Postgraduate study and qualifications
Postgraduate study and training is a requirement to become a Chartered Psychologist and to register as a practitioner psychologist with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC).
The exact nature of the training you will need to complete will depend on the field of psychology you want to work in.
In order to pursue a postgraduate qualification you will normally need to have a 2:1 or higher from an undergraduate degree accredited by the society. Graduates with a 2:2 or lower grade will not normally be accepted unless they have achieved a higher qualification, such as a masters degree.
You should always check with the university to find out their specific entry requirements.
In general course organisers will want you to demonstrate sufficient knowledge and ability before they will consider you as a candidate for postgraduate study. Usually this will mean having completed an MSc or MPhil in which you have successfully completed an applied research project, preferably one which is relevant to the area of psychology you wish to pursue.
Many postgraduate training programmes will also require you to have significant relevant work experience in order to demonstrate that you are a dedicated candidate in possession of some real-world, applied psychological knowledge. This experience may have to be gained in a voluntary capacity rather than as part of a paid position.
If you are a graduate in a subject other than psychology, or you have a psychology degree that isn't accredited by the society, you may be able to gain Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership by taking a society accredited conversion course.
Conversion courses normally take at least a year to complete, however the actual timescale can vary dependent on the course provisions and any previous psychological study which you may have undertaken. Some institutions may also allow you to study online.
For further information about entry requirements, fees, funding and course duration, we encourage you to contact the relevant institution directly.
Postgraduate research degrees
What is a doctoral degree?
A doctoral degree is the highest academic qualification that universities can award. Study periods are typically three to four years (full time) or six to eight years (part time).
Doctoral candidates operate at a level of independence above that expected of an undergraduate or postgraduate student, and are expected to undertake independent research, under the guidance of one or more supervisors, within the wider institutional, professional or subject-based research community.
A doctoral student is examined on the basis of a thesis, portfolio, clinical practice or other output, which must demonstrate the research question, critically evaluate the extent to which it has been addressed, and make an original contribution to knowledge.
Why are there different Doctoral Qualifications?
All doctoral degrees are designed to prepare the candidate to make a contribution to knowledge through original and independent research.
However, the context in which doctoral candidates undertake their research may vary between the different qualifications available, as well as the way the programme is structured.
Doctoral qualifications awarded in the UK include the PhD, the professional doctorate, the practice-based doctorate and the doctorate by publication.
If you are thinking of entering doctoral research, it is important that you explore the different types of doctoral qualifications available and consider which of these will best suit your needs. Undertaking Doctoral research is a highly individual experience.
What are the entry requirements for doctoral degrees?
Individual Universities specify different entry requirements for their Doctoral Degrees. Prospective doctoral candidates need to check the specific requirements at the institution at which they wish to study.
Increasingly, doctoral candidates possess a masters degree, but in some subjects it is usual to begin a doctoral programme with a bachelors degree or its professional equivalent.
Some universities offer a combined masters and doctoral award (sometimes known as the 1+3 model) that enables a candidate to undertake a masters degree and, assuming satisfactory progress, enter directly into doctoral research at the same institution.
Securing a masters or PhD place is a complicated business. Not only do you have to find a topic you will want to spend the next few years of your life investigating and a supervisor who you trust to guide you, you also have to secure the money to allow you to do this.
However, hundreds of people every year manage to negotiate this process and secure funded masters and PhD places.
Do you have the necessary qualifications?
Before you start hunting for a place, it is important to be aware that PhD places are increasingly being awarded to people who have masters or first-class honours degrees rather than those with second-class degrees (and below).
What do you want to do?
For MSc courses in research methods, you are best to look at departmental websites, advertisements on the noticeboards in your current university department and the list of accredited courses on the ESRC website.
As these are taught courses it should be a straightforward process to identify a course and its components for this kind of masters degree.
For both MPhil and PhD courses, this is a less well structured process. The first thing to do is to decide on what area you want to study.
This will constrain the search space and determine whom you need to talk to get further information. You don’t need a fully formed proposal at this stage, but do try to identify the area that you want to work in.
Remember that a PhD will position your academic career in a particular area of research and, since you will have to invest time and effort in building up a knowledge base and publishing work, it can be difficult to break away from your PhD into other areas.
Where do you want to do it?
The next stage is to identify a university and a supervisor who you will want to work with for the next two to four years. The most common way of getting a PhD place is through enquiries to departments and potential supervisors, and many people elect to do an MSc or PhD at the institution where they have already studied, supervised by people they already know.
However, if you cannot or do not want to do a masters or PhD at your current university, a good strategy is to talk to people who work in your chosen area about departments and supervisors.
One of the important things to find out about any institution you are considering is the potential for obtaining a funded place and, in particular, whether they are accredited to receive funding from the research councils (ESRC, EPSRC, BBSRC and MRC).
If a department is accredited you will have a much better chance of getting funding, and accredited departments may have higher retention rate. To get research council funding you either put together a research proposal with your potential supervisor or are nominated by the department to receive an award, depending on the Research Council that you are applying for.
The final piece of advice is to believe in yourself, persevere, and to not be afraid to ask questions of the institutions/supervisors you speak to. Remember that you are choosing them as much as they are choosing you.
There are a number of potential sources of funding for postgraduate study, and considerable variation in the application procedures and deadlines. However, almost without exception, they require the support of a host department and a prospective supervisor.
This means that applying for a place to study is the first thing you should do. Departments who offer you a place should then be able to advise you on which type of funding to seek.
You should bear in mind that all sources of funding are likely to be highly competitive, and departments may even be required to rank their candidates in terms of whom they think are strongest.
For this reason it is important to begin the application process early and to give serious thought to the precise area in which you want to conduct research, and what questions you will try to address.
Sources of funding for postgraduate research degrees fall into four categories:
- Research councils
If you are passionate about psychology and want to familiarise yourself with various viewpoints about what a PhD in Psychology actually involves before weighing up the benefits and costs of doing one, read on.
One way is to look at the standards set by national bodies like the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. The Society's Guidelines for Assessment of PhDs in Psychology and Related Disciplines are also a useful reference tool for prospective doctoral students.
Another way is to look at the requirements of individual institutions. Often you will find that a PhD is viewed in terms of ‘learning outcomes’. As well as showing you the areas that are central to your proposed area of research, they allow you to start forming an idea of the ways you might be able market yourself for life after the PhD.
A doctoral dissertation in psychology can normally be expected to be between 70,000 and 100,000 words long, and once you have removed weekends, holidays, teaching, family and personal commitments and illness from the approximately 1000-day allocation to do a PhD (according to a full-time, three-year model), you may actually have less than 500 working days to complete it.
So, depending on the kinds of data collection you embark on, you are likely to draw on evening and weekend time. If you’re studying animal learning or memory you may find yourself working alone in a darkened laboratory over the weekend. If you are researching with specialist, low-incidence populations you may find yourself travelling the length and breadth of the country at unsociable hours. Of course, the kinds of research questions you will be able to pursue will depend upon your availability as a part-time or full-time PhD student.
A prompt completion not only leads to career, financial and personal benefits: it also means that both you and the university avoid institutional penalties for delayed submission or extension of your studies.
Undertaking teaching responsibilities such as demonstration sessions, seminar teaching, marking and sessional lecturing, is a good way to gain experience for a future career in academia. However, most PhD funding agencies stipulate the maximum number of teaching hours a student is permitted to undertake in any one teaching year.
Monitoring of progress
It is normal practice for universities to have guidelines for the submission of an end-of-first-year report (in the case of a full-time student) by both student and supervisors.
Progress will be charted against the framework for supervision set up in the first phase of the registration for a degree.
At the end of the full-time degree, or at the end of the second year in the case of a part-time degree, normal practice requires recommendation for transfer to a doctorate (rather than masters level) programme of study. Although the methods for doing so vary, standard practice involves the appointment of a panel at a departmental or faculty level.
To ensure that your thesis meets the UK national standard, external examination is through a viva, which serves as a check that the thesis is the student’s own work. Crucially, it looks at your competency in defending and talking about your research.
Resources available for support in preparing a viva include our Guidelines for the Assessment of the PhD in Psychology and Related Discipline.
Any early steps you can take in finding and applying for a supervisor will be a great help in ensuring a smooth passage to the award of a doctorate.
However the supervisor-student match is just one of many professional relationships you will build during your PhD, so it is always worth thinking about the other kinds of audiences you may encounter, as well as when you hope to share your findings with, and receive feedback from, other students, academics, and editors.
Some experts in higher education research degrees view best practice as involving joint supervision between two or more supervisors rather than just one. As well as being a good practical precaution, this approach can offer the student alternative viewpoints and enable supervisors to bring different topic areas to the supervision process.
The way you choose your match will depend on the kind of research topic area you have selected, and what mix of characteristics and skills you expect your supervisors to bring to the table.
Of course, one pitfall is the potential for each supervisor to leave the responsibility to others. So it is worth establishing early on with your supervisors the kinds of roles you would expect them to play, and how this might change over the course of the doctorate.
One way to promote successful supervision is to negotiate what you might reasonably expect of each other, and what roles your supervisor(s) might be expected to play. It may also be useful to draw up a supervision ‘contract’ that provides an explicit record for both you and your supervisor(s).
The questions below have been designed help to identify topics which you may wish to discuss with your supervisor(s).
- What is the framework for supervision including arrangements for regular supervisory meetings?
- Is there agreement about the stages that the student will be expected to have completed at certain points in the research?
- What is the role of each supervisor?
- What kinds of assistance can the supervisor offer in terms of identifying a topic?
- Does the topic fall within the expertise of the supervisor?
- Can the PhD be completed with the resources available?
- Is the topic suitable for the award of PhD?
- What training opportunities are available at the university?
- Meeting student regularly and frequently at the intervals agreed at the beginning of the research programme
- Assisting in defining topic of research – what will be the scope of the ‘problem’ area?
- Can the project be completed within study period?
- Is the nature of the research problem worthy of a PhD?
- Are supervisors aware of research training on offer at the university?
- Does the supervisor expect to respond promptly and constructively to submitted work?
- Stick to monitoring timetable agreed at beginning of project?
- Does the supervisor anticipate any periods of absences?
- Will the supervisor take an active role in introducing students to range of different audiences?
- Can they nominate examiners in time, so that the viva can go ahead as soon as possible after submission of thesis?
- Will the student come to supervisory meetings with a clear and prepared agenda?
- Will the student be able to maintain progress according to timetable agreed with supervisor?
- Will the student present written material in time for comment and attempt a record of work attempted.
- Is the language presentation good enough for a thesis?
- Will the student be able to negotiate a form of guidance and kind of comment they find helpful?
- Will the student recognise supervisors have other demands on their time?
The Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group (PsyPAG) supports all aspects of postgraduate work in the UK. PsyPAG is funded by and closely affiliated with the Society and it is run by postgraduates on a voluntary basis.
Every year PsyPAG holds a conference at a UK university. In addition to providing an ideal setting for postgraduates to present their work to a friendly audience, the conference is an opportunity to meet and form friendships with other postgraduates.
Studying for a higher Degree can be very lonely at times, particularly if there are only a few postgraduates in the department, and talking to other postgraduates who may have experienced similar problems can often help.
The group also produces PsyPAG Quarterly, a free publication sent to every Psychology department in the UK and made available online on the PsyPAG website. It contains reflections on issues relevant to postgraduates, reviews of conferences, and articles on areas of interest, and aims to provide readers with engaging and useful information about postgraduate events, issues and opportunities.
PsyPAG also funds numerous workshops designed to allow postgraduates to develop both the skills central to their discipline and their more generic abilities, in areas such as teaching, assessment, and dissemination of their research. Workshops are held on both qualitative and quantitative methods and postgraduates can apply for funding from PsyPAG to host a workshop on a particular topic or area of interest.
In addition PsyPAG also awards bursaries to postgraduates to allow them to present their work at conferences that might otherwise be financially unattainable. This scheme has allowed many postgraduates to present their work at national and international conferences, to mix with key experts in their field, and to become part of respected worldwide academic communities.
Any postgraduate who is studying a psychology-related course (PhD or Masters) at a UK institution is eligible to stand for the PsyPAG committee, whose membership is constantly changing as existing members complete their PhDs. This presents many opportunities to become actively involved in PsyPAG.
Find out more information about PsyPAG, including how to apply for bursaries and how to stand for committee positions.
The British Psychological Society Research Board is committed to promoting and supporting psychological science and its applications.
A core element of this is a strong commitment to providing various forms of support for postgraduate research students. Schemes supported by the Board include:
- Bursaries to assist postgraduate students presenting papers and posters at the Annual Conference of the society
- Travel grants for visits to other institutions in the UK, Europe and elsewhere in the world
- The award for outstanding research carried out during the completion of a Doctoral Degree
- A joint award with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology
As the Board is committed to supporting postgraduate research students in general, it is not necessary to be a member of the Society to submit an application under these schemes.
In addition to accrediting courses, the society offers its own qualifications for candidates that wish to take a more independent approach to learning.
We currently offer qualifications in the following areas:
- Clinical neuropsychology
- Counselling psychology
- Educational psychology (Scotland)
- Forensic psychology
- Health psychology
- Occupational psychology
- Sport and exercise psychology
Candidates and their supervisors will need to make appropriate arrangements for access to academic facilities and support throughout the period of training. This may involve arranging library access at local universities and might include buying into modules of training courses.
Supported by events, workshops and supervision, candidates undertake a high standard of training to become eligible for Chartered membership which, in turn, makes them eligible to apply to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) or registration.
Candidates enroled for the society’s independent route qualifications must ensure that they have appropriate professional liability insurance.
Our qualifications are work based learning designed to enable people to develop and demonstrate the competencies required for practice in the UK. This page provides some additional information for those who may not be familiar with the UK context.
Some of our qualifications are approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and people who are awarded one of the approved qualifications are eligible to apply to the HCPC for registration. It is a legal requirement that anyone who wishes to practice using a title protected by the Health Professions Order 2001 is on the HCPC Register.
You must be a Graduate Member of the society with Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership. The GBC is awarded to those who have qualifications in psychology awarded at the equivalent of a UK second class honours degree which covers a range of areas of psychology. When you apply for Graduate Membership of the Society your application for the Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership will be considered at the same time.
In order to be eligible to enrol for one of our qualifications applicants from overseas must meet the same requirements as applicants from the UK.
Co-ordinator of Training/ Co-ordinating Supervisor
Before enroling you must have a Co-ordinator of Training or Co-ordinating Supervisor.
He or she will:
- Be a Chartered Member of the Society
- Be a registered practitioner psychologist
- Be a full member of the relevant Division
- Have undertaken the appropriate training for the role
You might find an appropriate person to take on this role within your employment or you may need to pay someone privately to provide this service. More information about Co-ordinators of Training/ Co-ordinating Supervisors can be found with the information on the relevant qualification.
Work based learning/Supervised practice
When you apply to enrol you will need to show us that you are in a position to complete the supervised practice elements of the qualification. This means you will need to demonstrate that you have a paid or voluntary position where you will be able to undertake your supervised practice. The majority of your supervised practice will need to be undertaken in the UK and you will need to tell us about the supervised practice you have arranged in the UK so that we know you will be able to meet this requirement.
If you would like further information, contact the Qualifications team.
Securing funding is one of the main hurdles graduates face when it comes to postgraduate study. Funding opportunities will vary, dependent on the field of psychology (link is external) you want to pursue. There are a number of websites that offer information about postgraduate funding. A few examples are listed below:
- GOV.UK - Funding your postgraduate course
- Postgraduate Studentships
- Prospects - Funding my further study
Awards and grants
The BPS also runs a number of awards and grant schemes for postgraduate psychology students. The society makes provision for several grants through its Research Board and its Education and Training Board.