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 have published work 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 academic career but have 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 without having to write a separate PhD thesis.

A PhD by publication is awarded following a viva (also known as an oral examination) 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 degree; 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 PhD 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 UK University. This is on the basis that you have already published work for all the material that you would plan to include within your PhD portfolio, or that it is currently going through the review process. This approach is shorter than pursuing a traditional PhD, which typically takes between three and four years as a full-time student.

What is the Application Process?

You apply using the standard process required by the university to enrol, in the same way as the traditional route of a PhD. In addition, however, you will be asked to submit a portfolio of your prior publication track record and a supporting statement outlining the work of these existing publications, detailing how they tell a coherent story with the relevant subject area you’re applying to. You won’t need to submit a formal PhD research proposal as most, if not all, of the research should already have been completed.

Do you have Supervision?

Yes, in the same way that a traditional PhD student 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, offering critical appraisal where necessary.

He or she will advise you on how to structure the introductory and concluding bodies of work that are required before you submit your portfolio for external examination and viva. Remember that the supervisor is there to advise and not tell you how to structure your dissertation; this is the same for any research student doing a standard PhD.

With this researcher-supervisor relationship, 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 as a distance learning student, 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 conventional PhD approach. To be awarded this research degree you will need to demonstrate that your work has made an original contribution to furthering the subject knowledge within your field.

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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, the tuition fee will be around £4,500 for one year for UK and EU students, and considerably more if you are an international student. 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 journal articles accepted by peer reviewed journals but can also include published book chapters, scientific or technical reports that have been published or other forms of publication that have gone through a level of peer review.


A PhD by publication is a good way for you to graduate with a doctorate if you enter this research programme having already published several academic papers on a single research theme. You need to demonstrate that you have made a significant contribution to your field through previous research. 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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