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Postgraduate Research

The School of Psychology & Counselling at The Open University has a vibrant research culture, noted for its transdisciplinary ethos, its real-world relevance and its commitment to social justice. We welcome PhD candidates who aspire to contribute to this ethos through their research.

In keeping with the School’s ethos, the psychology pathway foregrounds applied, critical and transdisciplinary approaches to psychology. It draws attention to, and challenges, social injustices in a variety of settings with wider societal impact. Doctoral studies in the psychology pathway equip students to examine complex psychological phenomena as they unfold in social practices and in real settings. Students are encouraged to use established, innovative and creative social science research methodologies to address wider societal challenges.

Prospective PhD students are encouraged to contact School members with related research interests in the first instance.

The School is home to three research streams; Culture and Social Psychology (CuSP); Psychology of Health and Wellbeing Research (PHeW); and Forensic Cognition Research Group (FCRG), but depending on the topic, PhD students may have a supervisory team that spans more than one research stream.

Here's some general information about research degrees at The Open University.

To read about the PhD experience see our PhD Case Studies.

Any queries about doing a PhD with us see FAQs.

For information regarding our PhD programme, check out the Psychology & Counselling Research Degree Prospectus.

To understand what the PhD study entails and for some guidance on preparing a proposal, you can also have a look at the OpenLearn course Applying to study for a PhD in psychology

For any enquiries about postgraduate research in the School of Psychology & Counselling, please contact the Postgraduate Degrees Convenors Dr Sandra Obradovic and Dr Ailsa Strathie.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements vary according to the research topic and the specific studentship scheme you might be applying to. The minimum entrance requirement is an upper second-class honours degree or Masters degree relevant to the proposed area of study from a recognised higher education institution (or other degree-awarding body) in the UK. The comparability of qualifications from outside the UK with The Open University requirements will be determined with reference to UK ENIC

Applicants for the PhD are normally expected to possess the equivalent or better of an Upper Second Class Honours degree with Psychology; and, in addition, to hold an MSc in Psychology or related discipline. Please note that these are minimum application criteria and are not sufficient. Applicants who do not meet these criteria may, in exceptional circumstances, be considered, but they will need to give evidence through written work that they are sufficiently prepared for research-level study. If you are applying for an ESRC Grand Union doctoral funding, a Masters degree is not necessary as this can be part of the training.

Fees and funding

The School of Psychology & Counselling offers doctoral studentships under the Psychology Pathway of the ESRC Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership.

The School of Psychology & Counselling is part of the ESRC Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) with the University of Oxford and Brunel University, and it offers doctoral studentships under the DTP Psychology Pathway.

For more information, visit the Grand Union website.

You can also download the ESRC Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership Psychology Pathway document, watch a video on applying for DTP doctoral funding and find further information on research degrees fees and other sources of funding.

How to apply

Finding a supervisor

To undertake a PhD in the School of Psychology and Counselling, you will need to have a supervisory team made up of two supervisors. Prospective students who are interested in pursuing doctoral studies in the School should check the School’s research areas and get in touch directly with potential supervisors prior to submitting their application.

You can find the profiles of staff in the School of Psychology and Counselling here.

Application process

In the first instance, prospective doctoral students will need a draft proposal of around 1,500 words and an up-to-date CV. The proposal should briefly review the background research and rationale for the project, outline key research questions, describe the methodology and projected timescales.

Prospective students can either contact a potential supervisor directly and begin the process of writing the proposal together, or they may send their research proposal and CV to the Postgraduate Degrees Convenors Dr Sandra Obradovic and Dr Ailsa Strathie, who can assist in identifying potential supervisors in the School. Prospective students are expected to have identified at least one supervisor from the School before submitting their PhD application.

The research proposal, along with CV and application form, should be submitted to Applications will be reviewed by a panel and shortlisted candidates will be invited to an interview. The interview panel will normally comprise three people, one of whom will be the chair and another a potential member of the supervisory team, or a member of staff with subject expertise.

Applications will be assessed on the basis of research, academic and/or professional competence and experience, and the degree that they: a) demonstrate a candidate’s readiness for PhD study (usually by having a MSc or equivalent research experience); b) fit at least one of our School’s research streams or supervisor research areas; c) have some experience and familiarity with psychology, or a related discipline.

Find more information about the PhD application process and access the application form.

Closing dates

The School’s deadlines for PhD applications are the end of March and mid-January. The start date for all Doctoral studies is 1st October, unless there are exceptional circumstances (e.g. external funding deadlines that require a start date outside these times). Please contact the Postgraduate Degrees Convenors Dr Sandra Obradovic and Dr Ailsa Strathie with any queries regarding the closing dates and application process.

PhD programme structure

Doctoral studies can be undertaken on a full or part-time basis. A PhD usually takes 3 years full-time and 6 years part-time, and represents a significant investment of time, resources and energy.

Doctoral students in the School of Psychology & Counselling initially register for an MPhil and go through an upgrade process to the PhD at the end of their first year (second year, if part-time). The upgrade process involves students submitting a report on their progress and discussing their research with a small panel of staff members in a ‘mini-viva’. Following the mini-viva, the panel advise the next stages for the student.

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