for their visa. You’ll need at least roughly A$21,041 for each year of your study in your bank account in order to be granted a visa.

Do I need honours to apply for a PhD?

In most cases you will need an undergraduate degree with a minimum of Second Class Honours (Division A) – also known as ‘upper second-class’ honours – to apply for your PhD to demonstrate you have significant research experience. However, many education providers offer research-based qualifications to give you this experience if you didn’t complete an honours degree originally.

What is the basic structure of a PhD?

PhDs in Australia are usually research-based and, while they may contain other aspects, the focus of your studies will be on working towards your doctoral thesis.

In general, a PhD begins with a literature review that collects, analyses and summarises the current research published on your chosen subject. This then provides the basis for designing, implementing and analysing your own research that you’ll write about for your thesis.

In Australia, you are not required to undergo a viva voca, which is an assessed oral exam in defence of your research topic, method and predicted results. Instead, you are assessed solely on your thesis.

How do I apply for a PhD?

To apply for an Australian PhD, the first step is to contact a university academic working as a supervisor for PhD projects. You contact them, usually about four months before you wish to commence your studies, with the research topic you would like to propose. The person you choose should be the lead researcher for the institution you wish to apply to, in the relevant field you wish to study.

Once you have what is known as an ‘expression of interest’ from a provisional supervisor, you can begin your formal application to the university. Most universities won’t consider an application without an expression of interest from a supervisor, so make sure you have this first.

What else do I need to know?

To study as an international student in Australia, you must have a student visa (subclass 500) from the Australian government. Unless you are exempt, the application fee for this visa is AUD$710. You can read more about student visas and their requirements here.

Australian PhDs are delivered in English and have language skill requirements. There are various tests you can take to verify your English language skills including the IELTS, CAE and PTE. The score you need is usually specified on the universities website and will depend on the test you take.

International students must have Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) in order to be granted their student visa. There are a variety of providers to choose from, including many universities, but the policy you choose must adhere to the Overseas Student Health Cover guides. Explore your options in greater detail here.

The new international student working limit of 48 hours every fortnight does not apply to international students who are pursuing a doctorate or a master’s degree through research. These students are not restricted in terms of the number of hours they can work. However, your actual work hours should align with your study requirements and also require approval from your academic supervisor. This is to ensure that your employment does not interfere with your primary objective of completing your academic research.

PhD study is an excellent way to enter the Australian workforce and graduate visas are available that can entitle you to stay in Australia for up to four years after you have finished your PhD. In other words, if you have dreams of both furthering your education and settling long-term in Australia, a PhD could be the perfect way to make those dreams a reality.