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How to get your PhD in Australia

With unique PhD opportunities in everything from anthropology to zoology, excellent post-grad study visas and a country full of opportunity, it’s the ideal location for your PhD. Australia’s focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) and environmental issues make it one of the foremost research destinations in the world.

Benefits and job outcomes of studying your PhD in Australia

Your PhD can help you to get employment in Australia, and can be a pathway to permanent residency. Choosing the right area of study can give you specialised, in-demand knowledge that employers and Australia need.

There are a range of occupations on the Australian medium to long term skills shortage list. Studying in these areas strengthens the likelihood of gaining relevant employment after your PhD is complete, and this gives you an advantage for PR.

Australia also offers a generous graduate visa (485) that allows you to stay in the country once your degree is complete. It gives you time to find a job in your field and apply for a permanent visa. Once you’ve found employment, the visa system in Australia is points-based. Higher levels of education and studying within Australia award you more points, strengthening your application.

PhD Duration in Australia

An Australian PhD, when studying full-time, takes around three years. While some students can study part-time and stretch the PhD over six years, international students must study full-time as part of their visa conditions.

PhD Structure in Australia

The Australian PhD is usually a pure research qualification. While there may be some taught modules or units, most of the course will be spent working towards your doctoral thesis. Once you have a thesis supervisor and have decided on your topic together, you’ll complete a literature review, then begin your own original research. This requires analysis of source materials, producing experimental results or collective survey data.

PhD Assessment and Examination Process in Australia

You will be required to submit your thesis, which is generally around 80,000 – 100,000 words. There can also be practical components or presentations depending on the topic you have researched.

Often, you will be required to submit your thesis defence, or ‘viva voce’. This is when the student orally presents the thesis to a board of assessors, who will ask questions and require that you defend your process and results.

Sometimes, due to distance and isolation, viva voce is not required in Australia. Instead, your thesis will be sent to external examiners, who will study it and submit their written report on it. This process may take several months. The outcome of your thesis will be one of the following options:

  • A pass: Awarded a doctorate without corrections
  • Pass with minor corrections: Minor amendments noted
  • Pass with major revisions: Amendments noted in the thesis
  • Revise and re-examination: Requires the student to re-enrol for up to 12 months. The thesis will be resubmitted after changes are made as outlined by the examiners. Once changes are made and all concerns addressed, the thesis is re-examined in its entirety.
  • Denial of PhD: Rare

PhD Fees in Australia

Fees are high in Australia, but there are often funding and grants available to help subsidise the cost. International students can expect to pay between AU$18,000 and $42,000 a year. However, if your topic has funding attached, such as an in a high-demand STEM topic, the cost could be reduced considerably.

  • Australian universities may fund scholarships, and these can be accessed through the university itself or you can check out PhD funded projects looking for candidates.

Students are also expected to pay for their cost of living, with the government anticipating the average cost of living requiring AU$21,041 a year.

Admission Requirements for a PhD in Australia

In general, the first step for your PhD application is finding a potential supervisor. Universities won’t usually accept applications from international students who have not done this. Find someone in your field who is a lead researcher for an area of research related to your proposed topic. Send them an email, clearly outlining your interests and project idea.

  • Concisely show the link between your proposed topic, and their research
  • Outline your area of interest of study and proposed topics
  • Show awareness for current debates and study within that field
  • Identify any gaps in current knowledge
  • Suggest your relevant research hypothesis that can fill one of these gaps
  • Explain your intended approach to methodology
  • Discuss implications for your research in the real world.

The university may then indicate they want to interview you online. This is a positive sign and indicates they think there is potential.

Once the supervisor has expressed an interest, you can formally apply to their university. Each university has their own requirements, but it’s likely you’ll need:

  • an existing bachelor’s and master’s degree in an appropriate subject
  • evidence of your qualifications
  • your research proposal
  • a personal statement
  • professional and/or academic references
  • evidence of English ability with an IELTS, TOEFL, CAE or PTE test

Start applications at least four months prior to your intended PhD start date.

How can you prepare for an interview?

The most important step in your PhD journey is finding your supervisor and thesis topic. The interview will be a crucial step in this journey. Preparing for this, and putting thought into the following questions, may help you.

  1. Why do you want to do a PhD?

There is no right or wrong answer to this. Your answer should address your passion, motivation, and also your ability to complete the PhD. This is a big undertaking and the interviewers need to know you have the drive to see this through to a successful completion.

2. Why are you interested in this program?

Why did you choose this university? Why is it special or unique in its field? Are their certain supervisors or professors who are outstanding in their field? Are your goals aligned with theirs? Prove to the interviewers that you don’t just want a PhD; you want one from this institution.

3. What experience makes you a good candidate?

While the interviewers will have read your CV/ Resume, this is your opportunity to ensure they understand your skills, strengths, and qualifications. Have you got examples from your bachelor’s degree or employment experience that makes you an ideal candidate for a PhD at their university?

4. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Choose a strength that specifically relates to your PhD; are you a meticulous researcher? Do you love to understand the underlying reasons why things happen? Use some examples of a time this strength has helped you.

Be honest and choose a weakness you’re aware of. Talk about some examples, and the steps you are taking to overcome this. Do you procrastinate, so you have to set micro-goals?

5. Tell us about a time you experienced a setback

Completing a PhD is a long, meticulous, often frustrating slog. You’re going to encounter a lot of problems. Provide an answer from your academic journey that shows your resourcefulness, ability to use your initiative, and how you overcame the problem.

What PhD topics can you study in Australia?

The most common PhD programs in Australia are health, legal, education, engineering and biology/ biomedical sciences.

Health professions

From doctors to nursing, across a broad spectrum of physical and mental illnesses, PhDs are a valuable addition for those in the medical profession. Topics can include:

  • Biochemistry
  • Epidemiology
  • Environmental health
  • Genetics
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathology
  • Immunology
  • Biotechnology

Engineering professions

A field that’s in demand world-wide, engineering has scope to specialise in:

  • Civil engineering
  • Computer engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Geological engineering
  • Petroleum engineering

Education professions

There are a range of specialties:

  • Educational administration and policy
  • Education policy
  • Early Childhood education
  • Teacher leadership
  • Higher education

Legal professions

A common PhD in law is the Juris Doctor (JD), but there is also the opportunity to complete a Doctor of Philosophy in some universities. A JD usually study general topics before choosing an area of interest such as business or public law. A PH.D in law is available after a JD graduates and allows trained lawyers to research a particular area of concern.

Biological and biomedical professions

With a combination of lab research and advanced coursework, PhD programs in offer several areas of specialisation.

  • Developmental biology
  • Biochemistry and molecular biology
  • Cancer biology
  • Virology
  • Genetics and genomics
  • Pathology
  • Gene therapy
  • Neurobiology of disease

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