PhD or MD by Publication

Guidance for candidates for PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or MD (Doctor of Medicine) by publication.


Why PhD or MD by publication?

The by publication route is offered only to staff, as an alternative to the standard PhD or MD route. It is designed to enable recognition of the research activities of those members of staff who have published work but have not completed a PhD or MD.

Prospective applicants should first ensure that they refer to the appropriate University regulations for PhD or MD by publication.

Before applying

It is suggested that prospective applicants have an early discussion with their head of department, or appropriate delegate, before making a formal application.

Since only work that has been published is eligible for submission, the discussion should be around the coherence and substance of the work and the practicality of producing a suitable commentary.

Where the applicant is considering submitting co-authored work, the discussion should include whether the candidate has made a sufficiently substantial individual contribution to work that has been published collaboratively.

How to apply

The applicant must discuss their plans with their department postgraduate (PG) tutor before applying via the PG Online application form. The following documents should also be uploaded to PG Online as part of the application process:

  • A CV.
  • A brief outline of the content of your thesis.
  • A copy of your University of Sheffield contract.
  • Letter of support from the Head of Department.


Departmental progress monitoring procedures apply to all registered students, including those registered for the degree of PhD or MD by publication.


All students must engage with the Doctoral Development Programme (DDP), which includes completing a Training Needs Analysis to assess their training needs for their PhD or MD by publication registration period. All students must complete the research, ethics and integrity training.

Students can complete an Epigeum ethics course online or attend their faculty's taught module. On logging in, select the course "Research Integrity INT version" (not the concise version) and then select the relevant disciplinary area for your research.



The registration period for a PhD or MD by publication is one year. Candidates will be expected to submit before the end of their registration period.

Candidates who have transferred from a standard PhD or MD route to a by publication route will be expected to submit within one year of their date of transfer.

Candidates are required to be members of staff for the full period of registration. Candidates will be required to pay a staff candidate submission fee upon submission. For 2022–23 this is £500.


Submission should conform to the appropriate regulations for PhD by publication or MD by publication. Candidates should note the following items must be included as part of their submission:

  • The published work (which will normally include only work published in scholarly books and journals within the last eight years).
  • A substantial commentary not exceeding 15,000 words (PhD) or 10,000 words (MD), linking the published work and outlining its coherence and significance.
  • A signed statement advising how far the work submitted is based on the candidate's own independent study, making it clear, for each publication, how far the work was conducted in collaboration with or with the assistance of others and the conditions and circumstances in which the work was carried out.
  • A CV, focusing on the candidate's research career and the circumstances under which the research work leading to the publications submitted was carried out.

The important consideration for examiners will be that the published work shows convincing evidence of the capacity of the candidate to pursue research and scholarship and make an original contribution and substantial addition to knowledge.

Thus, the proper constraints on the number of published works are that they form a substantial and yet coherent whole.

A commentary should also be submitted. It should link the submitted works and outline their significance and how they work together. The commentary should be a maximum of

  • 15,000 words for PhD candidates
  • 10,000 words for MD candidates

In most cases, it is unlikely that a small number of publications will be sufficiently substantial or that a large number would be adequately coherent.

Whilst there are no specific regulations regarding the number of publications that should be submitted, it is expected that most submissions will include between three and eight publications.

Submitting your work

Submission procedures for PhD and MD by publication are the same as for a standard PhD or MD submission and candidates are advised to refer to Submission of theses for detailed information. This includes submitting the thesis to Turnitin.

Turnitin will identify any previous publication of the text in a journal or conference paper in the originality report. If you have retained the right to publish the article and obtained the necessary permissions from publishers and co-authors, this match can be excluded from the results.

Examination and outcomes

Candidates for the degrees of PhD and MD by publication must also pass an oral examination. As these are staff candidates, two external examiners must be appointed, as well as an internal coordinator.

The following outcomes are available to examiners following the viva examination:

  • Pass.
  • Undertake minor or major corrections to the commentary only (only the commentary can be amended, the published works cannot be altered).
  • Undertake a further oral examination.
  • Undertake minor or major corrections to the commentary as well as undertaking a further oral examination.
  • Fail.

The examiners may recommend that a candidate undertakes minor or major corrections, in addition to sitting a further oral examination. 

Where the examiners recommend that a further oral examination is required, either on its own or with minor or major corrections, the recommendation of the examiners must not be regarded as a pass.

In the event of a fail, there is no option to resubmit with the same set of papers and candidates may not resubmit within two years of their first candidature.

Library copy of the thesis

Following the viva examination candidates will be required to submit a final copy of their thesis to White Rose eTheses Online.

Candidates should ensure that they have retained copyright from the original publishers or sought permission to include any and all published works in the eThesis. A copyright statement for each publication should be submitted to that effect.

Most journals will allow the inclusion of the last pre-print peer-reviewed version of the article. If any papers have multiple authors, the candidate will also need to obtain the permission of co-authors before they can be incorporated into the eThesis.

If any of the above conditions cannot be met, ie the publishers or a co-author does not give the necessary permission, the eThesis cannot be accepted.

Given the multitude of reasons for the possible failure to gain the necessary permissions, instances where permission cannot be secured will be handled on a case-by-case basis. 

A world top-100 university

We're a world top-100 university renowned for the excellence, impact and distinctiveness of our research-led learning and teaching.