I have done a Bachelor's (4 years) and my GPA is quite low. But I have research experiences (more than 3 years) and few publications in some good journals. I want to do a Ph.D. in biology or a related field. Is it possible to get a position (e.g. in the USA or Europe) when research experience is the only strong point? Or should I go for a Master's first?

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    What about just finding an advisor and stapling those good papers of yours to a cumulative thesis? Commented May 23, 2020 at 20:31
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    It may be more helpful for you to mention which countries you are considering, so you can get more specific answers about how likely it is to be accepted to a PhD only with a Bachelor's degree.
    – DimP
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 23:36
  • @DimP: ...and a low GPA... Commented May 25, 2020 at 12:45
  • @OlegLobachev I think it's a bit disingenuous to refer to a ~5 year long PhD process as "just stapling those papers to a thesis". Commented May 25, 2020 at 21:11
  • @StackTracer: The key question is if OP wants to obtain a PhD as fast as possible or to acquire the grad student experience. Judging from the question, OP already has a few journal publications. If those papers have a common idea/research direction beihind them, they are stapl'ble into a staple thesis. If those assumptions are correct, OP already has those papers. No more than a few papers are needed for a thesis material. Writing an introduction is not much work. The details will be told by an advisor, if OP finds some. In total, this sounds like a fast track to a defence, just what I said. Commented May 26, 2020 at 20:47

7 Answers 7


In the UK a PhD (or DPhil) typically starts after a 4-year undergrad program: so yes, it's normal to do a PhD right after your undergrad.

At a top-level research institution in the USA (at least in the sciences, and biology is what you said you want to pursue) a Masters is something that you would normally only get if you dropped out of a PhD program: so yes it's normal to do a PhD right after your undergrad.

In Canada, for some reason the majority of the people think they have to do a Masters before a PhD, but there is no university in Canada that requires a Masters to do a PhD in biology. In fact NSERC funding for your PhD will last only 3 years if you have a Masters, and 4 years if you do not: so yes, there is a way for you to start your PhD right after your undergrad.

People have mentioned that it's normal in Denmark and Australia too.

Some European universities (for example some, but not all, universities in Germany) you might require a Masters.

Now for some advice:

But I have research experiences (more than 3 years) and few publications in some good journals. I want to do a Ph.D. in biology or a related field. ... should I go for a Master's first?

You have more publication experience than some people have after their first post-doctoral position. A "few publications in some good journals" is what PhD students aim towards for graduation.

Masters programs can take 1 to 3 years (longer if your experiments don't work out). Why not instead do a 3-year PhD program in UK or most of Europe, or a 4-year "direct" PhD program in USA or Canada, and get Doctor beside your name for the rest of your life?

If you're going to do research for the next 6 years, would you rather:

  • Earn a Masters salary (e.g. ~$25,000/year in Canada) for 2 years, then a PhD salary (e.g. ~$35,000/year in Canada) for 4 years, or
  • Earn a PhD salary (e.g. ~$35,000/year in Canada) for 3-4 years, then a post-doc salary (e.g. $40,000-$70,000/year in Canada) for the remaining 2-3 years?

These days, it is getting harder and harder to get a stable job while our bodies are still in their prime condition for raising a family (or doing whatever else we enjoy). There still are PhDs getting permanent or tenure-track jobs in their 20s, but it's becoming common for people to reach 40 by the time this happens, because there's more humans to compete with than any time in our history. Do you really want to delay your life by 2-3 years by getting a Masters, when your goal is to get a PHD?

I am of course not listing the advantages of doing a Masters rather than a PhD, since you said you want to do a PhD eventually, and you seem to be a very strong candidate for a PhD position, so with no other information, I am certainly happy to encourage you to go straight to a PhD position. If you do want to know the reasons why one would choose a Masters rather than a PhD, the reasons do exist, but to explain them might double the size of this answer, and I would only do it if there was some reason why you were still considering a Masters even though you now know that it's not abnormal to go straight to a PhD: perhaps in that case you could describe what you want and the reasons for it, in a separate question).

  • The University of Ottawa requires a MSc to be admitted for a doctorate in biology catalogue.uottawa.ca/en/graduate/doctorate-philosophy-biology/…. . McMaster also requires a MSc for admission to PhD program in biology gs.mcmaster.ca/program/biology Are you sure no university in Canada requires a MSc to do a PhD?
    – Cell
    Commented May 26, 2020 at 1:09
  • @Cell the McMaster URL you provided does not say what you say it does. The UOttawa site does say that a Masters is required for PhD, but if you scroll further down it says that there's a "fast-track PhD program" in which you don't have to finish the Masters to move into the PhD program. Based on the information we have available, OP has enough publications that they could find a supervisor willing to take them as a PhD student, except formally they have to apply to the Masters program and then "transfer" to the PhD program after a year, if they're in good standing. Direct PhD can be like that.
    – Nik
    Commented May 26, 2020 at 1:16
  • "UK ... typically starts after a 4-year undergrad program" -- but doesn't that 4-year undergrad program typically award you a Masters, not a Bachelor's? If so, you just need to check whether or not a 4-year US Bachelor's degree is valid in place of the local 4-year undergrad MSc, which frequently will be more specialised than a typical US 4-year undergrad program. My 4-year MMath degree was all mathematics courses, all the time, as you'd expect in the UK. No minor subject, no Spanish 101, as you might get in a US undergrad degree ;-) Commented May 26, 2020 at 1:19
  • @SteveJessop You're right about everything, except I started a DPhil at Oxford directly after my 4-year undergrad in Canada.
    – Nik
    Commented May 26, 2020 at 1:20
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    Perfect. It's basically either they accept the application or they don't, and if they did for you it sounds like it's allowed... Commented May 26, 2020 at 1:25

It's certainly possible -- in fact, in the USA it's more common to start a PhD directly after a Bachelor's than after a Master's. In Europe, having a Master's first is a more typical requirement, but I have known some people to start PhDs straight after their Bachelor's (in physics, in the UK). Having significant research experience and published papers will certainly help your application a lot.

Why not apply for PhD and Master's positions at the same time? That way, you may get accepted to a PhD, in which case great, if not then you will likely have the Master's to fall back on.

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    And some programs allow you to be considered for both (with preference for PhD) in the same application.
    – GoodDeeds
    Commented May 23, 2020 at 11:37
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    In Germany, I think you need a masters to apply for a doctoral position. In general, anyway, if not universal.
    – Buffy
    Commented May 23, 2020 at 11:43
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    @Buffy: that's true for those who did their Bachelor/Master in Germany - but for foreign students there may be exceptions decided on a case-to-case basis. I had a colleague who came with a BSc from Southeast Asia to do a PhD in Germany. She had to take some exams to show that she's up to the requirements. (The same may happen if you apply for a PhD in a field that is totally unrelated to your MSc). Commented May 23, 2020 at 19:55
  • I thought this was more true outside the USA. On this site if a PhD student talks about taking classes they're normally studying in the USA. In Australia you go straight from a 4 year bachelor's to a PhD. Commented May 25, 2020 at 6:02
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    @Buffy: In Germany, my university cooperated with a British university to get a PhD with a Bachelor... It's not that it's not possible in Germany, but only "real" universities may grant them, and I studied at a "Hochschule", which is translated to university in English as well, but is more practice-oriented. Therefore, "real" university professors are being overrun by students wanting a PhD in Germany. So the very first challenge here is not to PhD, but to find a German "doctor father", which is made even harder if it's only a Bachelor's degree. You really have to have a name to get there.
    – Jessica
    Commented May 25, 2020 at 6:28

I'm starting a PhD program in January. I won't have technically finished my Bachelor's at that point as due to some scheduling issues I'll still have one module left.

If you get the grades and can persuade the supervisor you'll be a good fit for the role, anything is possible.

I'm in the UK.


In Denmark, at least at the University of Copenhagen, they have a 3+5 and 4+4 PhD programs:

In the 3+5 system, you start on an integrated Masters and PhD process straight after graduating with your Bachelors.

It exists at the Aarhus University as well, see section "I'm doing/have a Bachelor's degree". The other Danish universities may have something similar, you can google.


Some programs that don't accept people without a master's degree into their PhD program have a "bypass" mechanism where you can essentially decide after completing the first part of your program that you want to treat your completed work as the first part of your PhD program rather than completing the requirements for the Master's degree. (For example, here's the description from the University of Alberta nursing programme.) You usually need to have performed up to some standard and have the agreement of your supervisor, but the requirements are generally not onerous. (This web page says this is a Canadian thing; it existed at my previous institution (a top research university in the US) when I was there 15 years ago, but seems to have disappeared since then.)


Why not? In Australia, only Bachelor is officially required for PhD. There is no such thing as a master degree requirement in the country.


I have done exactly that, I had a Bachelor from Switzerland and did a PhD in the UK. I think it is more common in the US than in Europe. In Europe you might be more successful in getting a PhD position in a field where your research experience is relevant. I ended up with a PhD position in a group I had previously collaborated with. They had to invest a lot less time into my training and I got a PhD out of it, so it worked out for everyone.

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