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Initial approaches

A person interested in undertaking a PhD should supply the following information to the Department that they propose to study in:

  • Certified copy of full academic record
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Proposed area of research (with as much detail as possible so that the relevant academic department can assess whether expert supervision and practical support is available)
  • Past dissertation or thesis and any relevant research publications
  • Details of any funding support which has been obtained or is being sought


A departmental nominee - usually the Postgraduate Co-ordinator - will respond to the prospective candidate, supplying details of the research interests and expertise of departmental staff and providing other information about research in the department, as appropriate. Ideally, this initial response should also give a first indication to the prospective student of his or her suitability for PhD study and of the department's ability to offer supervision and support in the proposed area of research. The Postgraduate Co-ordinator should also be able to suggest alternatives (e.g. that another type of degree might be more appropriate, or that another topic might be more viable) where the initial enquiry raises immediate difficulties.

Preliminary discussions will normally be informal, involving prospective supervisors as well as the Postgraduate Co-ordinator. It is important from the outset that all parties are honest and explicit about the various requirements associated with the PhD. If the candidate is not in Dunedin, a web conference is strongly recommended in order to be assured of communication skills and likely fit with the department. In particular, the parties to initial discussions should be prepared to address the following issues:

Concerning the student

  • Is the student qualified?
  • (Note: students with qualifications from overseas institutions may need to have these assessed by an independent evaluation service and, like graduates of other New Zealand universities, will need to be admitted to the University ad eundem statum i.e. their qualifications are considered to be equivalent to the New Zealand entrance requirement).
  • Has the candidate demonstrated sufficient capability for research? (Prospective supervisors are strongly encouraged to read theses or research reports and gain academic references for the candidate)
  • Does the student appear well motivated?
  • Would the candidate be better advised to undertake a Master's degree rather than embark directly on a PhD?
  • Are the candidate's English language capabilities acceptable? (Students whose qualifications are gained outside New Zealand and whose first language is not English or Māori must provide evidence of competence and understanding of written and spoken English. This evidence must be in the form of certified results in the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Test System (IELTS) or an equivalent test or qualification recognised by the Senate. Minimum entry requirements apply – please contact the International Office for further details).

Email international@otago.ac.nz

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Concerning supervision and support

  • Can the student's proposed area of research interest be matched with expertise within the department?
  • Would it be advisable for the student to have a supervisor and/or adviser from another department?
  • Are the supervisors properly qualified?
  • Does the workload of the supervisors permit regular meetings and prompt attention to the work of the student?
  • What is the past record of the supervisors with regard to PhD students?
  • Do the supervisors have any forseeable commitments (such as Research and Study Leave) that will impact on supervision?
  • What facilities and other resources would be needed to meet the practical requirements of the proposed project? How will these be accessed or obtained?

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Concerning the project

  • Is the project one that is likely to yield a good thesis?
  • Is the project of a scope which will allow it to be successfully completed in three years?
  • Will the project require fieldwork? If so, what are the likely demands of that fieldwork on the student?
  • Will the project require approval from an ethics committee?


At this stage, it is essential that questions be asked in an open, direct way by all concerned and that no false expectatons are generated.

If all parties agree that the basic requirements for admission can be met, an application should be prepared.

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