School of Politics and International Relations

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How to Apply for a Research Degree

Online applications are made by using the links in the ‘Apply online’ box here, but please read the following information carefully before applying. Applications for admission can be made for both full-time (4 years) and part-time study (7 years). 

The first step in applying to do a research degree is to identify a potential supervisor or project. Full details on this process can be found here: Choosing a project and supervisor.

Admission requirements and deadlines

Applicants are expected to hold a good first degree of at least 2:1, or equivalent, and/or a Masters degree of at least Merit, or equivalent (usually 65% and above), in politics and/or international relations, or a cognate discipline. Relevant experience within the field may also be taken into account. If English is not your first language, take note of any English language requirements. The College’s standard requirement for English is IELTS 6.5 or equivalent. More details about language requirements can be found in the international students section.

There are no set deadlines for applying for a research degree, unless you are applying for a funded place. Funded places normally have a deadline of late January. We encourage you to start in October as it allows you to take full advantage of our training programmes. However, you may request a January or April start if your circumstances do not permit you to start earlier.

Research proposal

It is essential that a research proposal is included with any correspondence with a potential supervisor or project leader. 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 approx. 1,500 words long and include an indicative bibliography (not included in the word count). Your proposal should be laid out as follows:

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.

Application form

Once you have established contact with and received positive feedback from a suitable supervisor or project leader, they will encourage you to make a formal application. Online applications are made by using the links in the ‘Apply online’ box here.

You application will consist of the following:

  1. Completed application form
  2. Transcripts of your previous degrees
  3. Proof of English language ability for overseas applicants from non-English speaking countries
  4. Curriculum Vitae (CV), or Résumé
  5. Your research proposal
  6. A short statement explaining why you want to study with us. This should address the following: previous academic and other experience relevant to your proposed research; why you wish to undertake this research at Queen Mary; what research training and professional preparation you have already received, and what further training you think you will need; any ethical issues you will need to consider in undertaking your research.
  7. Two references.  If you are still studying for your Masters degree, it is essential that one of the referees is able to comment on your progress so far and your predicted grades. Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure that your references are returned before any advertised deadlines. The College of School will not pursue outstanding references on your behalf.  If references are not received by the advertised deadline, your application will not be considered any further.

Fuller details on the application process are here

Please note that if you are applying for funding from the ESRC Doctoral Training Centre, you will need to complete an additional application form. This is available to download from the DTC website: London Social Science

Next steps

You application will be assessed by members of staff in the School led by the School’s Director of Graduate Studies. If your application is successful you will receive an offer of a place from the College’s central Admissions Office. You may be invited for an interview before a decision is returned and an offer made. Applications for funded places will be shortlisted and successful candidates invited for an interview. Please note that it is not uncommon to receive an offer of a place before funding is confirmed. If this happens, please make sure you accept the offer within the timescales given to you by the Admissions Office. If you are unsuccessful in securing funding, you may withdraw your acceptance of the offer, ask to defer until the next academic year, or switch to part-time study. We endeavour to respond to all completed applications within 6-8 weeks.

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