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AUTHORS: Libby Orme (Deputy Head of Psychology), Michael Smith (Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange), Crystal Haskell-Ramsay (Director of Postgraduate Research)

In the psychology department, we have around 30 students studying for postgraduate research (PGR) degrees. The majority of these are working towards a PhD in Psychology

We are currently recruiting for some new funded PhD opportunities, and so have published this blog to give prospective PhD students an idea of what a PhD in the Psychology Department at Northumbria involves. At the end of the post, you’ll find links to more information about each funded opportunity currently advertised, and some details of other opportunities for postgraduate research

What is a PhD in Psychology?

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programme allow students to undertake an individual programme of original research in psychology, under the supervision of two or more academic staff. You can read about PGR courses at Northumbria in detail here

Each PhD is totally unique, but full-time a PhD lasts about three years and part-time it is typically five years. In this time, a typical doctorate normally involves

  • Carrying out a literature review
  • Conducting a series of original research projects
  • Producing a thesis that presents your conclusions
  • Defending your thesis in an oral viva voce exam

PhDs in Psychology typically start in October, and you would normally start the process by having initial meetings with your supervision team and starting to create a plan for your PhD. Within the first four months, you would then submit your plan, which would include your training needs, ethical considerations, funding and costs associates with your research and a detailed timeline showing the feasibility of your PhD plan.

Students then typically progress to carrying out their research projects, with the goal of producing different outputs throughout the course of the PhD. This might include journal articles, literature reviews and conference presentations. The goal is to make an original contribution to knowledge in your field.

Throughout the process, your supervisory team would keep track of your progress and give you regular guidance and advice. Each year, you will also have a formal panel, who will review your progress and confirm that you are still on track, review your training needs and revisit the timeline for your project completion.

At the end of the process, once your written thesis is ready and submitted, you will defend it through a formal oral discussion called a viva voce. This will include one or more experts in your field from another institution, along with an expert within Northumbria.

Training for PhD Students

The Graduate School at Northumbria provides a structured training programme with sessions on statistical analysis, bibliographic software, academic writing skills and ethics in research. Themed workshops are offered on things like ‘doctorate essentials’, ‘managing your research degree’, ‘giving your research impact’, and ‘life after your doctorate’. 

Taught research training modules within our Masters in Research programme are also available to PhD students, such as training in quantitative and qualitative methods, academic skills training (including sessions on dissemination of research, and grant application writing), training in specialist equipment (e.g. polysomnography), statistical analysis using R software and engagement with open science practices.

Part of the training for PhD students involves learning about all aspects of an academic role, including teaching and administration. We’ve previously published a blog about how academics learn to teach, this also forms part of the learning journey of a PhD student in the psychology department. We offer our PhD students the opportunity to develop their teaching experience by working as a Demonstrator, and support PhD students working as demonstrators to work towards Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.

Being a PGR Student in the Northumbria Psychology Department

PGR students in psychology work in one of our dedicated PGR or reseach centres within the Department on our City Campus. As a consequence of a strong and supportive framework for PGR supervision and training, we perform well in the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (85% overall PGR satisfaction in 2019 versus a sector average of 82% for the discipline).

PGR students attend departmental research seminars and give presentations within their particular research groups. They are also encouraged to present at international and national conferences (with travel funds awarded on a competitive basis).

The success of our PGR programmes is evidenced by students who win national prizes, including those presented by the BPS Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group  and BPS PG thesis award.

Advice from our current PGRs

If you love research, and are considering a PhD, its important to take some time and think about whether a PhD is right for you. We asked our current PGRs to tell us a bit about their experience, and for some advise for people considering undertaking a PhD

Studying for a PhD within Psychology at Northumbria is great. There is loads of support available throughout the department, and plenty of opportunities to socialise, but there’s also the freedom to escape into your thoughts if you’re more of a lone-wolf worker (like me!).

The thing I enjoy most about studying for a PhD is having the opportunity to explore my own research ideas and to see them develop into detailed studies.  I chose to pursue a PhD because I wanted to invest time in an activity which required a lot of thought, which seems a rarity in life today.  

For people considering a PhD, I would recommend asking yourself two questions: 1) Does the prospect of spending 3 years of your life in research excite you? and 2) Is there an overall research topic that you feel you could happily sink your teeth into for 3 years? If you answer ‘no’ to either question, don’t do a PhD.

Richard Brown

I really enjoy being able to solely research a topic that I am extremely interested in. It not only provides me with the opportunity to explore a topic of such importance, childhood obesity, but in doing so allows me to meet and network with some many other people in the field. It is exciting to know that the research you are doing could have such a profound impact on health practices moving forward.

I chose to study a PhD, because I had experience of being a research assistant at NU and really enjoyed it and wanted to continue along the research path. Since starting my undergraduate degree at Northumbria, I have always been interested in eating disorders and body image research, so when the opportunity came up to be involved in developing an intervention for childhood obesity, I took it.

If you are considering a PhD, I would say do it! Be prepared that it is going to be hard work and there will be challenging days, but when you’re researching a topic that you are passionate about, it really helps. It will all be worth it in the end.

The PhD community at NU are very supportive, and everyone is always there for each other for both research and emotional support. The staff have a great level of expertise in their field of research, and there is always someone who can help.

Beth Ridley

Applying for a PhD Position in Psychology

PGR students are a central part of our research culture and the University provides a Research Development Fund offering fully funded studentships. This includes funding for the tuition plus a stipend to support your living costs. These are opportunities designed by a member of staff (or a team of staff), which have been reviewed within the department and selected through a competitive process. We then advertise these projects to prospective students, and then the candidate and the project are put forward to the university who make the final decision about whether the project will be funded.

In addition, staff often receive funding from other sources to support PhD programmes and these are then advertised via the university’s research degree opportunity pages.

Students are also able to self-fund research degrees, or contact relevant staff members to discuss applications for funding if you have particular ideas. We’d always recommend discussing it with a member of staff first, but details of how to apply for self-funded PhDs can be found here.

Read more about our current opportunities here

In the department of psychology, we currently have six funded PhD opportunities advertised with a deadline of 18th February 2022. We’ve created a blog for each one below. You can find more information about the application process here

Developing a Framework of Community Well-being in Universities (Supervised by Dr Alyson Dodd)

Misogyny Online: Why does it happen and how can we stop it? (Supervised by Dr Genavee Brown)

Understanding the nature of sleep disturbances in caregivers for people with dementia with Lewy bodies (Supervised by Dr Greg Elder)

Languageless visual messages to prevent Covid-19 transmission (Supervised by Dr Nicki O’Brien)

Coordination in Context (Supervised by Dr Merryn Constable)

Understanding persuasive effects of message framing for vaccination uptake in university students (Supervised by Dr Angela Rodrigues)

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