UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Practicalities of being a PhD student in UCL ISR

ISR research environment

What you can expect:

  • A vibrant and cooperative academic research environment. While everyone has their own research project, we strongly encourage students to interact with other students and staff, and there are regular paid opportunities to contribute to both our teaching and our research projects.
  • Access to a desk in the department, to libraries, to online resources, to specialist computing facilities, to software and other resources as required.
  • To meet your supervisors regularly.
  • Access to pastoral care and other support if, and when, you need it.

What we expect of you:

  • Work hard on your studies, particularly when you encounter obstacles – PhDs require stamina as well as intelligence.
  • Commit to producing evidence to support your research insights.
  • Be curious about your research area and the wider implications of your research – when you undertake a PhD with us, we train you to become an independent researcher who is able to both ask key questions and answer them.
  • Meet regularly with your supervisor and act on their advice.
  • Broaden your skills and knowledge throughout your PhD, for example through training courses.
  • Treat all of your colleagues with respect – we are proud to have a happy and positive workplace.
  • Make a difference to the world.

MPhil/PhD programme overview

All students are initially registered for an MPhil degree. Those studying full-time for a PhD undertake a formal “upgrade process” at the end of their first year, including a presentation and viva, and if successful are registered as PhD students. Students have up to two upgrade attempts.

The PhD programme normally lasts for three years. Once you have completed this initial period, you are able to enter an additional year of “Continuing Research Status”, with no further fees, if your studies are sufficiently advanced. Some funders instead offer four-year scholarships with no possibility of entering Continuing Research Status. You submit a thesis for assessment in an oral viva at the conclusion of your studies.

Part-time students follow the same programme as full-time students, except that the programme length is five years, with up to two additional years in Continuing Research Status, and the first upgrade attempt normally takes place after 18 months.

It is possible to study for an MPhil rather than a PhD degree from the outset, but this is rare.

Working environment

Central House

ISR is based in Central House in the centre of London. Desks are available for all students and academics using a hot-desking system. Central House is being redesigned following the pandemic to encourage collaborative work between students and academics.

Students are expected to come into the office regularly for meetings with their supervisors and with other students and academics. We expect full-time students to be based in London, except for fieldwork and holidays.

ISR runs internal and external seminar programmes. More widely, the many universities and societies in London offer a rich academic environment for broadening your horizons in anything that interests you.

Training opportunities

All of our students are expected to broaden their skills and knowledge throughout their PhD. The UCL Doctoral Skills Development Programme is designed to help you to expand your research and transferable skills in order to support your research, professional development and employability. Moreover, UCL is a partner with eight other universities in the Bloomsbury Postgraduate Skills Network, which enables you to take courses offered by those institutions as well. This is particularly valuable for courses in specialist areas.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, training courses have been taking place online, but face-to-face courses will resume afterwards.

Opportunities to teach and contribute to research projects

Our school has a number of popular MSc courses, including the Sustainable Resources MSc and the Economics and Policy of Energy and the Environment MSc. We operate a Postgraduate Teaching Associate (PGTA) programme for all PhD students. Each year, a wide range of paid teaching roles are offered and you can apply for any of these roles.

Opportunities occasionally arise for students to contribute to research or consultancy projects. You would be employed either as a temporary member of staff, for research projects, or as an external consultant. If appropriate, you could interrupt your PhD studies while working on the project.

Students are not required to undertake any non-paid or paid teaching or research work unless it is a requirement of their scholarship. Any teaching or research work you do must be permissible by your scholarship and by UK employment law.

Next: Scholarships


London is not only an international multicultural hub, but also a meeting point for leading firms, policy experts, development specialists and academics. Working and studying in London means benefiting from and engaging with these networks."
Jun Rentschler, former UCL ISR PhD Student.