PhD English Language and Applied Linguistics (Distance Learning)

We offer excellent candidates the opportunity to carry out research in one of the most dynamic institutions in Britain, while remaining in your resident country.

We specialise in, and welcome applications from prospective PhD students interested in the following areas: Corpus Research, Cognitive Linguistics and Psycholinguistics, Discourse Analysis and Stylistics, and Language Learning and Teaching.

We also offer a campus-based PhD in English Language and Applied Linguistics.

Gordon Myskow, Modular PhD student based in Japan

“I cannot say enough about how satisfied I was with the modular PhD program. As I work full-time, I was worried how I could find the time to complete it. But the modular structure allowed me to work at my own pace depending on how busy I was at work. This helped me to divide up the workload into manageable chunks. Receiving feedback from the examiners after each module reassured me I was on the right path.”

Doing a PhD in English Language and Applied Linguistics via distance learning allows you to study while remaining in your resident country, keeping in contact with your supervisor via email and skype.

This is a perfect way to study, especially if you are interested in relating research work to your current professional environment.

Extensive online research training is provided in the first year of the programme and, whilst there is no requirement to spend any time in Birmingham, you are encouraged to visit for short periods, if possible. These visits provide valuable opportunities for face-to-face supervision, to meet other PhD students and to make use of the library and other research and training opportunities.

There are two distance learning PhD programmes in English Language and Applied Linguistics. Both programmes involve regular contact with a supervisor by email and/or Skype. There is no assessed taught component, but students follow online research training modules.

Distance PhD

The standard programme requires a traditional 80,000-word thesis. The work is examined at the end of the programme, as with other PhD programmes. Students identify and refine a thesis topic and research design in consultation with their supervisor and send drafts of the various chapters for comment as they work through the programme.

As with all PhDs, progress is monitored throughout the registration period.

Distance Modular PhD

The modular programme requires three modules: two shorter research papers (Module 1 - 12,000 words, Module 2 - 20,000 words) and a final thesis of 50,000 words (Module 3). The work is examined in three phases, at the end of each module. The final product (in terms of total quantity and quality of work) is therefore similar to the standard PhD; however the modular option provides an incremental, continuously assessed route allowing students to progress through explicitly marked stages to a PhD. Students identify a topic they wish to work on and to which all their written work should be related; the nature of the assessment means however that the topic may not be as tightly focused as that in a traditional PhD. 

Profiles of our current English Language and Applied Linguistics doctoral researchers

Why study this course

  • The department celebrated excellent results in the most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise: 34% of research at the University of Birmingham for English Language and Literature was top 4* rated ‘world-leading’. A further 53% was rated 3* ‘internationally excellent’.
  • The department has many years of experience in delivering high quality distance learning programmes at postgraduate level. Staff also have expertise in supervising doctoral research at a distance.
  • While the programmes are rigorous in their standards and expectations, they also provide excellent support and a high degree of flexibility.
  • Students have electronic access through the University library to a wide range of applied linguistic research journals and e-books.
  • The University of Birmingham was ranked 41st in the World for English Language & Literature by the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2017. These rankings are compiled annually to help prospective students identify the leading universities worldwide in a particular subject.



Content and assessment for the Modular PhD

Module 1 - Subject-focused work, to include some research training and preparation related to the subject, such as empirical work, literature searches, and research methodology.

The 12,000-word assessment may be divided into 3 x 4,000 papers or combinations amounting to the total (60 credits). Pass/Fail.

Module 2 - Structured research and writing on the research topic. It may be linked in a linear way to Module 1, or the connection may be looser.

The 20,000-word assessment may be divided into one or two papers amounting to the total (120 credits). Pass/Fail

Module 3 - The thesis (maximum 50,000 words - 360 credits). Pass/Fail

The assessed work from Modules 2 and 3 should be of publishable quality.

Each assessment (i.e. each module) is submitted and passed before the student can proceed to the next. One re-submission of each module is permitted. The external examiner is consulted when each module is completed. Like all PhD theses at Birmingham, a Modular PhD is examined in a viva voce examination which takes place after the submission of Module 3.

Fees and funding

For the 2017/18 session the annual fee will be £8,865 for both home and international students.

Tuition fees will be payable each year for between four years (minimum registration) and six years (maximum registration). Students who go into Writing Up after four or five years will pay a nominal continuation fee (the same as for the full-time PhD).

Tuition fees can either be paid in full or by instalments. Learn more about postgraduate tuition fees and funding

Funding opportunities

Scholarships to cover fees and/or maintenance costs may be available. To discover whether you are eligible for any award across the University, and to start your funding application, please visit the University's Postgraduate funding database.

International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government.

Entry requirements

Our requirements for postgraduate research are dependent on the type of programme you are applying for:

  • For MRes and MA by Research programmes, entry to our programmes usually requires a good (normally a 2:1 or above) Honours degree, or an equivalent qualification if you were educated outside the UK.
  • Applicants for a PhD will also need to hold a Masters qualification at Merit level or above (or its international equivalent).

Any academic and professional qualifications or relevant professional experience you may have are normally taken into account, and in some cases, form an integral part of the entrance requirements.

If you are applying for distance learning research programmes, you will also be required to demonstrate that you have the time, commitment, facilities and experience to study by distance learning.

If your qualifications are non-standard or different from the entry requirements stated here, please contact the admissions tutor.

International students

Academic requirements

We accept a range of qualifications; our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country.

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

How to apply

Before you make your application

Please refer to our six step process on applying for PhD, MA by Research and MRes opportunities for Arts subject areas.

You may wish to register your interest with us to receive regular news and updates on postgraduate life within this Department and the wider University.

Please note: Postgraduate research can start at any time during the year, but it is important to allow time for us to review your application and communicate a decision. If you wish to start in September, we would recommend that you aim to submit your application and supporting documents by the end of June.

Additional guidance for applicants to the PhD Distance Learning study mode.

Making your application

When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

Before contacting members of academic staff, please make sure you are familiar with the application process.

Any questions about fees, scholarships, paperwork etc. are best directed to the College of Arts and Law Graduate School.

You may also be interested in browsing our English Language and Applied Linguistics staff profile pages to find additional research expertise.

Dr Joe Bennett -

I would be interested in supervising research into relationships between discourse – taken in its most general sense to include not just language but also other semiotic modes, especially images and sounds – and social power relations. Of particular interest to me at the moment are the ways in which features of contemporary British life are semiotised – the ways in which, for example, social class differences are talked about by politicians, or the ways in which different organisations with different political interests visually represent British cities. Any work related to these themes, including that relating to other cultural/national contexts, is likely to be of interest. In terms of methodological frameworks, I am interested in work that draws on Halliday’s Social Semiotics, including later developments in that area, and in Critical Discourse Analysis.

Dr Gareth Carrol

I am keen to hear from students interested in research on idioms and formulaic language, as well as other aspects of phraseology. This includes processing and representation in first and second languages, and also amongst disordered populations. Please contact me to discuss any ideas you may have.

Dr Nick Groom -

I am interested in supervising PhD students who want to use the tools and methods of corpus linguistics to address problems, questions and issues in Discourse Analysis, Critical Discourse Analysis and Second Language Acquisition research. I am also interested in supervising PhD projects that focus on applications of corpus linguistics in TEFL/TESL.

Professor Susan Hunston -

My main areas of research are corpus linguistics, especially investigating the lexis-grammar interface, and discourse, especially evaluative language and academic discourse. My more recent work combines and extends these areas. 

Dr Suganthi John -

My main areas of research are in academic discourse and the teaching of academic writing. I am keen to supervise research which investigates aspects of academic discourse – for e.g. argumentation in academic discourse, comparative studies on the features of academic discourse in different disciplines, academic style etc. Of particular interest is research which aims to illuminate aspects of academic discourse which are challenging for second language writers. Equally, I would be keen on supervising research which evaluates classroom techniques for the teaching of academic writing and materials development for academic writing. I would also be happy to supervise writing (not academic but general or creative writing) for EFL learners.

Professor Jeannette Littlemore -

I am interested in supervising PhD theses on the acquisition and use of metaphor and other types of figurative language by second language learners. I would particularly welcome proposals that focus on the acquisition of metonymy, humour and irony, and the use of verbal and gestural metaphor in cross-linguistic communication or communication between members of different discourse communities. I am also interested in supervising research that explores other applications of cognitive linguistics (such as construal) to second language learning and teaching.

Professor Michaela

My main research interests are in corpus linguistics and contextual approaches to meaning. In my current work I am particularly interested in the development of tools to support innovative research questions in the Digital Humanities and new developments in Big Data.  In the field of corpus linguistics I have published on the relationship between lexis and grammar and the way in which phraseology contributes to cohesion in texts. A major focus of my research is corpus stylistics, where I have worked extensively on Dickens's fiction and proposed a lexical approach to body language presentation in fiction.  I welcome PhD applications from those interested in any of the above topics.

Dr Ruth

My research interests bring together feminist narratology and the analysis of narratives in digital contexts. My work is integrative in nature and seeks to open up dialogue between literary-critical and sociolinguistic traditions of narrative research.  I would welcome postgraduate students (MA or PhD) with interests in any of the following areas of research:   Narrative theory; Stylistics; New media texts; and Discourse Analysis.

Dr Adam

My research and teaching experience has encompassed a number of areas in sign language linguistics, including work on aspects of the lexicon, grammar and sociolinguistics of Auslan and British Sign Language (BSL).  I am interested in supervising suitable PhD topics on all aspects of sign language linguistics, gesture studies and/or sociolinguistic variation and change.

Dr Petra Schoofs –

My main interest lies in bilingualism and bilingual education. An additional research focus and the topic of my PhD was first language attrition research: what happens to your mother tongue when you have been living in other language environments for a lengthy period of time.  I am interested in supervising doctoral research in the above areas and related topics.

Dr Paul Thompson -

I have research interests in linguistic aspects of human-computer interaction, in uses of educational technologies in language learning, and in the exploitation of corpus resources and methodologies in learning about language. I have worked on large scale academic corpus development projects, and am keen to supervise doctoral research which explores specialised language use, particularly in academic discourse, through corpus analysis, or which develops innovative approaches to corpus studies.

Professor Michael Toolan -

I am interested in supervising PhDs in all areas of Literary Stylistics, Narrative Analysis, and Discourse Analysis.  Having recently completed two monographs using corpus stylistics to explore narrative structure, my major current research interest is a corpus linguistic study of UK news media representations of wealth (in)equality over the past 40 years.

Dr Crayton Walker -

My own research interests are associated with the study of collocation and other phraseological aspects of English. I am currently using corpus-based techniques to investigate the phraseological behaviours of high frequency nouns and verbs and looking at how these are represented in mainstream EFL coursebooks.

I am particularly interested in supervising MA and PhD research in the areas of

  • collocation and other phraseological aspects of English
  • the pedagogic application of corpora
  • vocabulary and the teaching of vocabulary

Dr Bodo Winter - 

My research focuses on the intersection of language and perception. I have also worked extensively on such topics as metaphor, language evolution, gesture, sound symbolism and politeness. The different strands of my research are unified by a strong commitment to rigorous statistical methods and reproducible research practices.

Dr Florent

I would be happy to take on prospective PhD students interested to pursue a project in cognitive linguistics with a particular focus on the syntax, morphology, or semantics of English (and/or other European languages), and preferably using corpus-based and/or experimental methods.

The University has been recognised for its impressive graduate employment, being named ‘University of the Year for Graduate Employment’ in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016.

Your degree will provide excellent preparation for employment and this will be further enhanced by the employability skills training offered through the College of Arts and Law Graduate School. The University also offers a wide range of activities and services to give our students the edge in the job market, including: career planning designed to meet the needs of postgraduates; opportunities to meet employers face-to-face at on-campus recruitment fairs, employer presentations and skills workshops; individual guidance on your job applications, writing your CV and improving your interview technique; and access to comprehensive listings of hundreds of graduate jobs and work experience opportunities.

University of the Year for employability

Birmingham's English Language and Applied Linguistics postgraduates develop a broad range of transferable skills that are highly valued by employers, particularly in relation to verbal and written communication. They also develop crucial skills in organisation, time management, analysis and interpretation of information.

Over the past three years, 91% of English Language and Applied Linguistics postgraduates were in work and/or further study six months after graduation. Many of our graduates enter roles for which their programme has prepared them, such as teaching and lecturing; others use their transferable skills in a wide range of occupations including journalism, marketing and events.