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A doctorate is the highest research qualification obtainable within the university system. Completing a PhD typically takes 3–4 years, and involves developing, conducting and writing up original research in a thesis that contributes significantly to the student's chosen field.

A PhD enables you to become a leader in science and a member of the next generation of researchers, and is a required qualification for most University academic positions. However, a PhD in physics can also lead to many other high level careers in industry, business, government, and private scientific institutions.

See our Careers page for more information.


Entry to the PhD programme is determined on the basis of the student's performance in one of the following:

  • BSc Honours (with research component)
  • MSc degree (with research component)
  • Equivalent research experience

The formal entry decision is made by the University's Graduate Research Committee, who must be satisfied that the student has demonstrated the ability to complete a successful doctorate.

Requirements for degree

The degree is awarded on the basis of a thesis presented after a minimum of two and a half years of full-time research or four years of part-time research. The maximum period for the degree is normally eight years.

The research is conducted under the supervision of one or more members of the academic staff of the Department of Physics. Usually there is one primary supervisor and a secondary supervisor, but in some cases an additional joint supervisor from another department or research organization may also be appointed.

For some students who require specific background for their chosen thesis area, one or two graduate (400 level) papers may be required.

Probation and Annual Progress Reviews

The first year of a PhD is probationary, and continuation beyond one year is dependent on the student demonstrating satisfactory progress to their PhD committee. The PhD committee includes the supervisors and other academic staff members assigned by the Head of the Physics Department. The committee meets at least twice with the student in the first year, and assesses progress and helps identify problems or difficulties that may arise. Most students continue their programme and then meet annually with their committee to ensure the project is on track.

Some recent PhD theses from our department


Winter sea ice growth in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica
Sea ice near an ice shelf
The 17–19 January 2005 atmospheric electron precipitation event

Instrumentation and Inference

Application of Markov Chain Monte Carlo methods in electrical impedance tomography

Energy Studies

Renewable energy projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
An investigation on the co-production of biodiesel and methane from microalgae
Theoretical & experimental investigations of transient Rayleigh-Benard-Marangoni convection enhanced mass transfer
Numerical study of heat pump contact drying

Experimental Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics

Quantum computing hardware based on Rare-Earth-Ion doped Whispering-Gallery mode resonators
Optical rephasing techniques with Rare Earth Ion dopants for applications in quantum information science
Optical motion detection
Isolating and manipulating single atoms
A versatile collider for ultracold atoms

Quantum Theory

Theoretical Study of the Trapped Dipolar Bose Gas in the Ultra-Cold Regime
The Hartree-Fock-Bogoliubov theory of BEC
Dynamic effects of a feshbach resonance on Bragg scattering from a Bose-Einstein Condensate
Theory of cold dipolar and toroidal gases
Anomalous Dissipation in Bose Gases: Analytic Theory of Energy Damping
Quantum Analogues of Two-Dimensional Classical Turbulence

Applying to do a PhD

Applications from well-qualified candidates for PhD study in Physics are welcome at any time. The degree can commence at any time during the year, and applicants may be of any nationality. Please follow the steps outlined below.

  1. The central objective of a PhD is to conduct original research, and your choice of research area is the critical first step. You will need a supervisor from amongst our current academic staff with expertise within that area. The research interests and expertise of our staff can be found in a number of places on our website:
    • Our Research, which gives the general areas of research and provides internal links to individual research groups.
    • Research Expertise, which has a table of key words and links to staff profiles.
  2. When you have chosen a research area of interest, send an email to our Research Committee at stating that you are interested in applying to do a PhD in our department, noting the area you wish to work in, and naming the staff member(s) you are interested in working with. Please include the following information:

    • a recent academic CV,
    • academic record with explanation of grading
    • your country of citizenship,
    • contact information for at least two academic referees, and
    • a brief statement of why you want to study for a PhD in our department.
  3. You will shortly be informed by our Departmental Research Committee as to whether or not there is a staff member who wishes to consider you as a potential PhD student. If no staff member is available then unfortunately your application cannot proceed further.
  4. The interested staff member will contact you to discuss your application, and potential projects.
  5. Once you have obtained agreement from a staff member to supervise your PhD, you now submit an application to University of Otago for entry to the PhD programme, and usually also for a University of Otago Doctoral Scholarship. Your supervisor will assist you to write the section on the thesis proposal.
  6. International students will need to provide certified evidence of English language proficiency.

    Read further important information on language proficiency

Scholarships and Fees

Typically our PhD students apply for a University of Otago Doctoral Scholarship, which is merit based, has a duration of three years, and is open to all nationalities. The scholarship pays the tuition fees and students find they can live comfortably in Dunedin on the scholarship stipend. Some staff members may be able to provide scholarships from their research grants.

International students

The Physics department, and the University, welcome international students.

A lot of useful information can be found on the international student web page

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