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PhD application process

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Applying for PhD study at Otago

Applications for PhD study and scholarships can be received at any time, and it is also possible to start your doctoral study at any time during the year.

PhD study at Otago requires some previous substantial research experience; this typically consists of an honours dissertation or master’s thesis (or international equivalent) and/or publications in peer-reviewed academic journals. Students with less substantial research experience are usually advised to complete a research Master’s degree before considering doctoral-level study.

Please note that it is possible to apply for PhD study if you are near to, but yet to complete your qualifying degree, or, in the case of non-native English speakers, have not yet met the English language requirements for entry. In such cases, conditional admission to the PhD programme may be granted, but full admission (required to officially begin PhD study) will only be permitted once the qualifying degree is completed satisfactorily and/or English language requirements are met.

Step 1: finding a supervisor and a department

The first step in applying for PhD study is to make contact with a potential department to see if they have the resources and supervisory expertise to assist you with your proposed research. If a department has a PhD or Postgraduate Coordinator, we recommend contacting that person in the first instance, otherwise it is acceptable to approach a potential supervisor directly. When approaching a department or supervisor, we recommend an email introducing yourself and your research interests and asking if supervision may be possible; you should also attach a brief CV and, if possible, a scanned academic transcript. If English is your second language, we also recommend providing information on your English language competence in your CV, including standards achieved in any formal tests taken (see required English language standards elsewhere on this website).

In addition to identifying potential supervisors by visiting departmental web pages, the University also has a searchable expertise database, which allows users to enter research-related keywords (e.g. “cancer”) to identify researchers interested in that area. Even if making initial contact with a PhD coordinator, you may want to consider potential supervisors suitable to your interests from the outset, and suggest such potential supervisors when contacting the coordinator.

If a department expresses interest in your proposed study, they will guide you through the next stages of application, which will hopefully culminate in informal departmental acceptance of your PhD project and/or an endorsement to proceed to a formal application for admission. Processes for reaching this stage can vary across departments: some will require reasonably fully developed research proposals, which may need to be assessed by a departmental committee, while others may grant acceptance on the basis of a broad research outline which can be further developed after admission. Note that it is possible to receive supervision from more than one department if this is deemed to be useful or appropriate for your research.

Before proceeding to formal admission it is also important to get a sense of how well you and your proposed supervisor will be able to work together. The supervisory relationship is a key determinant of a successful and enjoyable PhD experience, and so it is important that both parties feel they will be able to have a productive relationship. If possible, we recommend meeting with your proposed supervisor and also asking them about their approach to supervision. If there are any concerns about the ability to work together, these should be addressed now, or alternative supervisory arrangements considered.


Step 2: formal application for PhD study and scholarship funding

Please click on this link to view a flow chart showing the PhD application process.

Once a department informally accepts your project, you can proceed to formal application for PhD admission. Note that it is also possible to apply for a scholarship to support your studies as part of the application process.

Formal application for PhD study should be made online, via the PhD qualification page. Required documents, including a scholarship application form, may be uploaded as part of this process. You will need to provide:

  • Original or certified copies of all tertiary-level academic transcripts and grading schemes
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Preliminary research outline

Depending on your circumstances, you may also need or wish to provide:

  • A part-time statement indicating that you have sufficient time and intellectual and social support to complete your PhD in a timely manner
  • An off-campus statement if your research will involve substantial periods of time off-campus
  • Doctoral Scholarship application form if applying for a scholarship as part of your application
  • For international students (if applicable): an original copy of English language results - for non-native English speakers; and a course-by-course Educational Credentials Evaluation (ECE) - for some international candidates. See the international postgraduate page for further details.

International applicants who are new to the University of Otago should also be aware of particular requirements for international students.

Processing of PhD and Scholarship applications may take several weeks. Once your application has been considered by the Graduate Research Committee and, if applicable, the Scholarships Committee, the Doctoral and Scholarships Office or the International Office will contact you to inform you of the Committee's decision(s).

  • If you have further queries about the PhD admission process, please contact the Doctoral and Scholarships Office, email phd@otago.ac.nz.
  • The Doctoral and Scholarships Office can also help with PhD scholarship enquiries, email scholarships@otago.ac.nz.
  • For queries about the international admission process, please contact the International Office; email international.admissions@otago.ac.nz