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Looking to apply as a PhD candidate at Otago? Make sure you read the Summary Information sheet below thoroughly before applying for candidature, and familiarise yourself with the PhD Study at Otago section of this website.

Read the Summary Information sheet (PDF)

Entry requirements

A person wishing to be admitted as a candidate for the PhD is expected to have:

  • a bachelor's degree with first or upper second class honours (with an average grade in honours papers at or equivalent to at least B+ at the University of Otago) or equivalent (including a research component with an average grade at or equivalent to at least B+ at the University of Otago); or
  • a master's degree (with an average grade at or equivalent to at least B+ at the University of Otago) (including an appropriate research component worth at least a quarter of a year's workload (0.25 EFTS), with a grade at or equivalent to at least B+ at the University of Otago;  possession of a master's degree or other postgraduate qualification (such as a professional diploma) which does not have a substantial research component will not automatically be regarded as a qualification for entry to the PhD programme); and
  • for candidates including a nominated creative component for assessment, demonstrated advanced training or experiences in a relevant creative practice. More information on specific pathways into a PhD is provided below.

In special circumstances, a candidate who does not have these formal qualifications but can demonstrate appropriate equivalent research experience will also be considered for admission.

The University also has a joint MBChB/PhD programme whereby a medical student who has completed a year of study for the degree of Bachelor of Medical Science (with Honours) but has not been awarded that degree, may be accepted as a PhD candidate. This programme of study must be approved by both the Board of the Faculty of Medicine and the Graduate Research Committee.

Acceptance as a candidate also depends on the University's ability to offer expert supervision and provide the necessary resources to support the intended research project.

Candidates not meeting the requirements for admission to the PhD may wish to consider Master's study as an alternative. Completion of such study that includes a thesis will usually allow subsequent doctoral-level study, and in some circumstances it may also be possible to upgrade a master's degree to a PhD (complete a degree begun as a master's at PhD level).

University of Otago honours degrees

Otago honours degrees awarded at upper second class level or higher allow entry to the PhD, so long as they contain a significant research component (i.e. an honours dissertation)

University of Otago masters' degrees

Assuming reasonable grades are achieved (overall grade point average of B+ or better and B+ or better for the research component), and a substantive research project is involved (at least 0.25 EFTS workload), students with an Otago master's degree may have direct entry into PhD study. It is expected that coursework in research methodology will have been completed at either undergraduate or postgraduate level.

Other Otago degrees

Some other Otago degrees, for example postgraduate diplomas with dissertations, may also allow entry to the PhD. This will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. An alternative degree must include a supervised research component at least equivalent to an honours dissertation and research methods study is also recommended.

Qualifications from other New Zealand Universities

As qualifications at other New Zealand Universities are usually very similar to those at Otago, the same rules apply as those listed above for Otago degrees. Note that an honours or master's degree must include a supervised research component at least equivalent to an Otago honours dissertation and previous research methods study is recommended.

International qualifications

International qualifications will be assessed in terms of their broad equivalence to Otago honours or masters' degrees. A qualifying degree must include a supervised research component such as a substantial thesis or dissertation and previous research methods study is recommended. Usually it would be expected that at least four years of tertiary study had been completed prior to embarking on a PhD.

If unsure of the equivalence of an international qualification to an Otago degree, it is recommended that potential supervisors view an applicant's previous research in order to check that it is at least comparable to an Otago honours dissertation (i.e. of similar length and academic rigour). It is likewise recommended that applicants have an electronic version of their previous research available in case they are asked to provide this. If the previous research is not easily accessible or is in a language other than English, it is recommended that the applicant provide a brief summary to their potential supervisor, including a description of the research carried out, the length of time spent on the project, and the size of the resulting thesis or dissertation.

Entry based on research experience outside of study

University graduates who have not completed significant research as part of their previous study may still be considered for entry to the PhD if they have subsequent work-based research experience, including research outputs. Usually, such outputs must consist of peer-reviewed, academic publications. Note that industry-based (non-academic) research is not considered sufficient to allow admission to the PhD.

Admission to the PhD degree

In order to engage in study towards a PhD, it is necessary both to be admitted to the programme and enrolled as a student of the University. Admission occurs once, at the beginning of a candidature. It involves an academic decision about the prospective student's eligibility for PhD study. Enrolment follows admission and is a University requirement which occurs each year (or part year) until the thesis is submitted for examination.

A student may usually be admitted as a candidate for a PhD by one of two means: direct admission, or upgrading from a current University of Otago research master's degree or (in special circumstances) a Bachelor of Medical Science with Honours.

Direct Admission

This is the normal category of admission to PhD study. Applicants should apply for direct admission once their thesis topic, preliminary outline (approximately 500 words, but some departments may require a full research proposal) and supervisory arrangements have been finalised, and once a department has informally agreed to support their candidacy.

In order to be considered for direct admission into the PhD programme, applicants should apply online via the PhD qualification page.

See details in Step 2: Formal application for PhD study and scholarship funding

Upgrade from Master's to PhD

In certain exceptional circumstances, students enrolled in a University of Otago research master's degree may be permitted to upgrade their studies to a PhD degree. An upgrade may only occur if it is fully supported by the student's supervisor and approved by the Head of the Department, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor and the Graduate Research Committee.

In order to be considered for an upgrade, applicants should apply online via the PhD qualification page, click on the Apply Now button and this will take you through to the eVision application.

Objective evidence of the candidate's ability to satisfactorily complete a PhD degree will be required from the primary supervisor who must complete an assessment in eVision of the candidate's ability to perform at doctoral level. The most robust evidence is the publication of a paper in a journal, however a presentation at a conference or an address at a departmental seminar can also be used in the upgrade application. Where a presentation or seminar is used, an independent assessment of the quality of the work should be included in the application. In other words, for a transfer to occur, while the opinion of a supervisor is highly valued, there does need to be additional support.

  • In assessing an application for an upgrade, the Graduate Research Committee will consider whether the applicant has:
  • chosen an appropriate PhD research topic of sufficient scope
  • gained satisfactory knowledge of the background literature and is able to relate the project to existing scholarship and research in the field
  • started to work at a PhD level, especially in terms of theoretical insights and conceptual frameworks
  • the ability to exercise independent critical powers
  • the ability to make a significant contribution to subject knowledge in the research field
  • adequate training in research techniques and methodology
  • planned a suitable research programme likely to achieve a PhD conclusion

Master's upgrades will not normally be considered until at least 8 months of master's thesis work has been completed. When a candidate upgrades from a master's degree to a PhD, it is expected that the work already completed on the master's will contribute towards that PhD. Upgrading student's receiving a University of Otago master's scholarship (or equivalent named scholarship) will have their scholarship upgraded automatically to a doctoral-level scholarship; other students may apply for a doctoral-level scholarship at the point of upgrade. In either case, completed Master's thesis work will be factored into the tenure of any doctoral scholarship offer, with the tenure not exceeding three (full-time equivalent) years from the start of the thesis master's. For example, a student who has completed twelve months of master's thesis study will receive a maximum of 24 months of doctoral scholarship funding from the point of upgrade.

Following an upgrade, if a candidate submits their thesis prior to 3 equivalent full-time years of combined master's and PhD enrolment, the supervisor(s) and the Head of Department need to argue a case for early submission to the Graduate Research Committee.

PhD transfer from another institution

In certain circumstances, PhD candidates may be able to transfer their PhD to Otago from another institution. They should apply for admission in the normal way, but they will need to supply additional documentation, depending on whether they will be continuing the same research at Otago, or if they will be starting a different project:

  • If starting a different project, they will need to supply (in addition to the usual documents PhD applicants must provide) an academic transcript from their current institution that shows they have withdrawn from the PhD there.
  • If continuing the same research, they will still need to supply a transcript showing they have withdrawn, but it will also need to show their PhD start date, withdrawal date and all periods of enrolment. This allows the University to calculate the time already spent on their PhD, which would be counted towards their total at Otago. For instance, if they had spent 24 months full-time on their PhD already, then they would enrol at Otago with a total of 2 EFTS already used. They will also need to provide permission in writing from their current institution, for them to transfer the research they conducted while there, to the University of Otago.
  • Depending on the circumstances, the University may also request copies of their progress reports from their current institution.

Candidates are advised to wait until they are accepted into the doctoral programme at Otago before formally withdrawing from their current PhD, so if approved, admission is made conditional on supplying evidence of withdrawal (i.e.: this evidence does not need to be provided when they first apply).

Distance study

PhD study must normally take place (except for periods of approved research related travel) at the campus of your primary Department. In exceptional circumstances, distance study (at another location in New Zealand, or overseas) may be approved, on admission to the PhD degree. Requests for distance study must be supported by a Distance Plan, prepared by the primary supervisor. The purpose of a distance plan is to demonstrate that the logistics of supervision at a distance have been considered and agreed, and to assure the Graduate Research Committee that the candidate has sufficient support in place.

A distance plan should answer the following questions:

  • Where will the candidate be based?
  • Will there be a local co-supervisor?
  • Will the candidate be affiliated with any other institution?
  • How will supervision at a distance work (e.g. frequency of meetings, Skype, etc.)?
  • Any other relevant information.


In addition to the specific requirements for entrance into the PhD programme, the normal entrance requirements of the University as stated in the University Calendar apply.

All applications for admission must be endorsed by the relevant Head(s) of Department, Dean and/or Pro-Vice-Chancellor. Applications are then considered by the Graduate Research Committee, which meets once a month. Once approval for admission has been granted, and the candidate confirms their start date with their supervisor, the candidate's enrolment as a student of the University will be processed. The official PhD start date is normally the first of the month after the application is approved by the Graduate Research Committee unless a later date is requested.

How to apply for admission to the PhD degree

We welcome applications for PhD study and scholarships throughout the year. You may also choose to start your PhD study at any time during the year.

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: Find a department and supervisor

Make contact with a potential department to discuss your proposed research area. Enquire to see if there is a Postgraduate Coordinator for the department, because they will be the best person to first contact. 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 copy of your full academic record
  • Your Curriculum Vitae
  • Your past dissertation or thesis and any relevant research publications
  • Details of any funding support which has been obtained or is being sought; and
  • 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

Read about the required English language standards elsewhere on this website

In some circumstances, and if supported by your prospective supervisor, it may be possible to apply for a waiver of the normal English language standards.

Information about the English language waiver application process for PhD students

The University has a searchable database of staff that may help with finding a suitable supervisor by entering keywords relating to your research interest, but this is not comprehensive so you should check the website of individual departments. Be sure to see our information on working with supervisors before confirming your decisions.

A departmental nominee - usually the Postgraduate Co-ordinator - should respond to you, 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 you of your 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 a department expresses interest in your proposed study, they will guide you through the next stages of application.

Step 2: Submit application through eVision

If you are an international student you should make an international enquiry through AskOtago before submitting your application.

Once a department informally accepts your project, you can proceed to the formal application for PhD admission. This must be done online: go to the University PhD qualification page and follow the appropriate "Apply Now" link. This will take you to eVision to continue with the process.

You will need to provide:

  • Original or certified copies of all tertiary-level academic transcripts and grading schemes
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Preliminary research outline. PhD applicants wanting to present a nominated creative component as part of their thesis must include details for this component in their initial research proposal prior to admission into the University of Otago PhD programme. This would include a brief description of the expected creative outputs for examination (e.g. performance, exhibition, design, novel, film, carving, etc), expected resources required by the research, and an indication of how theoretical and practical components will be integrated.

Your supervising department will need to provide (uploaded by them at a later stage as part of their approval, see below):

  • Departmental support letter
  • Additional support letters/references. These are required a) if applying for a scholarship; b) if  changing department at Otago, and c) if applying on the basis of a non-Otago degree. Your department will acquire these letters/references through referee contact details that you supply (as opposed to you supplying the letters/references directly).

Depending on your circumstances, you may also need or wish to provide any of the following:

  • 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
  • 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.
    Find out more on the International postgraduate page

Find out about particular requirements for international students who are new to the University of Otago

Processing of PhD applications may take several weeks. Once your application has been considered by the Graduate Research Committee you will be contacted to inform you of the Committee's decision(s).

Find out more about the Graduate Research Committee

Step 3: Apply for scholarship (if applicable)

At the end of the application process you will be sent a message asking if you would like to apply for a scholarship.

Step 4: Wait for outcome of PhD application

Once submitted, the application will go to the Student Experience Group, who will guide it through the following steps:

  • Send to department for approval.
  • Returned to Student Experience Group and processed.
  • Assessed by the Graduate Research Committee.
  • Sent back to Student Experience Group.
  • Result updated in eVision.

When eVision is updated, you will receive an email with the result of the application.

Step 5: Wait for outcome of scholarship application (if applicable)

Scholarships application meetings occur quarterly (approximately every 3 months), so you may hear the result of your PhD application before receiving news on your scholarship.

Step 6: Accept offer in eVision

When you have received the results of both your PhD and scholarship applications, log in to eVision and accept (or decline) the offer, then follow the enrolment instructions given in the offer letter.

Step 7: Complete declaration in eVision

Once again log in to eVision and complete your declaration.

Congratulations, you are now enrolled and ready to begin your PhD journey!

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