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Overview Of A Research Degree

What is a research degree?
Types of research degrees
Structure of a higher degree
The thesis
Examination of the thesis

What Is A Research Degree?

A research degree (PhD, EdD, MPhil) is awarded on the basis of achievement in a particular field of learning in which a candidate aspires to attain knowledge and understanding. With appropriate supervision, candidates develop the skills needed to work their way through the different stages of a research degree.

The process begins with learning how to define a research topic or problem and moves forward to planning a programme of research to investigate the topic.

As they pursue the plan, candidates develop their abilities in the use of appropriate methodologies of investigation and in the collection and analysis of information and data. They acquire good work organisation skills and the confidence to present their research results. Assistance and advice are available throughout enrolment in a higher degree from a variety of sources including the Postgraduate Studies Office, the Faculty/School/department, the Teaching and Learning Development Unit and the Library.

The research, which must be the candidate's original work, is written up as a thesis that demonstrates the research process and the argument or results.

Doctoral work requires the candidate to make an original contribution to the field by empirical investigation, the formulation of theories or the innovative reinterpretation of known data and established ideas.

Types Of Research Degrees

The University of Waikato offers three types of research degrees: higher doctorates (DLit, DSc), the supervised doctorate (PhD), the supervised professional doctorate (EdD) and the Master of Philosophy (MPhil).

Higher Doctorates (DLit, DSc)

Higher doctorates of the University are the most advanced degrees offered by the University. They are awarded on the basis of highly original and meritorious published work, usually carried out over a number of years. These degrees are awarded for work which is not carried out under academic supervision. Further information about the requirements for these degrees is available on request from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) or the Director of Postgraduate Studies and Scholarships.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is awarded by the University for research carried out under the immediate supervision of staff members. The research, which must be the candidate's own work, is written up as a thesis, and may include papers published or intended to be published. The thesis is required to demonstrate the research process, and present the arguments, the findings and the conclusions drawn. There is no course work for this degree.

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Professional doctorates are designed for candidates who have had relevant professional experience or who wish to combine doctoral studies with continuing employment in a professional setting. Typically, candidates are senior practitioners in their fields, who wish to research and make a contribution to their area of expertise. Professional doctorates include directed studies and/or course work in addition to a thesis. The University of Waikato currently offers one professional doctorate, the Doctor of Education (EdD).

Master of Philosophy (MPhil)

The Master of Philosophy is a one year research-based degree of high standing in which students undertake a programme of approved and supervised research which critically investigates an approved topic of substance and significance. The thesis submitted for the degree demonstrates expertise in the methods of research and scholarship; displays intellectual independence and makes a substantial original contribution to the subject area concerned and contains material of publishable quality.

Structure Of A Research Degree

Duration of study period

The time commitment for the University's research degrees are given in the table below. All the degrees can be undertaken on a full-time or part-time basis, and this status can be varied during the study period.

Degree Full-time Part-time
Maximum Minimum Maximum Minimum
MPhil 2 years 1 year 4 years 2 years
PhD 4 years 3 years 8 years 6 years
EdD 4 years 3 years 8 years 3 years

Start of enrolment and full- or part-time status

Candidates may apply to enrol from the first day of any calendar month throughout the year. They can apply for full or part-time enrolment and may apply to change this status at any time during the duration of their enrolment for the degree.

As a guide, full-time candidates should expect to devote the majority of their working time to their studies, which would equate to a minimum of 30 hours per week on average over a period of 12 months that can be committed to study in reasonable 'blocks' of time.


The University is responsible for providing suitable supervision for postgraduate students' research. Recognising that supervision is a specialised form of teaching, a register of approved supervisors is maintained by the University. Under special arrangements with collaborating organizations, research can be undertaken at locations other than the University campus.

Ethical accountability

All research involving human subjects (including medical and/or health related research), animal or genetically modified organisms must be approved by an appropriate ethics or safety committee before the research commences.

The Thesis

The written thesis, with careful argument and presentation, is a fundamental part of the evidence that the candidate is, or is not, worthy of the award of the degree. No matter how good the candidate's research may be, it is an essential condition for the award of the degree that the research be presented in a well-written thesis that clearly justifies the candidate's research methods and conclusions.


The Postgraduate Studies Committee approves the appointment of at least two examiners for a PhD thesis, and one for an MPhil thesis. All examiners are external to the University and have no direct association with the candidate or the candidate's research. At least one examiner will normally be external to New Zealand. An oral examination is held for PhD and EdD theses. Oral examinations are not normally held for MPhil theses.

Examination criteria

Examiners are asked to make general comments on whether the thesis:
Literature demonstrates both a thorough knowledge of literature relevant to its subject and general field, and of the candidate's ability to exercise critical and analytical judgement of that literature
Topic deals with a topic of sufficient range and complexity to meet the requirements of the degree
Investigation of topic comprises a sufficiently coherent investigation of the chosen topic
Methodologies displays a mastery of appropriate methodology and/or theoretical material
Conduct & presentation meets internationally recognised standards for the conduct and presentation of research in its field
Original contribution makes an original contribution to knowledge in its field and contains material suitable for publication in appropriate academic journals
Publication any parts of the thesis, in the opinion of the examiner, are worthy of being the basis of a publication.

Examiners provide written reports addressing these criteria, which form the basis of deciding whether the thesis should proceed to oral examination (in the case of PhD and EdD degrees), or - rarely - whether an oral examination is required (in the case of the MPhil degree).

The Purposes of the Oral Examination

Demonstrate knowledge & understanding to enable the candidate to demonstrate his/her knowledge and understanding of the discipline or field of study, the appropriateness of the research methodologies and methods of analysis, and the validity of the conclusions
Clarify to clarify any matters that the examiners regard as being unclear
Discussion to allow the examiners and candidate to discuss any amendments which may be required
Understanding of examiners' comments to assist the candidate in understanding the full import of the examiners' comments
Borderline decision to assist the examiners to reach a decision where the thesis is on the borderline between pass or failure

A successful PhD or EdD thesis demonstrates the candidate's ability to conduct independent, original research and to present the findings of that research to a professional standard. The doctoral graduate should be a person capable of conceiving, designing and carrying out high quality research in the area of their expertise without supervision.

A successful MPhil thesis demonstrates the capacity to critique research results to a high standard in a well-written thesis.