Postgraduate research: how to apply

This section is designed to guide you through the six steps to making an MRes, MA by Research or PhD application in the College of Arts and Law. It also includes advice on identifying funding opportunities and writing research proposals. 

We accept applications at any time, although we strongly encourage research students to begin their studies at the start of the UK academic year in September. There are, however, deadlines for applying for financial support.

Step 1: Which degree?

We offer three different postgraduate research degrees.

  • PhD: 3 years full-time, 6 years part-time
  • MA by Research: 1 year full-time, 2 years part-time
  • MRes:1 year full-time, 2 years part-time

PhD: this is the most advanced research degree;  it is a research-only degree and will generally comprise a thesis of up to 80,000 words on a subject of your choice and under the expert supervision of an academic member of staff. 

MA by Research: this is a research-only Masters programme and generally requires you to prepare a thesis of up to 40,000 words on a topic of your choice under the expert guidance of an academic member of staff. 

MRes: this programme combines taught modules with an extended thesis of 20,000 words. The taught content will provide a foundation upon which to build your research, which you will complete under the expert guidance of an academic member of staff. These degrees involve taught elements that vary across the College, and as a result not all research areas are available to study at this level.

Step 2: Which mode of study?

All of our programmes are available to study on campus, and the majority can be studied on a full-time or part-time basis.

We offer MA by Research and/or PhD programmes by distance learning across all of our subject areas. 

Step 3: Do you meet our entry requirements?

  • Applicants for a PhD will also need to hold a Masters qualification at Merit level or above (or its international equivalent). Any relevant professional qualifications or experience you may have are normally taken into account and, in some cases, form an integral part of the entry requirements. If your qualifications are non-standard or different from the entry requirements stated here, please contact us.
  • For MA by Research and MRes programmes, entry to our programmes usually requires a good (normally a 2:1 or above) Honours degree, or the international equivalent. 

Step 4: Contact a member of staff

Once you have identified the subject area that you want to research, we recommend that you contact a member of our staff with appropriate expertise to discuss your proposed research. This should be a well defined, specific area of potential research, rather than a general subject area. Staff research interests can be found on our research course finder listings.

Please contact only one member of staff in the first instance. For MRes programmes, this will be the programme convenor as shown on the programme page. For MA by Research or PhD level research we would encourage you to identify a prospective supervisor in the relevant Department based on your specific research interests.  If necessary, we will redirect your email to a member of staff with expertise more directly relevant to your proposed research. If you are unsure which member of staff to approach, please contact the relevant admissions tutor (as shown on the course finder page) for advice.

This is a pre-application step to help us match your research interests with our expertise. We will give you a preliminary view about whether you proposed research and academic background is a good fit with the School’s research strengths. If there is a good fit between your proposed research and our research strengths, we will give you advice on a draft of your research proposal before you make a formal application. We will also help you to identify funding opportunities.

When contacting a member of our staff, it would be helpful to include the following:

  • A draft research proposal or a summary of your research ideas
  • Details of university-level qualifications and any relevant professional experience
  • Details on how you propose to fund your research

Step 5: Identify funding opportunities

There is a wide range of funding opportunities available to students interested in pursuing postgraduate research in the College —but it is vital that you explore these opportunities early. For more information, please refer to the College of Arts and Law funding and scholarships page.

Step 6: Submit your application (including a research proposal)

Applications are submitted online. Applications are made directly to the University of Birmingham by using course finder and clicking on the course you wish to apply for. To complete an online application, you will require the following for all of our postgraduate research programmes:

  • 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. Please see additional guidance below.
  • Copies of university transcripts
  • Two references from referees who are able to comment on your academic and professional background
  • Certificates to show competence in the English language (if English is not your first language)
  • A personal statement of no more than one side of A4 in length explaining why you are interested in studying on your chosen programme

It normally takes us 4-6 weeks to make a decision once we have received all of your supporting documents as we select students with care and your application is likely to be considered by several members of academic staff. If you have followed the steps above, it will help us to arrive at a decision much quicker. All applicants for research programmes will be interviewed. This may be in person, by telephone or by electronic means. 

During the application process, we may ask you to refine or reformulate your proposal in the light of comments from staff involved in assessing your project. If you have any questions on the application process, please contact us.

Research proposal guidance

All of our MRes, MA by Research and PhD programmes require a research proposal as part of the application process. Your proposal should include information about your chosen area of research and your proposed research question(s) so that we can understand exactly what you’re hoping to study. Each discipline requires slightly different things in a research proposal, so you might find it useful to seek advice from the admissions tutor or your potential supervisor.

For further guidance, please read our detailed advice on what a research proposal is and our top tips for writing a strong one.