Life as a Graduate Student

We aim to provide opportunities for outstanding graduate study in all areas of English Literature. You can expect to be in regular contact with acknowledged authorities in your chosen field, and to have access to research resources which are among the best in the world. We usually admit around ninety graduate students each year.

The Cambridge University Library is one of only three copyright libraries in England. It can be relied upon to contain the vast majority of twentieth-century printed materials on most topics, and it has excellent collections of printed books and manuscripts from earlier periods. It also subscribes to a large number of electronic journals and databases which are available to all students in the University. The Faculty and your supervisor will provide you with guidance about how best to use these resources.


We treat all applications made to us equally, and we consider them as swiftly as possible. In considering applications we take equal account of your academic record, your written work, your proposal, and whether we can provide first-class supervision in your area. We receive a lot of applications for graduate places, and competition can be intense. If you have a query about your application, please contact the graduate you can contact the Degree Committee Secretary, 9 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DP (tel. 01223 335076, email We normally reply to queries within five working days.

The deadline for the submission of applications for MPhil and PhD courses starting in October 2017 is 5 January 2017.


You will be assigned a supervisor for your studies in Cambridge. The supervisor will be a specialist in the general field in which you propose to work, although he or she may not be an expert on your particular topic of research. Your supervisor will assist you in refining your research topic, oversee the general direction of your work, and ensure that what you are doing is up to the standard expected for the degree towards which you are working. You can expect to meet your supervisor on average once a month to report on your progress, and more frequently than this if necessary. How much you write in a given period will vary, but as a rule of thumb you will usually be expected to produce at least one substantial piece of written work each term.

If you are taking an MPhil course, supervision meetings will probably be less frequent in the part of the year (usually the first two terms) in which you are doing the bulk of the coursework and will become more frequent in the third term, when you are writing your dissertation. It is usual practice for students to remain with the same supervisor for the whole of their course, though there are inevitably some circumstances in which this cannot be guaranteed. If your supervisor goes on leave, for example, you will be temporarily assigned to another expert in the field. It is usually relatively easy for students to get informal advice from academics other than their supervisor, and to make contacts with relevant experts in their own faculties or across disciplines.

In addition to their supervisor, PhD students are assigned an advisor, who is a member of the Faculty with expertise in the student’s field. The student has a formal advisory meeting with the supervisor and the advisor once a year. The advisor is also available for less formal consultation from the outset. MPhil students do not have advisors, but the Director of MPhil Studies (discussed in the next section) and other members of the Faculty involved in teaching for the MPhil courses are always happy to offer advice and support.

Faculty Support

Three academic officers in the Faculty have particular responsibility for graduate work. The Director of Graduate Studies oversees the general running of graduate courses, and is always available to see students who encounter difficulties or who have queries about their course. The Director of MPhil Studies has particular responsibility for students who are taking one-year courses. The Chair of the Degree Committee has overall responsibility for graduate affairs in the Faculty. In addition to these officers the Faculty has a full-time graduate administrative assistant who is a very helpful source of advice and support to students. Graduate representatives on the Faculty Board ensure that the views of graduate students are heard in the Faculty, and a Student Consultative Committee meets regularly to discuss matters of concern to students. The Faculty runs a wide range of graduate seminars, which cover all of the major areas of work (each period has its own seminar; in addition there are normally seminars on American literature, literary theory, postcolonial studies, and the history of material texts). These provide a forum for students to hear recent work by scholars in each of these fields, as well as giving a chance for PhD students to give papers on their research. There is also a Graduate Research Forum, run by graduates, which addresses research and career issues. Seminars are often also social occasions, and many are followed by drinks and dinner to which graduate students are invited. The quality of all aspects of graduate study is regularly monitored, through questionnaires and small-group consultations.

Courses of teaching

You will be told about the teaching arrangements for your course within the first week of your first term. You will be told which elements in your chosen course are compulsory and which are optional, and you will receive information about a range of additional facilities in the University that you might find useful. As a member of the University you will be able to attend any undergraduate lectures which interest you in the English Faculty or other faculties (e.g. History, Philosophy, Modern and Medieval Languages). The start of your graduate career is an ideal time to fill in any gaps which you have in your knowledge, or to acquire ancillary skills, such as languages or computing skills, which will help you later in your career. Excellent language laboratories, computing facilities and libraries provide resources for anyone who wishes to develop their knowledge in any of these areas. You will receive guidance about the resources for research (printed and electronic) available to you and how to use them.

Faculty facilities

Although graduate research revolves around independent study, it needn’t be a solitary experience. The English Faculty building at 9 West Road, a step away from the University Library, provides a place where you can meet and work alongside other English graduates. In addition to the English Faculty library there is a Graduate Study Area, with computers and lockers, and a graduate common room. Many lecturers have offices in the faculty building, and the building also houses a drama studio, seminar and supervision rooms, social spaces and the Degree Committee office, which is the first port of call for graduate queries. The faculty also has a number of laptop computers for loan to graduate students, and it offers a variety of grants for conference attendance, for fieldwork, and for graduate-led academic initiatives.

College and other support

Colleges provide a range of social and sporting facilities, as well as varying levels of accommodation and of computing support. Colleges usually have a Tutor for Graduates, who can offer help with personal or financial difficulties. If for any reason students find it difficult to discuss a problem with their supervisor, a college Graduate Tutor can often provide an additional level of support. Some Colleges may also have some funds available for attending conferences and similar academic needs. The University Counselling service also offers confidential support to graduate students.