PhD and other degrees by research

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) and Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degrees can all be earned at the Western Orthodox University by the submission of a research dissertation or thesis that should contain an original contribution to the subject treated.

In addition, it is possible to complete a research-based master’s degree, typically the Master of Research (M.Res.) or Master of Theology (M.Th.) (first research master’s) or Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) (higher research master’s) and a research-based bachelor’s degree, the Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) The University allows work submitted satisfactorily for a degree at this level to be expanded (where suitable) for a research degree at a higher level.

At the doctoral level, the dissertation should be of a minimum of 80,000 words excluding footnotes, appendices and ancillary material. At the master’s level, the requirement is 50,000 words for the M.Res./M.Th. and 60,000 words for the M.Phil. At the bachelor’s level (B.Phil.), the requirement is 40,000 words. Where the submission includes material in other than written form or the research involves creative writing or the preparation of a scholarly edition, these word lengths are typically reduced by 20,000 words. A full guide to what is expected in terms of presentation standards and referencing is available here.

The demanding standard expected of doctoral students requires them to demonstrate a high level of critical analysis and excellent written communication, as well as research skills and the capacity to plan and execute a major piece of academic work. A doctoral dissertation should be of publishable quality.

How the programme works

Like all of the University’s programmes, there is no formal start date and candidates can enrol at any time of the year. Highly diligent students at the bachelor’s and master’s level may be able to complete their programmes in a year, while a doctoral programme usually takes a minimum of two years to complete. However, the self-paced nature of the programmes means that they can be readily extended beyond these minima, subject to the student remaining in good standing with the requisite annual fees, and there is no officially prescribed maximum length of enrolment. Where credit can be given for previous studies, this may shorten the programme length.

You are expected to have a reasonably clear idea of your proposed research topic before applying. In some cases, this may be directly influenced by the scholarly interests of available mentors. It is usual for some mentor-candidate discussion to take place before enrolment, and many mentors are happy to be contacted by potential research students. The University is open both to conventional academic proposals and to others that may be seen as more unusual or progressive in nature. As an independent institution, we are not constrained by external influences and can accommodate cross-disciplinary and unconventional topics and approaches.

Research programmes begin by defining the research topic and establishing an appropriate methodology and timeline. There is a degree of flexibility in these matters to allow for any subsequent revision that may be found necessary, but the main intent is to ensure firstly that the University has the capacity to offer the necessary academic support for the topic in question, and secondly to ensure that the student is able to view their studies as a structured and directed programme where the sizeable nature of the task at hand is made manageable. The research proposal, once formalized, is reviewed by the Senate and, if satisfactory, the student will then enrol and commence work.

A successful research proposal is between 1 and 2 pages in length, and will clearly state the following:

  • The intended research topic/research hypothesis
  • The purpose of the research to be undertaken
  • The methodology to be followed; an idea of resources and general approach. How can you best find out what you need to know? Where can you find the information you will need?
  • The context of the research topic within the general subject area; what contribution do you expect it to make?

It is important that you are able to relate your research to the work of other scholars in your field. A survey of the available literature in and around the topic concerned is essential so that you can ensure the work is your own and that it can do something that has not been done before. Writing summary reviews of major work by other scholars can be a useful tool. The research proposal can be expected to change as your research develops. It is not rigid, and can be adapted as necessary if your research requires it. Although it is important to think clearly and concisely about carrying out a research project, it is also important to acknowledge what you do not know when starting work; original research involves the study of the unknown, and as a result there may be aspects of the research proposal that are intentionally imprecise.

All students will be allocated a mentor. The mentor is responsible for academic guidance and for providing the student with any necessary information regarding their programme and the standards expected of them. They also report to the University on a regular basis concerning student progress and any issues that need to be addressed. It is possible for a student to contract independently with alternative or additional external mentors if they prefer; for example, subject experts on the faculty of another university or independent scholars. If they choose to do this, they will still be allocated a University mentor, but the role of the University mentor in this situation will become that of a co-ordinator and advisor on University standards and procedures rather than an academic supervisor.

Arrangements for examination of the dissertation are made by the University when the student feels that their work is completed and ready to submit. The University does not normally require an oral defence of the dissertation, but reserves the right to conduct this if necessary (usually via telephone or video call). Once the completed and bound dissertation is received for examination, the reports of mentors are submitted to the University which then convenes the examining panel. The examination may result in the award of the degree, or a recommendation for resubmission after alteration or correction. Where the standard of the degree has clearly not been met, it is possible to recommend the award of a lower degree where appropriate, or for the student to fail outright. A student whose doctoral submission has been unsuccessful may appeal this decision, whereupon this appeal will be heard by a different panel of assessors.

Important information