Choosing the right research programme

Birkbeck is a world-leading research university with a vibrant, extensive and cross-disciplinary research culture and a welcoming, supportive community of over 700 MPhil/PhD students. Over 90% of our academics are research-active, and Birkbeck is home to over 40 specialist research centres.

Our main campus is in Bloomsbury, central London, and close to the unparalleled research resources of the British Library, the British Museum and the libraries and research centres of the University of London, including the School of Advanced Studies, University College London (UCL) and the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS). You can use dedicated study areas in the Birkbeck Library, or access the University of London's richly resourced libraries (including Senate House), research spaces and study areas. 

We offer research opportunities in over 40 subjects areas, in arts and humanities, business, economics and computing, law, science, and in the social sciences - and in interdisciplinary combinations. 

Read more about making an application to Birkbeck to undertake an MPhil/PhD research programme

Types of research degree we offer 

  • An MRes (Master of Research) is an advanced postgraduate research degree in a specific academic subject. An MRes usually includes research training and the opportunity to write a shorter dissertation, giving you experience of advanced research and a highly useful postgraduate qualification. 
  • An MPhil (Master of Philosophy) is an advanced postgraduate research degree that stands between a taught or research postgraduate degree (MA, MSc, LLM, MRes) and a full PhD. It typically requires original research and the submission of a substantial dissertation. 
  • PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is the most advance postgraduate research degree that you can undertake, which must demonstrate original research and thinking and which culminates in a thesis of 60,000-100,000 words that you must successfully defend in a formal oral examination (the 'viva'). 
  • An Integrated PhD is a PhD degree that combines a taught element - usually compulsory seminars in the first year or two - with a shorter research project. 
  • Practice-based research: several of our MPhil/PhD programmes give you the opportunity to work on a practice-based project. Check the programme page online to see if this is an option on the MPhil/PhD degree you are interested in or contact your potential supervisor via the Finding a Supervisor section. 

The PhD Degree 

  • A PhD is an extended research project that culminates in a dissertation of 60,000-100,000 words, depending on the subject. An essential requisite of a PhD is that you produce original research that either demonstrates new knowledge or theories, or that builds on existing knowledge or theories. 
  • There is little teaching on the majority of PhD programmes: you are expected to research and write independently, supported by your department and by your supervisor(s). There may be other requirements, including attendance at research training. 
  • At Birkbeck, you are initially registered as an MPhil or an MRes student (depending on the programme) and you upgrade to PhD status after the first year or two, subject to satisfactory progress. If your school decides you are not an appropriate candidate to continue, or if you decide a full PhD is not for you, you can submit a shorter thesis and gain an MPhil or MRes qualification instead. 

Full-time and part-time study 

  • An MPhil/MRes is usually one year full-time or two years part-time. 
  • A PhD is usually three to four years full-time or five to seven years part-time in total (ie including the qualifying MPhil element). 
  • An Integrated PhD is 12 months full-time or 20 months part-time for the taught element, followed by two years full-time or three years part-time for the research element. 

Attendance 

  • As independent work is the largest component of research degrees, you can plan your research around work or other daytime and personal commitments. 
  • You can research and write during the day or in the evening, as best suits you, although seminars and training sessions at Birkbeck are likely to be held in the evenings. 
  • You will need to meet with your supervisor(s) regularly. As a guide: 
    • Full-time research students should meet with their supervisor(s) at least three times a term 
    • Part-time research students should meet with their supervisor(s) at least twice a term. 
  • For the vast majority of our MPhil/PhD degrees, you will need to come to the main Birkbeck campus in Bloomsbury, central London, to meet with your supervisor(s), but we do offer some research programmes by distance learning, which allow you to conduct supervisions via telephone or virtual meeting software such as Skype.  

Start dates

  • For many of our MPhil/PhD degrees, you can start in one of our three terms: in September/October (Autumn Term); in January (Spring Term); or in April (Summer Term). 
  • You can apply throughout the year. 

Assessment

Birkbeck Graduate Research School (BGRS)

  • The Birkbeck Graduate Research School (BGRS) supports the research activities and professional development of our research students, offering free advice and training. 
  • The BGRS also oversees the examination and awarding process for all research students, so they should be your first point of contact for enquiries relating to submitting your thesis, University of London regulations and the oral examination ('viva').