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Pathway to PhD

Students studying

What is the 'Pathway to PhD'

This is a course designed for students whose first language is not English who wish to pursue PhD studies at Durham. You can join for either 20 Weeks or 10 Weeks.

Programmes are suitable for both those who have narrowly missed their language condition and those with unconditional offers for their main programme.

What does the course include?

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.

The skills you will learn on the first ten weeks of the 20 week Pre-sessional include:

  • Effective reading & navigation of academic articles and other text types
  • Notetaking skills
  • Summarising arguments from several sources and synthesising these in order to express an academic position
  • Learning to avoid plagiarism through effective notetaking strategies, drafting and re-drafting of writing, and academic acknowledgement (citation and referencing)
  • Giving formal presentations and participating in / leading discussions and seminars
  • Developing effective lecture listening skills

The Pre-Sessional programme often mirrors the academic process that many of you will follow in your department:

  • First you engage with academic knowledge through reading and/or through listening to a lecture
  • Next, you may present to your peers on your reading and/or take part in a seminar where you develop and refine your understandings through discussion with your peers and with your teacher
  • Finally, you may then produce a piece of writing which engages more deeply with the academic issues you have been engaging with.
  • We believe in developing your academic English, so language feedback and development (e.g. grammar) will often be based on what you write and/or present during the course.

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 programmes 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 have access to dedicated discussion space to work 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

The Durham University Pre-sessional Courses are accredited by BALEAP.