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Overview of the PhD Programme

Why study for a PhD?

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is one of the highest degrees offered by the University of Otago. A PhD requires highly developed academic ability, independence and perseverance. Embarking on a PhD or doctorate requires commitment, enthusiasm and the ability to motivate yourself over 3-4 years of hard work. This means that the benefits of gaining such a qualification are many:

  • Gain specialist knowledge in your subject area, and work towards becoming an expert in your field
  • Develop advanced research skills and the ability to design, implement, and communicate research projects
  • Develop a host of transferable skills
  • Learn to think in-depth, and from different angles and perspectives
  • Achieve the advantage in a competitive job market, in an economy that is becoming increasingly knowledge-based
  • Make a positive impact on our society, economy, and the environment, through your research

Click here for some examples of PhD Graduate Profiles from our past students.

What does a PhD involve?

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy or PhD at the University of Otago involves supervised research over a period of approximately 3-4 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 normally no course work, although you may be required to take certain papers in order to gain specific knowledge or expertise to complete your research satisfactorily.

The research you wish to undertake should be of a kind which a diligent and competent student might reasonably be expected to complete in about 3 years of full-time study. The minimum period of study is 3 years of full-time study (3 EFTS or 6 years of part-time study) and study may not exceed the equivalent of six years of full time study from the date of first admission. Your thesis must reveal your ability to carry out research. It should also show your originality and independence, and make a significant contribution to knowledge in your chosen field – at least some of your work should be worthy of publication.

Details on the regulations for the PhD can be found here

Click here for information on the attributes of an Otago PhD graduate

What are the attributes of a PhD graduate from Otago?

A graduate who has qualified for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) will demonstrate highly developed and independent skills in the definition, management and communication of original research in a specialist area. A PhD graduate will have made a significant contribution to knowledge in the particular field. On completion of their studies, PhD graduates will be able to:

  • Undertake further advanced research of the highest quality that contributes to knowledge and exhibits authorative international standing in their own subject field
  • Continue developing personally and professionally in their careers
  • Make potentially innovative, and important contributions to the communities and societies in which they reside.

Graduate Attributes

  • SPECIALIST KNOWLEDGE: Capacity to assimilate information at depth in a field of study, and to impart to others a clear understanding of it. Appreciation of the relevance and value of his or her original contribution to facts, theories and practices of the national and international knowledge community.
  • GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE: Highly developed appreciation of global perspectives in the chosen discipline(s) and the nature of global citizenship
  • INTERDISCIPLINARY PERSPECTIVE: Commitment to intellectual openness and curiosity, and the awareness of the limits of current knowledge and of the links amongst disciplines
  • LIFELONG LEARNING: Commitment to the on-going acquisition of new knowledge and new skills, and a highly developed ability to apply these to an ever- changing environment
  • SCHOLARSHIP: Commitment to the fundamental importance of the acquisition and development of knowledge and understanding
  • COMMUNICATION: Highly developed ability to communicate information, arguments and analyses effectively, both orally and in writing
  • CRITICAL THINKING: Highly developed ability to analyse issues logically, to challenge conventional assumptions, to consider different options and viewpoints, make informed decisions and act with flexibility, adaptability and creativity
  • CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING: Knowledge and appreciation of biculturalism within the framework of the Treaty of Waitangi; knowledge and appreciation of multiculturalism; and an ability to apply such knowledge in a culturally appropriate manner.
  • ETHICS: Knowledge of ethics and ethical standards and a highly developed ability to apply these with a sense of responsibility within the workplace and community
  • ENVIRONMENTAL LITERACY: Understanding of the principles that govern natural systems, the effects of human activity on these systems, and the cultures and economies that interact with those systems
  • INFORMATION LITERACY: Highly developed ability to apply specific skills in acquiring, organising, analysing, evaluating and presenting information, in particular recognising the increasing prominence of digital-based activity
  • RESEARCH: Highly developed ability to initiate, design, conduct and report independent and original research, a willingness to seek continuous improvement in research skills and quality of research, and an awareness of the application of knowledge
  • SELF-MOTIVATION: Highly developed ability for self-directed activity and working independently
  • TEAMWORK: Ability to work effectively as both a team leader and a team member
  • LEADERSHIP: Demonstrates leadership within the discipline and within a workplace


The University of Otago offers a large number of PhD scholarships each year, which provide fees and a $27,000 per annum living allowance for up to three years.

Click here for more information on graduate scholarships.

International students

The New Zealand government entitles international PhD candidates to domestic fees status, so long as they are based in New Zealand during their studies. This is a huge advantage over international study in many other countries, where international fees can be much higher than domestic.

Please be aware of the costs of living in New Zealand and other expenses during your studies, outlined on the International website. You will also have meet certain levels of English language requirements, outlined here.

Key Contacts

General enquiries

General administrative enquiries about the PhD and postgraduate scholarships should be directed to AskOtago, by email or call 64 3 479 7000 or 0800 80 80 98.

Specific enquiries

Specific enquiries relating to personal applications for admission or scholarships, changes of research details and examination should be directed to the Student Administration by emailing or

Dean, Graduate Research School

The Dean, Graduate Research School reports to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise). The Dean's prime function are to provide:

  • Leadership in the area of research-only higher degree education in the University
  • Advice on policy initiatives related to graduate research
  • Appropriate support for graduate research students and their supervisors

The Dean is available for private consultation by candidates or staff on matters related to postgraduate research study. To make an appointment with the Dean, please contact:

Tel 64 3 479 5737