Applying for an MPhil/PhD degree

This page provides an overview of the MPhil/PhD application process for prospective students at Birkbeck. For full details of how to apply, please refer to the specific MPhil/PhD programme or studentship opportunity that you are interested in.

If you are applying to undertake a PhD, you will be considered for MPhil registration in the first instance. When you reach the required standard of progress in your research, you are considered for upgrade from MPhil to PhD status

For most of our research programmes, you can choose to start in September/October, in January or in April. 

entry requirements  

  • The standard entry requirement for an MPhil/PhD programme at Birkbeck is usually a good honour's degree and/or a relevant Master's degree. 
  • If English is not your first language or you have not previously studied in English, the standard requirement is the equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic Test) score of 6.5, with not less than 6.0 in each of the sub-tests. 
  • Please note that some subjects, including arts management, law, and arts and humanities, have higher English language entry requirements: the equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic Test) score of 7.0, with not less than 6.5 in each of the sub-tests. 
  • You should carefully check the entry requirements online for your chosen research programme

finding a supervisor 

  • Finding the right supervisor is important: they will provide you with ongoing advice, guidance, support, knowledge and expertise to ensure your project develops in the best way and meets required standards. 
  • Before you apply for an MPhil/PhD degree, you will need to establish that one of our academics is able to provide appropriate supervision for your research. 
  • Your potential supervisor should work in the subject area you are researching. They may be somebody you admire and respect, a leading light in your field, or somebody with the requisite experience and expertise to guide and support you through your project. 
  • Once you find a potential supervisor, you should contact the department they teach in, to check if they can supervise your research and if your proposed research project is viable. 
  • A second supervisor is normally appointed as well, which is particularly useful if your project is interdisciplinary and you need expertise across different subject areas. (For some interdisciplinary programmes (eg the BBSRC LIDo or Wellcome Trust PhD programmes) students do not choose their PhD supervisors until their research is underway.) 

Your research proposal

  • For most PhD programmes, a crucial aspect of your MPhil/PhD application is writing a clear and concise research proposal. As a guide, the proposal should be 500-1000 words, although some of our schools require longer proposals - the School of Arts, for example, requires a research proposal of 2000 words. Please carefully check the programme page online for the required word count, or contact the department that administers your course. 
  • The aim of your research proposal is twofold: to demonstrate that you have a good knowledge of existing work and debates related to your topic and that you have formulated specific questions that you wish to explore; and that you have a research idea that will lead to the creation of new knowledge and understanding. 
  • Your research proposal helps us to see if we have an appropriate supervisor for your work. 
  • A strong research proposal should take into account the following: 
    • Title: be concise and use the most important keywords. 
    • Background and rationale: this section needs to explain the background and issues of your proposed research: identify the discipline, summarise what you know of the existing literature and demonstrate how your background makes you competent to work on your subject. 
    • Research question(s): here you need to formulate your research question(s) clearly. Explain what problems or issues you wish to explore and why you wish to explore them. 
    • Research methodology
      • Clarify the theoretical resources you will be drawing on and why. 
      • Demonstrate your knowledge of the research problems/issues related to your research questions and their relevance and usefulness to your particular project. 
      • Explain the contribution made by existing scholars who have laid the groundwork for your research and explain what further issues your research will develop. 
    • Methodology, or data and data collection: this section is very important because it tells us how you plan to tackle your research problem. It is your work plan: it specifies how you intend to go about your research. It demonstrates that you have an awareness of the methodological tools available within your subject and that you have some understanding of which would be most suitable for your research. You need to specify the approach you feel will be most appropriate:
      • You could demonstrate knowledge of alternative research methods and make a case for which method you would like to use. 
      • You could discuss the collection of data: how you would collect it and how you would analyse it. 
      • You could use empirical surveys, interdisciplinary work, comparative analysis, etc. 
      • You could discuss practical issues: do you intend to undertake fieldwork, where and for how long? 
      • You should discuss how you would need access to organisations, documents, libraries, archives, labs. 
      • Do you need to consider ethical issues? 
    • Timescale: you need to demonstrate an awareness of the need for planning and have a realistic idea of the proposed timescale.
    • Bibliography: your statement should include a short list of references to key articles and texts. 
    • What to avoid:
      • overly broad areas that would be unmanageable as PhD topics (eg 'The Novels of Charles Dickens'). 
      • vague descriptions of your research area 
      • stating that 'no work has been done on a particular subject' 
      • subject areas in which Birkbeck academics have no expertise. 

Submitting your application

When can I apply?

What is the selection process? Will I need to attend an interview?

  • The Research Admissions Tutor in your chosen subject area will circulate your proposal to potential supervisors and, if your proposed topic falls within the department’s areas of interest, you may be invited for an interview. 
  • If you are an overseas student applying for a full-time research degree and you are not available for interview in London, the Research Admissions Tutor may ask you to submit samples of written work and/or to undergo a telephone interview. Please apply as early as possible to allow time for additional correspondence.
  • An offer of admission is assessed independently of any application for funding.

What happens to your application?

  • Once you have submitted your application and it is received by Registry Services, your application is usually processed as follows:
    • Registry Services will check that the application is complete and then forward it on to the relevant department for their consideration.
    • The department - or Registry Services - may contact you for further information or additional documentation, if required. 
    • Once the department has received all the information required, you may be invited to attend an interview.
  • If you are successful, you will then be sent an offer. Offers are made by admissions tutors, subject to Registry Services’ final check of your eligibility and, in the case of students with unusual qualifications, subject to the approval of the College’s Admissions Panel.

How long does it normally take to get a decision?

  • After you have submitted your application, the process to decision - including attending an interview and receiving the formal email offer letter from Registry Services - will take a minimum of four weeks (you are normally notified of our decision about one to two weeks after your interview). But this can take longer, depending on the programme being applied for and/or if there are delays in the College receiving supporting documents such as transcripts and references. 

funding opportunities 

Admissions policy