The PhD

The PhD is a research degree, examined, usually after three or more years of research, by a dissertation of up to 80,000 words. The criteria for obtaining the degree are that the dissertation represent a 'substantial contribution to knowledge' and that it also represent a realistic amount of work for three years' study.

Candidates work closely with their supervisors, who will usually be assigned to them at the start of the course. It is possible to change supervisors with minimal formality, and it is often desirable to do so as the research project develops. The Faculty of English makes every attempt to ensure continuity of supervision so that graduate students are able to complete their programmes under the guidance of the supervisor with whom they begin. Nonetheless, periods of academic leave and departures to posts elsewhere are a standard feature of university life and are not always possible to foresee in the medium term. In such cases a change of supervisor may be necessary.The Faculty has also introduced a system whereby each candidate has an advisor in addition to their supervisor, whom they will see once a year for a formal review of progress, and more often, if desired, for informal advice.

Although PhD students spend long hours working independently, they are also able to attend regular (usually fortnightly) seminars in their subject area. All graduate students are required to be members of a College, which offers a centre of social activity, as well as providing an opportunity to meet graduates who work in other fields.

All members of the University, including graduate students, are entitled to attend lectures in any Faculty.

Candidates are normally accepted for the PhD on a probationary basis, and it is usually necessary to register formally for the PhD a year or so after admission. A substantial essay towards a chapter of the dissertation is examined by two experts in the field. This procedure is designed to ensure that candidates are on course for submission of their dissertation after a total of three or four years.

Applicants for the PhD who plan to work on a subject area in which the Faculty provides an MPhil course, and who have not previously taken an MPhil, M.A. or similar research foundation course, are required to take the relevant MPhil before they are registered for the PhD. Candidates who have taken an equivalent MPhil or M.A. course already are normally given a dispensation from this requirement. The Director of Graduate Studies will be happy to answer queries about this matter.

Applicants to the PhD should clearly state on the application form which of the following areas their research falls into:

American Literature

Medieval Literature

Renaissance Literature

18th Century and Romantic Literature

Modern and Contemporary Literature (Post 1830)

Criticism and Culture

In reaching decisions about applications the Degree Committee takes particular account of:

  • The applicant's academic record and references
  • Their suitability for the proposed course (including knowledge of foreign languages)
  • The applicant's research proposal - in particular whether it represents a realistic area of study for completion within three years.
  • Whether a suitable supervisor can be found for the proposed research
  • The written work which a candidate submits in support of their application

Applications must be accompanied by a writing sample of 5,000 - 7,000 words. Applicants can submit any work they like, but it is worth choosing work which is recent, and which relates to the proposed subject of research, if material of this kind is available. It is probably more important, however, to submit what you consider to be your best work than something which is not your best, but is close to your field of research. Many applicants submit their undergraduate dissertation or similar extended piece of work. You can submit one long piece or several shorter essays if you wish.

If you have a particular subject of research in mind, you might wish to visit the list of Members of the Faculty to see who might be an appropriate supervisor for you. Members of the Faculty may be able to help with enquiries from potential graduate students in their own field.

Application deadlines

All applications must be made using the online Applicant Portal on the Graduate Admissions Office website. It is important that you read through the information available on this website before submitting your application. If you are seeking funding for your course, there are specific deadlines and eligibility criteria for each funding competition. Please check the Student Registry funding webpages for details of eligibility and the Application and Funding Deadlines section of the Graduate Admissions Office website for application deadlines.

Please note that after submitting your online application form, there may be a delay of up to 48 hours before you are able to access your self-service account and submit supporting documentation

The closing date for all applications to the Faculty of English for entry in October 2020 is 7 January 2020.

*If you wish to be considered for AHRC or Cambridge Trusts funding please submit your application AND your supporting documents by 7 January 2020*

Home students should also be aware that, on recent form, it is very difficult indeed to be awarded a three year full AHRC grant without having first taken an MPhil or similar one year foundation course in another University. If you do propose to make an application of this kind, you are strongly advised to insure yourself by also applying for a one year course and a one year grant.

All potential applicants should be aware that in order to be finally accepted for the course it is necessary to be accepted both by the Faculty and by a College. This can favour those who make early applications.

Enquiries which relate specifically to the English Faculty can be directed to:

The Director of Graduate Studies,
University of Cambridge
9 West Road
Tel. 01223 335076

Contact us if you have any general enquiries about graduate admissions.