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The nature of the degree

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Otago involves supervised research over a period of approximately three years, leading to the generation of a thesis. The thesis may include a nominated creative component (e.g, a live performance; theatre; dance and music; visual art and craft; creative writing; indigenous traditional practice; media production; creative on-line content; or other forms appropriate to the discipline). There is no course work, although candidates may be required to take certain papers in order to gain specific knowledge or expertise to complete their research satisfactorily. Candidates are not permitted to take additional courses without the approval of the Graduate Research Committee. Also, candidates may not enrol simultaneously in two degrees without the prior approval of the Committee.

The minimum period of study is 2.5 years of full-time study (2.5 EFTS) and the maximum period is 4 years of full-time study (4 EFTS). Extension of study beyond this period (equivalent to 4 EFTS) is only permitted with the approval of the Senate. The University expects, as a norm, that a PhD will take three years of full-time study to complete. The course may not exceed 8 calendar years from the date of first admission.

The thesis is examined by one overseas examiner, one New Zealand examiner from outside the University of Otago, and one internal examiner. For candidates enrolling before 2014, an oral examination could be held as part of the examination process, while for those who enrolled in 2014 on, an oral examination will normally be part of the examination process.

A successful PhD thesis will demonstrate the candidate's ability to conduct original research and to present the findings of that research to a professional standard. The thesis should give evidence that the candidate has made a significant contribution to knowledge in the particular field. On the award of the degree, the graduate should be a person capable of conceiving, designing and carrying out high-quality research in the area of their expertise without supervision.

Examiners of PhD theses are asked specifically to respond to the following questions:

  • Does the thesis comprise a coherent investigation of the chosen topic?
  • Does the thesis deal with a topic of sufficient range and complexity to meet the requirements of the degree?
  • Does the thesis make an original contribution to knowledge in its field and contain material suitable for publication in an appropriate academic journal?
  • Does the thesis meet internationally recognised standards for the conduct and presentation of research in its field?
  • Does the thesis demonstrate both a thorough knowledge of the literature relevant to its subject and general field and the candidate's ability to exercise critical and analytical judgement of that literature?
  • Does the thesis display a mastery of appropriate methodology and/or theoretical material?


As the highest degree awarded by the University of Otago for research supervised by members of the academic staff, the PhD requires a high degree of scholarly acumen, independence and perseverance.

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