What is a research degree?

A research degree is a postgraduate degree which primarily involves completing a supervised project of original research.

Completing a research program is your opportunity to make a substantial contribution to, and develop a critical understanding of, a specific discipline or area of professional practice.

The most common research program is a Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD, but there are several other research degrees you can choose from, depending on your interests and eligibility.

The PhD is the highest level of education that can be achieved.

What does a research degree involve?

A research degree differs substantially from coursework or taught degrees. A research degree in Australia has little or no course work, but instead requires a research project that must make an original contribution to knowledge. Research candidates are therefore required to (a) identify a problem, (b) design a research project to address this, (c) implement this project, (d) analyse the results, and (e) write up this project as a thesis, all the while ensuring they stay within their project budget.

Along the way, they also publish their work and present at conferences. Many research candidates gain additional experience through casual jobs undertaken to supplement their stipend such as teaching and assisting on other research projects.

Both PhDs and MPhils are examined by independent experts of international standing.

Qualification definitions

The Higher Education Support Act 2003 defines research degrees as:

  • A Research Doctorate or Research Masters course for which at least two-thirds of the student load for the course is required as research work.

The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF)1provides the following definitions:

  • The purpose of the Doctoral Degree is to qualify individuals who apply a substantial body of knowledge to research, investigate and develop new knowledge, in one or more fields of investigation, scholarship or professional practice.
  • The purpose of the Masters Degree (Research) is to qualify individuals who apply an advanced body of knowledge in a range of contexts for research and scholarship and as a pathway for further learning.

How long does a research degree take?

A PhD usually takes between 3 and 4 years full-time equivalent. An MPhil usually takes between 1 and 2 years full-time equivalent.

The Griffith Experience

The Griffith research experience

Hear from current PhD and research degree candidates about their experience completing a PhD or research degree at Griffith University.

Griffith Graduate Research School


My favourite thing about my PhD is that I am able to pursue the research and the questions that I have always wanted answers to. There are not many times in our life that we have the freedom and the flexibility to come to work everyday, enjoy what you are doing and plan your own schedule

PhD Candidate, Griffith School of Environment

A research-intensive university

A richer learning experience

Learn from more than 1,700 experts across a broad range of disciplines who will help you pursue your research interests.

Research centres and institutes

Explore multidisciplinary collaborations with researchers across our 30+ research centres and institutes in extensive and varied discipline areas.

Research support

You'll be supported with research training workshops and a comprehensive suite of library services ranging from research and data management tools to extensive borrowing privileges.

Highly regarded

Analysis of Excellence in Research for Australia 2015 found 98% of our research outputs were returned in disciplines rated at world standard or above.

Innovative links

Griffith researchers are well connected and collaborative, with over 5,000 national partners and over 200 international research agreements.

Research infrastructure

We're building research and teaching infrastructure based on areas of strategic priority, with $320 million being invested in campus developments over the next five years

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