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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. 

Writing a successful PhD programme application will require a period of preparation that will last several weeks or more. During this time you will need to consider your research area, identify a potential supervisor and discuss your potential research project with them. You must plan to allow sufficient time to complete this process.

Is a PhD right for me?

Birkbeck has been part of developing a three-week course in collaboration with the Bloomsbury Learning Exchange, designed to provide information and advice for anyone deciding whether doctoral study is the right path for them. Swapping myths and misconceptions for useful tips and resources, the free ‘Is a PhD Right for Me?’ course will help you prepare for PhD applications and beyond. 

completing your application

Check the 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

Find a supervisor 

  • For research students admission is dependent on availability of an appropriate supervisor for the research area you are interested in. Finding the right supervisor is crucial: 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. 
  • 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. 
  • In order to identify a potential supervisor, you can browse our staff profiles, search the staff pages on our individual departments or find out about the range of research being undertaken at Birkbeck.
  • If you require advice about identifying a potential supervisor for the research area you are interested in, you can make contact with the school where the PhD programme is based to discuss this further.
  • As part of the application process, the school will assess whether any identified academic member of staff is available to supervise your research and how your proposed research project is related to their research interests and expertise. 
  • 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 BBSRC LIDo) students do not choose their PhD supervisors until their research is underway.) 

Write a 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. Please carefully check the programme page online for the required word count, or contact the faculty that administers your chosen research degree programme. 
  • 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; 
    • to demonstrate 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. 
    • Introduction, background and rationale: this section needs to explain: 
      • what your research is about 
      • the background and issues of your proposed research 
      • what makes your research academically interesting 
      • how your work will make a contribution to the field and how it is original 
      • what you know of the disciplinary background and the existing literature 
      • how your background makes you competent to work on your subject. 
    • Research question(s): you need to clearly formulate your research questions. Explain what problems or issues you wish to explore, why you wish to explore them and why they are important and interesting. 
    • The corpus of work, the body of data or the case studies you intend to research
    • Literature review
      • Explain the contribution made by existing scholars who have laid the groundwork for your research and explain what further issues your research will develop. What other research has been conducted that attempted, directly or indirectly, to address your research questions? 
      • Clarify the theoretical basis of your research and why it's suitable. How has theory developed in your field and where is it heading? 
      • Demonstrate your knowledge of the research problems/issues related to your research questions and their relevance and usefulness to your particular project. 
      • Explain what research methods have been used in your field and what their limitations are. 
    • Methodology and analysis: this section is very important because it tells us how you intend to go about your research. You need to demonstrate an awareness of the methodological and analytical tools available and which are most suitable for your research. 
      • what types of data will you collect? 
      • how will you collect and analyse your data? How is your approach suitable and what might the problems be? 
      • what analytical techniques will you use (empirical surveys, interdisciplinary work, comparative analysis, etc) and what are their limitations? 
      • how will your data collection and analysis help you to answer your research questions? 
      • what about the practical issues (including any intended fieldwork - where and for how long) and any potential problems? 
      • what participants, organisations, documents, libraries, archives, labs, etc, will you need to access and how will you do this? 
      • do you need to consider ethical issues? 
      • if your proposed thesis is entirely theoretical, your methods will be different and should be discussed with your potential supervisor or the relevant department. 
    • The potential significance of your research
    • Timescale: you need to demonstrate an awareness of the need for planning and give an indicative timescale. Doctoral research is a time-bound project and your PhD must be submitted within a maximum of 4 years full-time or 7 years part-time study.
    • Bibliography: your statement should include a short list of references to key articles and texts. 
    • What to avoid: 
      • overly broad, vague or unmanageable areas/descriptions of research (eg 'The Novels of Charles Dickens' or 'The Plays of Shakespeare') 
      • overstating the originality of your work (eg claiming that 'no work has been done' on your subject) 
      • a subject area in which Birkbeck academics have no expertise. 

Submit your application 

Application deadlines 

  • Applications for MPhil/PhD research degrees are considered throughout the year and you can start most of our MPhil/PhD programmes in October, January or April. 
  • However, if you intend to apply for a research studentship or other research funding, you will usually need to apply by January of the year of entry. 

After you submit your application

How we process 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 make it available to the relevant department for their consideration.
    • The faculty - or Registry Services - may contact you for further information or additional documentation, if required. 
    • Once the school 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.


  • You may be invited for an interview if your proposed research topic falls within the department’s areas of interest. 
  • If you are an overseas student applying for a full-time research degree and you are not available for interview in London, you may be asked 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


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

Funding opportunities


Birkbeck Graduate Research School (BGRS)

  • You can find information about being an MPhil/PhD student at Birkbeck, and about how we will support you, on the BGRS web pages.