Do you think you might want to do a PhD?
If you’re an MA student, or a 3rd year undergraduate, and are interested in finding out more about doing a PhD, read on. Equally, keep reading if you’re in the earlier stages of your BA and want to know more about prospective postgraduate study!
What is a PhD?
A PhD is a programme that trains you as a fully-qualified researcher. It lasts three years (or six years part-time), and at the end you produce a thesis of 80,000 words. That’s the length of a standard academic book, and by that time the work you produce should be capable of being published, perhaps in the form of articles in academic journals. In other words, it should be based on new research generating an original contribution to knowledge.
PhD researchers do lots more besides, as we’ll see. They present their work at conferences, they run conferences, they form academic networks, they blog about their work, they do placements and internships that help them communicate with a broader public. They also teach – because most PhD researchers in History are trainee academics. But fundamentally a PhD is a training in original research. It’s the gateway to an academic career. It won’t guarantee you an academic career, but without a PhD you won’t make it into academia, at least in History. That said, History PhD students now gain a wealth of skills that make them valuable to a range of employers – the civil service, the media, and think-tanks, small charities and large firms of management consultants have all employed our PhDs recently.
How do I get accepted?
You need to do an MA first. That’s a one-year course (two years if you do it part-time) that aims to give you a grounding in the research methods and intellectual skills that you’ll need to do a PhD. It will also help you understand how to design a research project, and to produce a 1,500 word proposal of the kind you’ll need to get accepted to the PhD. You’ll need to make sure the department you apply to – whether Manchester or somewhere else – has staff with the specialist expertise to supervise you; and you’ll need to contact them with an original idea for a research project that they can help you develop into a full proposal.
What does it cost, and can I get funding?
The PhD fee is a little more than £4K per year for UK and EU students. That’s much lower than the undergraduate fee, because universities still get some government funding for PhD students. Overseas students pay the full whack – that’s currently more than £15K per year.
Yes there is funding available, and most students need it. The government funded research councils – for History, that means the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) – provide studentships that pay fees and a stipend of over £14K per year, and we also have some university awards of similar value. But these are very competitive, and you need realistically to be aiming at a First Class degree for your BA and a Distinction for your MA. You also need to hone your proposal so that it’s as sharp and cutting-edge as possible.
These are usually three-year awards. But the ESRC also makes four-year awards – known as 1+3 – that fund you through your MA and then the PhD. That’s for projects in economic and social history, and also for other kinds of history using social science methods. But there’s also a limited opportunity to acquire 1+3 funding via the AHRC, if the MA is going to give you a specific set of skills you’ll need for your PhD project, such as language skills or digital methods. The catch with these schemes is that you need to have a worked-out PhD proposal at the outset. But if you’re a 3rd-year undergraduate who definitely wants to do a PhD, it’s worth talking to potential supervisors now so you can begin to formulate a proposal.
For more on ESRC awards, click the link here
For AHRC awards, click here
What help can I get?
We hold meetings every semester 1 for students interested in joining us for a PhD (keep an eye on your emails and our website!). That means current or former MA students, but it also means any 3rd-year undergraduates interested in 1+3 funding. We’ll survey the funding schemes available, give you crucial types for writing your proposals, and show you examples of successful applications. You can and should also talk to potential supervisors and show them drafts.
You can also talk to our Postgraduate Director, especially if you’re unsure about who might be able to supervise you. It’s best to email to make an appointment (Frank.Mort@Manchester.ac.uk).
And in the meantime, we hope to see you in our future postgraduate cohort!