Perhaps this is a ridiculous question, and I couldn't find any previous asker, so forgive me.

Is it possible to earn a doctorates by writing a thesis by yourself and then submitting it to a university?

I have a bachelor's and a masters and I am reading lots of research papers in an unrelated field. I am in a unique situation because I have lots of time, could devote 30-40 hours a week reading and doing research, read many research papers throughout the week and, I think, could conceivably write a thesis with new academic contributions by using the research tools available at the university I teach at (I'm a lecturer) and confirming that this thesis would have meaningful or new contributions, which I assume is one of the requirements of a doctorial thesis.

For someone like this, what are the options available? I know that I could possibly get published if my paper was good enough, but what else could someone in this situation do to get ahead academically and in his career?

I am also aware that part of the value of a doctorate, or any degree, is the prestige due to where the degree was obtained.

Anyhow, I am assuming this is impossible, but I'm also curious why and if there are any other loopholes available for someone in this situation.

  • 2
    The specifics will likely vary very much by country. Jun 22, 2023 at 10:54
  • 1
    The 'titles' are practically same, the content very related, however OP question, seemly, isn't exactly the same as the suggested. Unfortunately, OP isn't explicit/clear enough. Jun 22, 2023 at 18:43
  • @StephanKolassa indeed, the specifics will vary; especially between the States and UK/Australia. The specifics will also varies based on the form of Doctorate Jun 22, 2023 at 18:46

2 Answers 2


You question ain't ridiculous, you just need to frame it well enough. Also, don't underestimate the rigour of a Doctorate: it is tasking and demanding.

Regarding your question, yes it is possible to earn a doctorates through various means beyond the traditional 'thesis' or the US style of courses, exam and dissertation.

However, you just can't write a thesis by yourself and then submitting it to a university?

... what are the options available?

  1. Published papers in credible journals (ensure you have some Q1/A rated) and follow the PhD by Publication (retrospective route). I wrote an answer sometimes back in May.
    Essentially, you register at a university, write an exegesis/commentary with a golden thread around your existing publications. This is examined with the requirements for PhD (and in the UK and some Australian, appear for Viva Voce)
  2. Being a lecturer already and in an academic environment, you could register for a Doctorate through distance learning. You'll carry out your research (remotely at your current environment), write up your thesis and submit for examination (and possibly Viva Voce).
    You might have the option of submitting a Thesis by Article (similar to retrospective route but in this instance are publications during your candidacy, one or two might be written manuscripts yet to be accepted).

From a documentary analysis I did (for a manuscript under review), there are about 16 UK universities offering PhD by Publication (retrospective route) to everyone, while over 30 offers to staff or alumni or associates with research ties, while some offers to staff only.


There is something called a PhD by publication. I don't think it is common, at least in the US, but that is essentially what you are describing. Here is an example from University of Portsmouth in the UK.

I believe the general idea is that you already have a body of work that you then put together into a thesis and defend. Likely you would apply, show that you are "qualified", and then spend some amount of time writing your thesis under the (likely remote) supervision of the university.

I think (I don't know for sure as this isn't a path familiar to me) that it would not be an option without substantial prior publications. It would probably be more straightforward to just start a PhD in your situation since you would need years to accumulate the requisite body of work anyway. Although if you have substantial time and the ability to publish independently, this seems like it is technically an option.

As for prestige, you would have to search out what Universities offer this degree track. Whether or not they are prestigious enough depends on you goals.

One thing to consider, if you don't already have a good bit of research know-how, it will be difficult to do any work independently. There are a ton of pitfalls that are not obvious without experience (or an experienced mentor - like you would have in a traditional PhD program). So while it is easy(ish) to read papers it can be hard to produce good ones.

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    As far as I know, in the U.K. at least, for PhD by publication, you still have to enrol on an actual PhD course, you just can just submit a bunch of bound papers at the end rather than writing a thesis from scratch. I’m not sure you’d be able to arrive with papers and ask for a PhD
    – user438383
    Jun 22, 2023 at 8:19
  • Such a degree does exist within the Australian system, with a scholar being able to present their total body of work within a field for the award of a 'higher doctorate' (which are denoted D.Sc and D.Eng in place of PhD). I don't believe these awards require a PhD to obtain, but being 'higher' doctorates, they are rather rare and generally only awarded to very pronounced scholars in a field, so they are not particularly relevant here.
    – young_man
    Jun 22, 2023 at 9:40
  • @user438383 I don't think I ever said that you could submit papers without writing a thesis or do so without being enrolled. I'm not intimately familiar with the process, but based on a brief search of university websites, they do seem to expect that you show up with papers and then write a thesis. This is different than the traditional (or at least traditional in the US) process of taking classes, qualifying exam, years of research to then produce and defend a thesis.
    – sErISaNo
    Jun 23, 2023 at 4:02

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