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Choosing a Project and Supervisor

PhDs in the School of Politics and International Relations fall into two categories:

  1. projects initiated and developed by the applicant, in consultation with a supervisor in the School
  2. projects on a specific topic chosen by the School (these often have funding attached

1) Self-initiated projects: this could be on any topic within politics and/or international relations, broadly defined. However, please note that we can only provide supervision on subject areas in which we have specific expertise. Therefore, you should carefully consider whether your project fits with the research interests of the School. The School’s research interests fall broadly into the areas indicated below. Individual staff profiles can be accessed by clicking on the names under each heading and on the School staff pages:

European Politics

Staff active in the European Politics research group: Professor Tim Bale; Dr Paul Copeland; Professor Philip Cowley; Dr Patrick Diamond; Prof Adam Fagan; Prof Rainbow Murray; Dr Brendan O’Duffy; Dr Javier Sajuria; Dr James Strong; Dr Stijn van Kessel; Dr Sarah Wolff.

International Relations

Staff active in the International Relations research group: Dr Peter Brett; Dr Jean-Francois Drolet; Prof James Dunkerley; Dr James Eastwood; Dr Clive Gabay; Dr Sophie Harman; Prof Kimberly Hutchings; Prof Jef Juysmans; Dr Lee Jones; Prof Ray Kiely; Dr Bryan Mabee; Dr Nivi Manchanda; Dr Christopher Phillips; Dr Richard Saull; Dr Robbie Shilliam; Dr James Strong; Dr Jeffery Webber; Dr David Williams.

Political Theory

Staff active in the Political Theory research group: Dr Madeleine Davis; ; Dr Joe Hoover; ; Prof Engin Isin; Dr Daniel Kato; Dr Lasse Thomassen; Dr Caroline Williams; .

Once you have identified a potential supervisor, you should make contact via email to establish whether your research is something they can supervise. When contacting a potential supervisor, please ensure you include:

  • A research proposal. The research proposal sets out what you intend to do during your degree and establishes your research in relation to other work in the field. The proposal should be maximum 1,000 words long and include an indicative bibliography (not included in the word count).
  • Your CV.

More information about the structure of your research proposal can be found in the ‘How to draft a research proposal’ section below.

If the supervisor is able to take your project on and is happy with your proposal they will encourage you to make a formal application (please note that this recognition from a supervisor does not guarantee that your application will be successful).

2) Specific projects: from time to time, we advertise places for PhDs on a specific topic. These usually have funding attached and are sometimes connected to larger research projects being undertaken in the School by one or more members of staff. Funding can come from a number of sources, but is normally from one of the UK Research Councils or through Queen Mary’s own Principal’s Studentships scheme. Funding usually covers tuition fees and provides a generous living allowance for up to three years. When applying for these places, applicants are asked to create a research proposal based on a project or topic description, and to contact the member of members of staff named in the project description.

Details of specific projects currently available in the School are here. Funded places are also advertised nationally.

How to draft a research proposal

Title – this should be concise and descriptive.

Background and rationale – this section sets up why this proposed research is needed. You can briefly summarise the key literature in this area, identifying the gaps in knowledge concerning your topic of interest. Most importantly, you must make a convincing case as to why your research would create valuable and original knowledge.

Research questions – you need to formulate your research questions clearly and concisely. You should have an answerable question that can be investigated thoroughly within the available timeframe. (You will need to judge whether these are most clearly expressed before or after the theoretical framework.) Note: it’s important to keep these questions brief and reasonable in scope to avoid appearing overambitious.

Theoretical framework– in this section you expand on the background by clarifying which theoretical approaches you will be drawing on and why. You can demonstrate your knowledge of the research problem and your understanding of the theoretical context. Give consideration to broad issues within your chosen theoretical framework where appropriate, and note how they will affect the research process. Fully acknowledge those who have laid the groundwork for your research proposal.

Methods – this section should describe the practical steps necessary for the execution and completion of your project. If appropriate, you could demonstrate your knowledge of alternative methods, and make the case that your approach is the most appropriate and most valid way to address your research questions. Explain what data (broadly-defined) you will collect; how you will collect them, and what analyses you will perform on them. Explain what research skills you have, or state how you will acquire them. Do not skimp on the methods and practical sections by writing too much one the background and theoretical context.

Practical issues – these must be considered in relation to your methods. If you are intending to undertake fieldwork, consider where this might best be undertaken and for how long. If your fieldwork involves external organisations, then can you demonstrate that they will give you access to all the resources you need. Will your proposed research require specialised training? If so, where can you obtain such training and what will it cost? Does you research involve significant running costs for materials, specialist equipment and consumables? Have you got plans for securing the necessary funds?

Timescales – it is important that you map out a reasonable schedule of your work so that you can monitor your own progress and manage your project effectively. Start with your intended finishing date and work backwards. Do not underestimate the amount of time that it takes to write a polished final thesis.

Dissemination – your PhD should produce research of publishable quality. You might briefly note the type of publishable outputs you expect to generate and where you would like them to appear. This is especially important if you wish to pursue a career as an academic in a UK university.

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