PhD by Research


Read more about this program on the institution's website

Program Description

PhD by Research

1st in the world for Development Studies (QS World University Rankings by Subject 2020) – the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) transforms the knowledge, action and leadership needed for more equitable and sustainable development globally, through our world-class research, learning and teaching.

Doctoral research at IDS

Doctoral research is a vital part of IDS, with about 50 PhD students at any time exploring a range of topics in Asia, Africa, the Balkans, Latin America and the Middle East.

As part of our thriving community, you’ll work under the supervision of two Research Fellows, and will have access to research and teaching opportunities, as well as a substantial series of seminars presented by leading development professionals and practitioners.

You’re time at IDS will equip you with the training needed to launch your career in academia, government, civil society or the private sector, and make a real difference in bringing about transformative change.

Areas of Study

We welcome submissions from researchers who share our commitment to:

  • upholding climate and environmental justice
  • reducing extreme inequities
  • fostering healthy and fulfilling lives
  • nurturing inclusive, democratic and accountable societies.

We’re particularly interested in work that shows originality in addressing topics related to the work of our research clusters:

  • business
  • cities
  • digital
  • governance
  • health
  • impact and policy
  • participation
  • power
  • resource politics
  • rural futures.

Future careers

We’re proud of our PhD graduates who define and solve some of the world’s most pressing global challenges in their work as:

  • ministers in national governments and civil servants
  • high-level officials in development organisations such as UNDP and the World Bank
  • leaders of civil-society organisations including Mama Cash and Action Aid
  • high-profile academics at universities across the world.

“Studying at IDS can potentially transform your view of the world – you grow a lot learning from this very rich and diverse community.”
Jorge Adrian-Ortiz-Moreno, IDS PhD graduate

Supervision and assessment

Each PhD researcher has a minimum of two supervisors. The number of hours of formal supervision will vary over the course of the PhD depending on the student, supervisor and type of research. IDS publishes a Memorandum of Understanding which sets out expectations regarding supervision.

During the course of your PhD, you are expected to give two seminars to the IDS community. The first, at the end of Year One is called the Research Outline Seminar and this provides an overview of your PhD plans prior to beginning fieldwork. The second occurs halfway through Year 3. This is called the Work in Progress Seminar and it focuses on the research findings and overall arguments made in the dissertation.

Your PhD work is examined by dissertation and viva. Your thesis must be no longer than 80,000 words. These limits includes footnotes and bibliography but excludes any appendices.

Entry Requirements

You’re normally expected to have a Merit (an average of 60% overall) in a Master’s degree. Your qualification should be in a relevant social sciences subject. In exceptional circumstances, you may be considered for the degree if you have a qualification in a different subject area.  You must also show evidence of substantial professional work experience in a developing country or in development-related work.

English language requirements

Students must be proficient in English. The minimum requirement is, for example, an IELTS grade of 7.0 overall and no less than 6.5 in each section of the IELTS test. For detailed information on English language requirements for international students please see the University of Sussex website.

Admissions information for applicants

You must submit an outline research proposal of four to five pages indicating the nature, ambition and primary research questions of your research project. Find out how to write a research proposal.

Presence at IDS

Your presence at IDS is vital at the early stage of your PhD when the research proposal is prepared (the first year) and then, after fieldwork, at the stage of writing up the research findings (the third year). The maximum period of registration is four years, but a PhD can be completed in three years.

Coronavirus update

Our first priority is to make sure that our campus is a safe place to live and study. See how were are repsonding to Covid-19 and ensuring your education with us is safe and fulfilling. 

How we assess your application

When assessing your application we take into account many factors including: the quality of your research proposal, your academic qualifications, fit with IDS research priorities, previous development experience, language skills and availability of suitable supervisors.

All applications are assessed by the IDS Teaching and Learning Team with input from potential supervisors. You will also be interviewed on your PhD research plans. If your application is successful you will be contacted by the IDS Teaching and Learning Team, who are ultimately responsible for offering places on the IDS PhD Programme.

Fees and study costs

IDS requires that students register for a minimum of three years. Most students spend time on overseas fieldwork. During fieldwork, students are registered as distance learners and are charged a fee which is normally 65% of the full-time fee but may be subject to change.

Almost all IDS PhD researchers choose to do empirical research and fieldwork for their PhDs. The broad parameters of this research (topic and country) are usually decided by the student and included in the proposal submitted as part of the application to the PhD programme. More detailed assessments of the scope and scale of this research are usually developed in conjunction with supervisors during the first year of the PhD. Fieldwork usually lasts between 8 and 12 months and costs depend on the scope and scale of the activities. For example, participant observation and qualitative interviews undertaken in your home country and in a language with which you are familiar, may not be very expensive, but working in a country where you need visas, in-country ethical approval, and have to employ translators, transcribers, or a team of enumerators for a quantitative survey can mean that costs rapidly escalate. Where you stay, how you travel to your fieldsite, what technology you use to collect and analyse data and how long you stay will all influence the costs. IDS does not fund fieldwork costs. There is a small conference fund and PhD students can apply for up to £450 during their PhDs if they are presenting a paper at a conference.

After having made substantial progress and completed three years of registration, students may be permitted to transfer to pre-submission status. IDS considers substantial progress to be the completion of three empirical chapters, supervisors’ approval and a successful work-in-progress seminar. If pre-submission status is not granted, then full-time fees are still applicable. The pre-submission fee is approximately £500 for each year or part thereof.

Unfortunately, neither IDS nor the University of Sussex can offer financial support. Applicants requiring financial assistance should contact their local Ministry of Education or Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the British Council representative (c/o British Embassy). For the latest information on fees, funding and scholarships, visit the University of Sussex website.

How to apply

Apply via the University of Sussex online application. When completing the application form, please identify IDS on the application; the code for this is L1604R – Development Studies (IDS) (PHD).

Finding a supervisor

You aren’t responsible for finding a supervisor. However, you may express a preferred supervisor on your application form. Applicants are assessed both on their academic credentials and on the relevance of their works to the research of one or more IDS Fellows.

Distance learning

IDS is unable to accept applications for distance learning. We believe it is in the best interests of both PhD students and the Institute that the majority of the study period is spent at IDS. This offers the opportunity for ongoing interaction with other IDS members and students.

Your research proposal

As part of the application process, you must submit an outline research proposal of four to five pages indicating the nature, ambitions and primary questions of the project. It would also be advantageous to include an article or writing sample demonstrating your ability to undertake research and write academic papers.

Before applying, please read carefully our guidelines on how to write your outline research proposal. Here is a good example of a recent research proposal from a successful applicant: Barasa PhD research proposal for IDS, 2017

Application deadline

We prefer our PhD by Research students to start on 21 September 2021 to coincide with the start of the University of Sussex autumn term. This timing will maximise your opportunities to take part in induction sessions and training, both at IDS and the University of Sussex.

For September entry, the application deadlines are:

  • 21 June 2021 for international students
  • 21 August 2021 for UK/EU students.

In exceptional circumstances IDS may permit students to start the PhD by Research in January (for example, if visa issues prevent a September entry). We may also be able to offer some flexibility in start dates for students transferring from another organisation.

Living costs

Find out typical living costs for studying at Sussex

Find out about our terms and conditions

Last updated Sep 2020

About the School

1st in the world for Development Studies (QS World University Rankings by Subject 2020) – the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) transforms the knowledge, action and leadership needed for more equ ... Read More

1st in the world for Development Studies (QS World University Rankings by Subject 2020) – the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) transforms the knowledge, action and leadership needed for more equitable and sustainable development globally, through our world-class research, learning and teaching. Read less