What is a PhD?
A PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is the highest degree we offer and effectively qualifies you for an academic career, as well any kind of career that demands high standards of research, writing, thinking, speaking, teaching, organisation, insight and a broad encompassing perspective on the topic that one decides to specialise in. These notes are meant to help you decide whether and how to apply for Doctoral study with us.
Briefly, completing a PhD involves researching and writing an original research thesis of up to 100,000 words on a topic which makes a new contribution to knowledge either by presenting significant new facts or by interpreting existing information in an important new way.
It’s written in English, must be entirely your own work and be completed to publishable standard. The typical time limit from start to finish is three years of full-time study. You would additionally be expected to make a full contribution to the intellectual life of the department.
A PhD involves, essentially, independent study under the guidance of a supervisor who is an existing expert in your chosen field. It isn’t a “taught” degree, so you do need to be prepared to conduct your own research with guidance, possessing sufficient expertise in both your subject area and the scholarly process to begin work at an advanced level from the outset. To ensure that you create a superior academic product that will help you win a place in the currently overcrowded academic job market (or wherever you choose to deploy your talents after earning your PhD), you want to be ahead of the game.
Initially, Doctoral students are registered as MPhil/PhD students. After between nine and 18 months, they submit a substantial package of written material demonstrating their research progress so far which is read by a panel of academic staff and if all goes well they are formally upgraded to full PhD student status.
At the end of the full three years, you submit your completed, bound thesis to the university which is examined via a viva voce, in which you are questioned intensively on your work by a panel comprising two specialist examiners (but not your supervisor). If this goes well, you have earned your PhD. Congratulations! You can now call yourself “Doctor.”
Before you even think about applying for Doctoral study, you need to be convinced yourself that you possess the motivation and dedication to work independently at advanced level for three years. Put another way, you have to really want to do this in order to survive the whole process–let alone actually to enjoy it!
You should only consider applying for a PhD place if you are genuinely on fire with your subject. On top of that, you also need to be honest with yourself about your own powers of organisation, time management and self-discipline. It is this, as much as intellectual shortcoming, which has led students to disaster in the past. Completing a PhD is a demanding logistical as well as a scholarly endeavour. Ignore this at your peril.
Also, do think about what kind of career or job you are aiming for before applying. Many employment options exist for CMCI PhD graduates (academia, curators, policymakers, public sector, private sector, cultural management, marketing, etc., etc.). The more forethought you assign to this topic before beginning a PhD, the better your eventual chances of success. You want to have a long-term end goal in mind before beginning; it will help motivate you and increase the chances of your success.
Tips for your Research Proposal
Here are some tips for your research proposal which will be at the heart of your application.
Ideally your research proposal should be a document of no more than four pages in which you explain precisely the field of study that you want to contribute to and the current research gaps that you propose to fill. Tell us clearly what you want to do and how you propose to do it.
When formulating your research proposal, do think about your audience and ensure your topic is an interesting one to people in your field, that it will stand out in a crowded marketplace, and entice people to want to hear more about its contents, which will provide a better probability of your being hired in the job market and being asked to present your work in various venues.
No one expects any PhD student to pen a best seller or anything close to it, but when an academic can present work that commands attention and curiosity, it can only be beneficial. Such PhD dissertations also tend to secure more of the valuable postdoctoral fellowship funding often needed to transform one’s dissertation into a book or monograph, or to get started on one’s next major writing project. The ability to win funding is often viewed as a promising trait for a new PhD holder in the job market.
In addition to the research proposal described, please include a full curriculum vitae (CV) with your application, which will help us to get a far more detailed view of you and your accomplishments than the official form alone permits.
Matching your research interests with ours
A vital quality of your research proposal is that the work you want to do lies within the existing research interests of the academic staff here.
Each application to us is considered on its individual merits. It is not simply a matter of our picking “the best” applicants, but also of matching proposed projects with our existing expertise here.
It’s worth reminding yourself of our major research interests as described on the departmental website. Here, you will also find details of recent publications by CMCI academic staff, together with mini-biographies of the people themselves and their particular research interests to get the right fit.
If you find a member of the CMCI staff that seems to share your research interests with your own, and could perhaps serve as the adviser for your proposed PhD dissertation, you can email that person and ask them if you may discuss or email them about the possibility of their becoming your PhD adviser. Please only contact one or two staff members at a time.
- Contact the potential supervisor to establish if they might be interested in taking your enquiry any further.
- If yes, please email them a 1500-word proposal (max) setting out:
- the topic/issue they propose to research
- the rationale for doing so (including its importance and originality, as well as any gaps in the literature)
- the proposed methodology (i.e. what, why and how?)
- a prospective chapter outline, and
- a concluding section showing why this research should be conducted at CMCI
Please also send a latest CV with your proposal.
It’s a sad fact, but amidst all this talk of intellectual inquiry, you will also need to figure out how much all of this is going to cost. We strongly advise that you give very serious thought to how you will be able to pay not only the tuition but also the living costs for a full, three-year commitment to advanced study in central London. It would be a disaster all round if you were to run out of funding without completing your degree. It is up to you to research any suitable funding and your eligibility for it. You might also want to investigate national and international funding bodies including from your own country. We regret that we do not offer financial support as a department.
What happens once we receive your application?
Once we receive your application your proposed supervisor will give detailed consideration to your proposal. If appropriate, they will contact you to arrange a short interview to discuss your application. On the basis of this, they will assess the value, interest and practicality of your project and whether or not they are interested in becoming your supervisor. If the supervisor wishes to take the application forward, your proposal will then be formally reviewed by the CMCI Postgraduate Research Student Recruitment panel and a decision taken at Departmental level.
This decision-making process can take some time but whatever the outcome, you will finally receive a message giving you the result of our decision.
We hope this guidance has been useful to you and helped to answer some of the questions we are frequently asked by applicants.
For more information on the CMCI PhD check out the King’s webpage.
Learn more about other Arts and Humanities students and their experiences as PhD students at King’s.