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Pathway to PhD Course

Students studying

What does the course include?

This is a course designed for students whose first language is not English who wish to pursue PhD studies at Durham. The course is suitable for  those who have narrowly missed their language condition.

If you take the 20 week course, the first ten weeks includes a thorough grounding in the listening, reading, writing and speaking skills you will need to participate effectively in your studies at Durham. On the 20 week course, you will study in a mixed cohort of all levels for the first ten weeks, before transferring onto a separate pathway to PhD track for the last ten weeks.

The 10 week course (and the second half of the 20 week course) is more specialised and is designed in consultation with academic departments and supervisors to reflect the specific needs of postgraduate research candidates.

In addition to language skills the course aims to develop student’s awareness of academic culture and conventions at British universities, and thus be linguistically and culturally better prepared for the demands of doctoral level study in the UK, and, more specifically, at Durham University. Individual student study may vary depending on the needs of their discipline and potential skills and typical tasks are listed below.

  • Effective reading & navigation of discipline-specific academic articles.
  • The importance of criticality and argumentation in UK academic writing. Summarising, synthesising, and presenting arguments from several sources.
  • Avoiding plagiarism through effective notetaking strategies, drafting and re-drafting of writing, and acknowledging sources.
  • Developing effective listening skills.
  • Understanding doctoral study as both a research and a writing process, with specific skills for each.
  • Key written skills and genres required at doctoral level. The language and structure of, for example, literature reviews, PhD proposals, journal articles, critical reviews, thesis chapters, progression reports.
  • Key speaking skills for presenting research and answering critical questions.
  • Functional academic language building and effective grammar and vocabulary choices.
  • Communication skills for developing effective relationships with supervisors and research teams focusing on language and discourse in written and oral formats.
  • Building discipline specific vocabulary using online databases.
  • Wellbeing and productivity strategies such as free writing, peer-review workshops, time management, development needs analysis, and ongoing researcher development resources.


How is the course taught?

You will be expected to participate in activities, discussions and classes with your tutor and fellow students daily (Monday-Friday).

We provide full course materials digitally, including reading materials, lesson materials and supporting video content. You will have homework and assessment tasks to complete and submit, as well as being expected to dedicate significant time to homework and assessment tasks.

We will be expecting you to be spending at least 25-30 hours a week on your studies.

You will be working with your classmates on academic tasks, share questions and ideas and work together in developing your learning. In addition to class time, you will have frequent one-to-one contact with your tutor to discuss your learning, progress and work you have produced. You will also get regular, detailed written feedback on work produced to help you improve.



To pass the course you need to attend 90% of all classes, submit all assessments, and achieve the pass level required by your department.

Assessments are designed after consultation with your department and supervisor and will differ according to their requirements. They will typically include:

  • A 3000-word piece of written work.
  • A  presentation
  • A listening assessment