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PhD by Publication – Explained


Obtaining a PhD by publication is relatively uncommon in higher education. It can, however, be especially useful for established researchers who are well published but don’t yet have a PhD. This article gives information on exactly what a PhD by publication is, how it works and what the advantages and disadvantages are. Read on to learn more.

What is a PhD by Publication?

A PhD by publication is a doctoral degree awarded to a person who has several peer-reviewed publications that have been put together as separate ‘chapters’, contributing to a unified research theme within a specific field.

This format typically consists of a significant introductory chapter, up to 10,000 words, similar to a traditional thesis, followed by around five published research papers and a final chapter to bring things to a conclusion. Although these papers will be separate bodies of work, it’s important that they’re connected along one research theme.

This route to PhD can be attractive to researchers that have published a lot in their career but not followed the traditional PhD path. It helps them gain recognition for their contributions to their research field and recognition that the work they have done has been of a doctoral level.

A PhD by publication is awarded following a viva with examiners, similar to the process of a traditional PhD.

What are the Advantages?

A clear advantage of a PhD by publication is that you’re submitting a portfolio of work that has already gone through extensive peer review. This means that by the time you come to defend your work at a viva, it’s much easier. For example, the questions your examiners may ask you could be very similar to the questions you were asked by your reviewers during your paper publication phase and so you will already have prepared suitable responses to these.

Another advantage of this route is that it’s a much quicker way of obtaining a PhD; traditional PhD programmes take between three and four years from registration to completion whereas you can get a PhD by publication within one year of registration with the University, assuming that you enrol on this degree having already published all the papers that you will include in your portfolio of work. The shorter duration means that you often will only have to pay for one year of University fees, meaning that this approach is cheaper than a traditional method. It’s often possible that you can work any part-time job alongside preparing your publication portfolio for viva examination submission.

What are the Disadvantages?

Not all research fields or questions are suitable for a PhD by publication. In some cases, it may be necessary to design, set up and run a new PhD project in the field, recording the generation of further data. Additionally, it may be difficult to expand upon your previous publications and explore different research ideas as you put together your portfolio of papers. As this approach is a relatively uncommon way to get a PhD, some institutions may be unfamiliar or not set up to facilitate a PhD by publication. While the final viva examination will be the same as that in a traditional PhD, there is always the risk that some examiners may not see this publication route as being a ‘real’ PhD.

You’re also likely to miss out on some other aspects of PhD life by going down the publication route, including opportunities to teach or supervise undergraduate students and the experience of working within a research lab alongside other students.

How Long Does a PhD by Publication Take?

You should expect a PhD by publication to take six months to one year to obtain from your point of registration with a University, with the assumption you have published work for all the material that you would plan to include within your PhD portfolio. This approach is shorter than pursuing a traditional PhD, which typically takes between three and four years as a full-time student.

Do you have Supervision?

Yes, in the same way that a traditional PhD will have a primary supervisor to oversee your project. The role of the supervisor will be to help you establish a clear narrative for the theme you’re putting together of your publications and advise you on how to structure the introductory and concluding bodies of work which are required before you submit your portfolio for external examination and viva. With this approach, your options may be open in terms of whether you need to be based at the University in person or if you choose to work remotely, communicating with your supervisor over email or video calls.

How does Assessment Work?

The body of work that you submit will be read and assessed by two examiners that are experts within your subject area of research. This will be followed by the viva examination with the two examiners, in line with the traditional PhD approach.

How Much Does It Cost?

As a PhD by publication usually takes about a year to complete, most universities typically charge a fee equivalent to one year of PhD study. The exact amount will vary depending on the University, but usually, this cost will be around £4,500 for one year for UK and EU students, and considerably more for international students. It’s challenging to secure funding for these types of PhD degrees and you will find that you’re unlikely to be eligible for financial support from research councils or other routes of funding.

What Kind of Publications Can I use in my Portfolio?

Universities will have specific guidance about factors such as how many publications you can include in your portfolio and there may be some restrictions on when they should have been published. Typically, you will include 5 publications in your submission to your PhD examiners, but this can in some circumstances be as low as 3 or 4 or as high as 10 separate papers. Most often these will be in the form of a peer-reviewed journal article but can also include published book chapters, technical or scientific reports that have been published or other forms of publication that have gone through a level of peer review.

Key Points Summarised



In short, a PhD by publication is ideal for those that have already published several academic papers on a single research theme; at this stage it is likely to be the cheapest and fastest route to gaining a PhD. However, applicants should be mindful when they apply that it may be challenging to secure funding for this.

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