Translation Studies Practice-Based PhD Frequently Asked Questions

Please find answers to our frequently asked questions below. 

What is the difference between a traditional PhD in Translation Studies and a Practice-Based PhD?

A PhD in Translation Studies usually involves completing a major research project and submitting a 80,000-word thesis. If you follow the practice-based PhD programme then you complete a translation and submit this along with a critical document of no fewer than 50,000 words. The translation will be an original piece of work of significant, publishable quality. The critical document will be a commentary on your translation project, informed by rigorous research, and will discuss, where relevant, critical and creative processes. At Birmingham, there are similar Practice-Based PhD programmes in Creative Writing and Musical Composition.

Your final submission will be assessed in the standard way for a PhD thesis by viva voce (oral examination) before a panel of expert examiners.

What sort of source text (ST) should I choose?

Most students will work on literary texts: novels, short stories, plays or poetry. We have considerable experience of practising and researching literary translation within the Department and so are best placed to offer supervision on literary projects. It may also be possible to work on non-literary genres, such as memoirs/correspondence, academic texts, or semi-specialised scientific writing, subject to suitable supervisors being available. Please note that we do not currently offer supervision for audio-visual translation projects.

Normally, you should choose a ST which enables you to demonstrate your professional creative practice, as in the Creative Writing PhD or Musical Composition PhD. In any case, your choice of ST should allow you to complete an original, substantial and publishable piece of work, equivalent to a piece of original creative writing or a musical composition.

You should work on a project which is as realistic as possible and you will be expected to discuss this aspect of your project in your critical document. For a literary project, this may mean engaging with literary agents when you choose your ST and establishing contact with potential publishers; you should also aim to undertake ‘real-life’ processes of review and revision such as collaboration with the ST author or public readings/performances.

What language should I translate from/into?

You should translate into your language of habitual use/a language in which you have native-speaker proficiency; and normally either the source-text language or target-text language should be English. Normally your Lead Supervisor will have expertise in your language-pair.

How long should my source text be?

Your ST should be 18,000-50,000 words. (Note that your critical commentary will be 50,000-62,000 words, i.e. the total word count of your project must not exceed 100,000 words.) The length of your ST will depend on a number of factors, such as the genre and complexity of your source material. For example, a piece of highly poetic, modernist prose of 20,000 words or an anthology of poetry of 20,000 words might present equivalent challenges to a long-form prose work of 50,000 words. The balance of words will be agreed with your supervisory team at the outset of your programme and will be subject to formal review and confirmation each year as part of the progress review process.

What will my critical document contain?

The critical document will be a research-informed commentary on your translation project. It will be a substantial piece of work of 50,000-62,000 words displaying the same research competence as a traditional PhD thesis. It will situate your project within the discipline of Translation Studies and demonstrate your familiarity with the relevant literature; it will show that you are proficient in relevant research method(s); and it will present a clear and coherently-argued case for the originality and significance of your translation. Alongside research competence, a practice-based PhD positively values creativity and, where relevant, the commentary should include your reflections as a practitioner on critical and creative processes. 

What should my proposal include?

Your proposal will not differ in many ways from a standard PhD research proposal. Further guidance can be found on our research proposal web pages

However, a strong proposal for a practice-based project should also include:

  • Details of your source text and a description of your proposed target text
  • A explanation of why your translation will be an original, substantial piece of work which demonstrates e.g. your professional, creative practice and which will be of publishable quality
  • An explanation of how your project relates to current work in Translation Studies, with reference to some of the relevant secondary literature which might inform your approach
  • A brief statement explaining why you are interested in undertaking research with us at Birmingham. Many projects are achievable without needing a PhD, so it is helpful to see why you are interested in working within academia