The important steps of the PhD

The doctorate, or a PhD, is defined as the third cycle of higher education leading to the academic degree of Doctor. This is the highest qualification in a particular field of study and is awarded by the Faculty concerned following the presentation of a doctoral thesis.

The job of a PhD student consists of a combination of research and customised training, so that they may acquire advanced scientific knowledge and a wide range of transferable skills. PhD students work on research projects that often involve a team of researchers. Their work is overseen by their supervisor, who supervises, advises and assists them throughout this long-term project.

It can be said that PhD students benefit from the experience of their peers and coaching throughout the development of the doctoral thesis. PhD students are also often required to travel to carry out research.

It is important to note that, in addition to being a full-time job, working towards a PhD gives the researcher a unique opportunity to train throughout the duration of the thesis.

Candidates who have completed their graduate studies at the university, who have an affinity with a particular discipline or subject, and who wish to embark on a PhD at UMONS must first contact a member of UMONS academic staff. The PhD candidate has to find a relevant subject of interest within the field of research concerned, which meets their affinities. It regularly happens that students enjoy the experience of writing their Master’s dissertation to such an extent that they then continue working with their supervisor.

Once the subject and the supervisor have been chosen, the funding arrangements must be defined. The person doing a PhD at UMONS can be paid in different ways, given that there are several sources of funding available (internal or external to UMONS) and that several statuses are possible (fellowship, scholarship or contracted researcher).

Several factors are involved in choosing these funding arrangements, and these are all to be discussed with the supervisor. UMONS PhD students may also, if they wish, receive assistance and expertise from the Department for Research Support and Technology Transfer (DAVRE) (LIEN), whose role is to direct PhD candidates towards the sources of funding that suit them best.

Anyone wishing to embark on a PhD (3rd cycle) and a doctoral training programme must submit an application to the PhD Admissions Board in order to register. For more information, click here.

For initial registration onto a PhD and/or doctoral training programme, the PhD candidate can get the registration form from the Registration Office or the Faculty Secretariat, or they can download it from the Registration Office website.

The PhD candidate submits the duly completed form, along with its appendices, to their supervisor or to the Faculty Secretariat. NOTE: it is important to re-register each academic year!

Finally, the PhD candidate is required to pay tuition fees upon registration. This is slightly higher in the first year.

During the PhD, the PhD candidate must follow a doctoral training programme, after which they will obtain a research training certificate. Without this certificate, the title of Doctor will not be awarded.

The supervisor proposes a doctoral training programme that they consider most suitable for the candidate’s research project.

Once the formalities are complete, the PhD student starts working on their research project with the support and help of their promoter. The duration of the thesis will depend on the type of funding awarded.

Generally, a doctoral thesis can last for 4 to 6 years. During this time, the goal of the PhD student is to contribute to solving a scientific problem. Tasks include performing a scientific review to establish the state-of-the-art, establish their personal contribution on the topic, and then report their findings by writing scientific articles and by participating in seminars and conferences (often based in Europe and worldwide). As such, they actively participate in scientific knowledge on the subject or theme they have chosen.

During the PhD, the candidate is regularly assessed by a Thesis Advisory Committee, which is composed of:

  • The PhD candidate’s supervisor
  • Experienced researchers
  • External experts

The Thesis Advisory Committee regularly hears the candidate and assesses the progress of their work. These assessments are not exams but rather an opportunity for the PhD student to present the progress of their thesis. The assessment of the Thesis Advisory Committee may allow the PhD student to adapt their research, if necessary.

At the end of these few years of research, the PhD student is required to write an original work in the chosen discipline, which can take two forms:

  • Either a personal thesis
  • Or an essay demonstrating the relevance of a coherent set of publications and achievements of which the candidate is author or co-author.

The defence of the thesis is carried out in two stages: a private defence and a public defence.

The private defence allows the doctoral committee to decide on the admissibility of the thesis. It is held in a closed meeting in the presence of at least half of the members of the doctoral committee. After reviewing the work, the doctoral committee may hear the candidate and proceeds to the discussion of the work with the candidate present.  

If these discussions have a positive outcome, the candidate will be able to progress to the public defence. It is also possible that the committee requests adjustments to the work that has been submitted. The candidate has a specific length of time to make corrections.

The public defence is a public presentation of the thesis. The PhD candidate is asked to perform a 40-45 minute oral presentation, which has been adapted to a wider audience and is not just for experts in the field. At the end of this presentation, a question and answer session follows. The committee retires to deliberate and then proceeds (or not) to the proclamation of the title of Doctor.

The professional experience acquired through research and the scientific and transversal skills accumulated during the PhD (project management, time management, oral communication, synthesis skills, languages, etc.) are invaluable for future employers. Contrary to popular belief, a PhD is an asset on the CV of an engineer looking for work, especially in the field of research.

One of the objectives of a PhD is to prepare for a career in research. There are mandated researchers at universities, but this is not the only option. In most cases, doctors work outside the university sector in various high-level positions.

“For the young doctor, it is primarily about making a choice about the environment in which they want to work and asking questions about the type of profession they are considering. Note that only a very small proportion of job vacancies are published in the press or on the internet. Like other highly qualified people, doctors usually find a job by submitting a speculative application or by creating a role that did not previously exist” (source: