PhD by Research


Three to four year full time, 6 years part time.

World-leaders in development studies

IDS is a leading global institution for development research, teaching and learning, and impact and communications, based at the University of Sussex. The University of Sussex is ranked first in the world for development studies. This QS World Ranking reflects the strong reputation and quality of research and course offerings across campus, including by IDS.  

Research at IDS

IDS is dedicated to research on processes of social, political and economic development and change in order to understand problems of poverty and development-related issues in local, national and global realms. Through our research we seek to achieve our vision of equal and sustainable societies, both locally and globally, where everyone can live secure, fulfilling lives free from poverty and injustice. 

Our research is shaped by our distinctive ‘engaged excellence’ approach. This means that the quality and impact of our work depends upon us collaborating with governments, international NGOs, local civil society, citizens, in-country researchers, donors, businesses and many others to achieve positive change, strategically informed by high quality – and operationally relevant – research and evidence.

Areas of study

We are looking for PhD researchers interested in working on projects that respond to the following global challenges and their intersections:

  • reducing inequalities
  • accelerating sustainability
  • building inclusive and secure societies.

We are particularly interested in work that shows originality in addressing topics related to the work of our research clusters, namely: business, cities, conflict, digital, gender, governance, green transformations, health, participation, power, resource politics and rural futures.

Future careers

IDS PhD researchers have gone on to work as Ministers in national governments, high-level officials in development organisations such as UNDP and the World Bank, civil servants, leaders of civil society organisations including Mama Cash and Action Aid and high profile academics at universities across the world. They are all working to define and solve some of the world’s most pressing global challenges. Your time at IDS will equip you with both the theoretical knowledge, research methodologies and practical skills to make a real difference in bringing about transformative change.

Thriving research community

The Institute is home to approximately 240 staff and 260 students at any one time. But the IDS community extends far beyond, encompassing an extensive network of over 360 partners3,000 alumni and hundreds of former staff. All PhD researchers are an integral part of this community and have access to research, knowledge, communication and teaching opportunities and engagement with the IDS staff, as well as a substantial series of seminars presented by leading development professionals and practitioners.

Supervision and assessment

Each PhD researcher has a minimum of two supervisors. During the application process, you will identify your preferred supervisors. Potential supervisors can be identified by searching our directory.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 course is examined by dissertation and viva. The thesis must be no longer than 80,000 words. These limits includes footnotes and bibliography but excludes any appendices.

“IDS offers doctoral researchers an enriching environment with access to a broad range of experts with different disciplinary backgrounds. The IDS community is always bustling with energy and a commitment to answering difficult questions and this makes it an exciting place in which to undertake research. I feel particularly blessed to be among a supportive group of peers who offer guidance at every turn.” Dina Zayed, IDS PhD scholarship researcher

A Masters degree in any relevant social science. In exceptional circumstances, candidates with other backgrounds may be considered. Applicants must submit an outline research proposal of three to four pages indicating the nature, ambitions and primary questions of the project. Applicants must also have substantial professional work experience in a developing country or in development-related work.

English language requirements

IELTS 7.0, with not less than 6.5 in each section. Pearson's Test of English (Academic) 67 overall, with at least 62 in all four skills.

Formal application

A 3-4 page research proposal should be submitted indicating what you wish to investigate, how you intend to conduct the research and any contacts you have had with IDS Fellows. It would also be advantageous to include an article or writing sample demonstrating your ability to undertake research and write academic papers.

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.

Presence here is vital at the early stage when the research proposal is prepared and then, after fieldwork, at the stage of writing up the research findings. The maximum period of registration is 4 years, but a PhD can be completed in 3 years.

IDS PhD research proposal guidelines

Fees for the academic year 2017/18 are £15,100 for overseas students. Fees for 2017/18 for UK/EU, Channel and Isle of Man students will be announced late Spring 2017 (2016/17 fees were £4,121). 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.

After having made substantial progress and completed 3 years of registration, students may be permitted to transfer to continuation status. IDS considers substantial progress to be the completion of three empirical chapters, supervisors' approval and a successful work-in-progress seminar. If continuation is not granted, then full-time fees are still applicable. The continuation fee is approximately £240 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, check the University of Sussex website.

We consider applications throughout the year although the official academic year begins in September. We strongly encourage doctoral students to align their studies to this academic calendar.

For a copy of the University of Sussex online prospectus.

For information about University of Sussex online application.

Before applying for a research degree, please read the following notes on How to write your Research Proposal. Prospective students should have a strong academic record and graduate training (at the MSc level) demonstrating a high standard of achievement.

This includes any languages necessary for the proposed research and methodological and theoretical grounding in one of the social science disciplines. Applicants are assessed both on their academic credentials and on the relevance of their proposed research to the work of one or more IDS Fellows.

Close working relationships are fostered between doctoral students, their supervisors, Fellows, Cluster and Research Centres working in the same area, in order to enhance the quality of doctoral education.

For all queries regarding applications and proposals please contact