Careers Portal


PhD Programme

Overview and Requirements

The GSB PhD programme is an essential component of the GSB’s research strategy and PhD students are a vital part of our research community. PhD students should graduate from the GSB not only with an internationally recognised PhD qualification, demonstrating thought leadership in their area of specialisation, but also a broader understanding of and passion for research. 

In line with our research mission of “Engaged inquiry in a complex world,” we expect PhD candidates to make an original contribution to theory, while also addressing practical organisational or social challenges. While the primary guidance to PhD candidates is provided by the PhD supervisor, fellow PhD students and other faculty provide a rich network of support and interaction.

The typical duration of a PhD project is between three and four years, if the student is dedicating the bulk of her or his time to the project. A candidate must be registered for at least two consecutive years, although registration for a year at another university may be accepted as part of that period. Although no maximum period of time is prescribed for completing a thesis, the university stipulates a "reasonable time", which is generally taken to be five years. If a candidate is not making satisfactory progress, the Commerce Faculty's Higher Degrees Committee may issue a warning, and, if necessary, may refuse re-registration.

Though we do allow part-time PhD students into the programme we recommend that students are able to dedicate at least 20 hours a week to the project. Experience shows that otherwise it is difficult to create and maintain the necessary momentum. Supervisors can at their discretion require students to commit to certain time commitments.

Students enrolled in the PhD programme are expected to:

  • Participate actively the PhD and Research Colloquia (PRCs), especially in their first year of registration – this is described in more detail below;
  • Agree with the supervisor and regularly reconsider a set of commitments and a timeline, which is to be outlined in a signed Memorandum of Understanding;
  • In the first six months of registration, develop a formal research proposal, which will be presented to GSB faculty and students and then submitted to the Commerce Faculty’s Higher Degrees Committee;
  • Keep the supervisor updated about progress within suitable, agreed timeframes;
  • Take a proactive approach to identifying their learning needs and to implementing suitable responses;
  • As appropriate, actively participate in the academic life of the GSB through lecturing, research seminars and / or co-supervision of MBA research reports; and
  • Re-register every year – failure to do so will lead to deregistration and possible problems when submitting your thesis.

In their first year of registration, PhD candidates are expected to actively participate in our PRCs. These are four or five three-day workshops distributed throughout the year. Their objectives are to give students the theoretical and methodological insights that will enable their PhD projects and also provide them with a foundation for their ongoing scholarly careers. They also contribute to a strong and supportive PhD cohort and to the GSB’s research culture. Participating in PRCs will involve comprehensive preparatory readings and exercises. Detailed programmes and preparation instructions for the PRC series will be provided at least one month in advance.

PhD candidates will have about nine months to develop their proposal. This is normally a document of between 30 and 60 pages, and we also expect a 10-15 page version. This proposal will need to be presented formally to a panel consisting of at least three members of faculty (including the supervisor). The key objectives of this assessment will be to a) assess that the student has been making adequate progress and b) provide some helpful feedback so that the student can improve her/his proposal prior to entering the field. The presentation will normally take place in the last PRC of the year, commonly in October. The candidate will be required to submit her or his proposal ten days prior to the presentation. She or he will have 20 minutes to present, followed by 20 minutes discussion.

The appraisal committee will provide formal feedback to the student in writing. The final appraisal could be summarised in one of the three categories (akin to those provided for in PhD final assessments), i.e. a) good as is; b) requires some changes; c) wholly unsatisfactory. If the verdict is “a” the proposal and the committee’s recommendation will be passed on the university’s Doctoral Degrees Board. If the result is “b” the student will need to make specific revisions to the satisfaction of the supervisor, after which it will be passed on. Inadequate proposals that receive a “c” verdict will be considered on a case by case basis, but a possible outcome is that the student will not be allowed to re-register in the next year.

For more information, see the following resources provided via UCT’s website: