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Choosing the right research degree

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

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

Read more about applying for a Birkbeck MPhil/PhD

Master's or PhD?

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 either an ordered and critical exposition of existing knowledge or a record of original work and the submission of a substantial dissertation of up to 60,000 words and a formal oral examination ('the viva').
  • PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is the most advanced postgraduate research degree that you can undertake, which must demonstrate original research and thinking and which culminates in a thesis of up to 100,000 words that you must successfully defend in a formal oral examination (the 'viva').  In order to gain a PhD you need to demonstrate how your investigations form a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and afford evidence of originality by the discovery of new facts and/or by the exercise of independent critical power. You will need to demonstrate a deep and synoptic understanding of the field of study, objectivity and the capacity for judgement in complex situations and autonomous work in that field. Your eventual thesis will need to be of a standard to merit publication.
  • Practice-based research: several of our MPhil/PhD programmes give you the opportunity to work on a practice-based project. Check the PhD course listing online to see if this is an option on the MPhil/PhD degree you're interested in or contact your potential supervisor via the Finding a Supervisor section on the how to apply for a MPhil/PhD page.
  • Professional doctorate: The professional doctorate route is available for students to integrate their professional practice experience with a research degree. Professional doctorate students carry out MRes programme elements alongside their practice in the first stage of their research degree followed by a move to the doctoral phase of their studies. These programmes are available part-time in order for students to maintain their professional practice alongside their doctoral studies. Professional Doctorate routes are available in Occupational Psychology and Evidence-Based Human Resource Management.

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. 

Studying your Research degree At Birkbeck

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). 
  • A Professional doctorate is usually four or five years part-time, allowing students to integrate their professional practice experience with a research degree.


  • 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.