The Birmingham PhD process

Considering and applying for a PhD can seem like a daunting experience and you may have questions over where to start and what you need to do at each stage. Applying to a research programme at Birmingham is a simple, four-step process.

If you intend to apply to a PhD which is not advertised with funding, you can expect to follow our process below:

  1. Choose which research degree: PhD, MA/MSc by Research, or MRes? Consider the research area and themes;
  2. Begin your supervisor search. Consult with a potential supervisor or department via the contact details on their profiles;
  3. Write your research proposal using our advice;
  4. Make a formal application by following the guidance notes.

Visit our How to apply pages for detailed advice and guidance on the process for postgraduate applications.

Ensure your qualifications meet our entry requirements for research degrees

To gain admission to a research degree programme (with the exception of the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medicine (MD)) an applicant must comply with the following entry requirements:

  • Attainment of an Honours degree (normally a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree or equivalent) in a relevant subject awarded by an approved university, or
  • Attainment of an alternative qualification or qualifications and/or evidence of experience judged by the University as indicative of an applicant’s potential for research and as satisfactory for the purpose of entry to a research degree programme.

In addition:

  • Admission and registration for a research degree programme may be conditional on satisfactory completion of preliminary study, which may include assessment.
  • In some cases you will also need to have completed a Masters degree or equivalent qualification in a relevant subject.

Please note

  1. Entry onto many programmes is highly competitive, therefore we consider the skills, attributes, motivation and potential for success of an individual when deciding whether to make an offer.
  2. Specific entry requirements are given for each programme. Any academic and professional qualifications or industrial experience you may have are normally taken into account, and in some cases form an integral part of the entrance requirements. If your qualifications are non-standard or different from the entry requirements stated in the online prospectus, please contact the relevant school or department to discuss whether your application would be considered.
  3. After we have received your application you may, if you live in the UK, be invited for an interview or to visit us to discuss your application.

Find a potential supervisor(s) and identify your research area

All Doctoral Researchers are provided with a lead supervisor, who will act as the main source of academic supervisory support and research mentoring during your time as a Doctoral Researcher at the University. The same appointment would normally be expected to continue throughout your full period of study. In some cases Doctoral Researchers may require additional supervision from another member of academic staff. The appointment of a co-supervisor is generally decided between the prospective student and the lead supervisor.

You should ensure that the department to which you are applying is able to offer appropriate supervisory support in your relevant research area. Before submitting an application to the University, you will need to identify potential supervisors in your desired field of research and contact them directly about your research proposal.

Here are some tips for finding a prospective supervisor at Birmingham:

  • Search for our academic staff looking to supervise projects via our supervisor search, or search for an advertised postgraduate research opportunity via our FindAPhD database. Normally, these advertised opportunities will be in the Engineering and Physical sciences or Life and Environmental sciences, where you will be applying to an existing research group;
  • Browse the course finder which identifies research leads by subject area;
  • Browse the school websites.  Most schools provide a list of research-active staff and their research interests on their website, with instructions on how to approach potential supervisors.

Develop and submit an initial research proposal

The level of detail required in your initial research proposal will depend on the programme you choose.

Research degrees (eg PhD, MLitt, MPhil, MMus, LLM, MJur)

Schools in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences and the College of Life and Environmental Scienceswhere students join an existing research group, need to know:

  • Your research interests (but do not require a detailed proposal).
  • Which areas of the College you would like to work in.
  • The names of one or more potential supervisors.

All other schools in the Colleges of Arts and Law, Social Sciences, and Medical and Dental Sciences require a research proposal of between 1000 and 1500 words specifying the subject of the proposed research, the body of ideas or theory that will be used, the aim and objectives and the methodological approach to be adopted. 

Combined research and taught programmes

A research proposal of approximately 1,000-1,500 words is required for the following programmes:

  • MPhilB Contemporary German Studies
  • MPhilB Philosophy
  • MPhilBs in the College of Arts and Law, with the exception of applicants for the MPhilB Playwriting Studies, who should submit a play or production that they have written.
  • MRes Conservation and Utilisation of Plant Genetic Resources
  • Doctorate in Business Administration
  • PhD with Integrated Study in Education and Learning
  • PhD with Integrated Study in International Development
  • SocScD in Applied Social Research

Writing a research proposal

A research proposal generally consists of an outline of your proposed research project, including your main research questions and the methods you intend to use. You should also comment on the potential impact and importance of your intended research and on how your work would interact with current trends in your academic field.

Although there is no set format or prescribed length for a research proposal, you can follow our guide to research proposal writing for some tips and advice on key themes, focuses and structure.

If you are applying to the College of Arts and Law, follow specific guidance on writing a research proposal for programmes within this college.

Submit your application

The quickest and most efficient method of applying for admission to postgraduate programmes at Birmingham is to apply online. This allows you to complete the application process at your own pace, using our ‘save and return’ option.

  • To apply to your chosen course, visit the course page within our course finder.
  • Click ‘apply now’, where you will be directed to an application specifically designed for your programme and asked to create your account with us.
  • You can save and return to the portal to continue your application and can also upload any relevant supporting documents prior to submission.
  • Apply online now using the links in our course finder pages.