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Postgraduate research

Our postgraduate research degrees

There are two types of research degree for which students may register within the department: 

A PhD is awarded to students who produce a substantial piece of original research in the form of a thesis of up to 100,000 words. PhD candidates are normally registered for three years full-time, with submission within four years, or four to seven years part-time. Students must remain registered and pay an appropriate fee until submission.

An MPhil is awarded for original research and submission of a thesis of up to 55,000 words. Candidates must normally be registered for two years (full-time) or four years (part-time).

The overwhelming majority of our research students are PhD students. Research students are registered for the MPhil degree initially and are later upgraded to PhD status, subject to satisfactory progress.


Our postgraduate community

We have more than 40 PhD students pursuing cutting-edge research, and undertaking advanced training, in the areas of new political communication; elections, public opinion and parties; comparative politics; politics of Africa, Asia and the Middle East; international relations; political theory; and philosophy.

Royal Holloway is ranked 9th in the UK for international outlook in the Times Higher World Rankings. The academics in the Department come from 10 different countries and our students represent countries from across the globe. Overseas students play a vital role in ensuring that our department benefits from a diversity of experience and skills.


Our postgraduate training

Through dedicated programmes in the department, and at college level, we offer our postgraduate research students relevant and timely training in research-specific and transferable skills. First year doctoral students attend compulsory training courses in quantitative methods, qualitative methods and the foundations of contemporary political theory. First and second year doctoral students also attend a fortnightly research and professional development seminar that provides training and advice in writing book reviews, getting published, achieving impact, entering the academic job market and more, and in which students develop and present their research to one another and to staff.  We are committed to ensuring that our students are well equipped, not only to complete their studies but also to develop their future careers.


Our research centres

Our research community is internationally-regarded and supported by distinctive research centres. Six departmental research units provide strong foci for much of our research. Each brings together internationally regarded researchers and a growing community of PhD students, and seeks to build networks with other research centres in the national and international spheres. For more information on our centres, see the links below:


Our postgraduate community is successful

Many of our postgraduate students, even before they complete their studies, are presenting their work at international conferences and publishing in top-ranked journals. Our students are also deeply committed to public engagement, not only in the UK but also around the world.


In order to apply to undertake a postgraduate research degree in the department, you should:


1. Make an informal enquiry before you apply

In the first instance, you should check the research interests of members of academic staff in the department to see who is active in the area that you are interested in. It is helpful at this stage if you can provide any member of staff you contact with an outline research proposal and a CV, setting out your qualifications and experience. You should expect to have a series of discussions with the member of staff (by email, by telephone/Skype, or in person) about the project, about options for funding, and about your career aspirations. These discussions will help the member of staff decide whether or not they would be an appropriate supervisor for your proposed project.


2. Submit an application

When a member of staff has agreed in principle to supervise your project, you should then submit an application form using the online application system. One of the most important aspects of your application is the research proposal. 

The purpose of the research proposal is two-fold: first, to help determine whether your topic corresponds with the interests and expertise of its proposed supervisor(s) and, second, to make clear how the research will make an original contribution to political and philosophical knowledge. 

The proposal is important as it will allow the department to assess your aptitude for doctoral-level research, to allocate supervision appropriately, and to ensure we are fully able to support the study you propose. Although you are required formally to submit the proposal with your application for doctoral study, it is a document you may wish to develop in discussion with a member of staff in the Department of Politics and International Relations. 

The proposal should be approximately 2,000 words in length (excluding the bibliography) and include the following sections: 

1. Title 

At this stage, a working title that summarises the proposed focus is more than adequate.

2. Introduction, Research Question and Rationale 

The introduction should, in a succinct way, provide an overview of, and rationale for, the proposed project. You should explain the project’s focus, its main research question and broad aims, and how it will make an original contribution to political knowledge. The introductory section needs to outline the basic argument the thesis intends to advance, as well as what it will aim to demonstrate. In simple terms, explain what the project is about, why it is innovative, why the project matters, why you are the right person to undertake it, and why the Department of Politics and International Relations is the most appropriate place to be based.

3. Literature Review 

Any proposed project should make clear how it relates to existing research on the topic (or related topics). In this section, you should summarise the current state of scholarship on your topic and explain the ways in which your project will draw from, and build on, that work. In this part of the proposal, you are demonstrating your knowledge of the field and the ways in which your project will add meaningfully to it. 

4. Data and Methodology 

If you intend to do empirical research, in this section you should detail the sources of data (qualitative and/or quantitative) that you will require in order to answer your project’s research questions and the specific methods you intend to apply in order to collect or generate those data. You should offer a clear explanation for your selection of investigative techniques. Why one method rather than another? 

This section should also offer an account of your analytical strategy. How, specifically, will you make sense of your data? Will you require any specialist software to complete that analysis? Will your project involve fieldwork? If so, to where? How will that fieldwork be financed and supported?

In this section you should, finally, reflect on the ethical implications of your proposed topic. Which ethical issues are raised by your project? How do you intend to address them? 

 5. Proposed thesis structure and timeline

In this section you should outline the structure of your thesis, and demonstrate that you have thought about how you are going to structure and organise the argument put forward in your thesis. Additionally, you should propose a timeline for your project, and demonstrate how you think you will organise your time in the three years you will work on your thesis.

 6. Bibliography 

List here, using any common citation system, the sources referred to in the proposal.


3. After applying 

All applications are subject to review by a panel of academic members of staff in the Department of Politics and International Relations. Applicants will be informed of the outcome as soon as the panel has met.


Further details 

For further information concerning applications for postgraduate research in the department, please contact Dr Julia Gallagher, Director of Graduate Studies, and responsible for PhD Admissions and Recruitment.


The latest information about course tuition fees, and about how you can pay, can be found on the college’s research-degree tuition fees page.

There are a range of options for funding your research degree in the department:


1. Research Council funding


AHRC PhD Studentships


The Department of Politics and International Relations and the Department of Philosophy participate in the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) TECHNE doctoral training partnership. Studentships are available in the fields of philosophy and political theory.

For further information, please contact Dr John Sellars. The department deadline for TECHNE applications for 2018/19 is Sunday 14 January 2018. Please consult the application guidelines for more information. 

ESRC PhD Studentships 


The Department of Politics and International Relations participates in the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) South-East Network for Social Sciences, a new Doctoral Training Partnership of ten universities. Studentships are available in the thematic area of politics.

For further information, please contact Dr Julia Gallagher. The department deadline for applications for 2018/19 entry is Sunday 14 January 2018. Please consult the application guidelines for more information.


2. Amy Buller scholarship

Cumberland Lodge, an independent educational charity based in Windsor Great Park, seeks applicants for a jointly funded doctoral studentship with Royal Holloway, University of London to commence in the 2017-18 academic year. The Amy Buller PhD scholarship is open to home and EU candidates from any academic discipline who wish to conduct doctoral research on a subject connected to the charitable objectives of the trust at Cumberland Lodge, which are to understand and address the root causes and effects of social divisions, including disruptive intolerance, in order to build more tolerant, peaceful, and inclusive societies.

For further information, please contact Dr Julia Gallagher. The department deadline for applications is  Sunday 14 January 2018. Please consult the application guidelines for more information.


3. Royal Holloway College funding

From time to time the Department of Politics and International Relations is able to offer college-funded scholarships and fee waivers to prospective postgraduate research students. When such funding is available, application details will be posted here. For further information, please contact the Director of Graduate Studies, Dr Julia Gallagher. Applicants wishing to be considered for one of the College studentships need to apply by Monday 23 April 2018.


4. International students

For information about scholarships available to international students, please visit the college’s international scholarships page. National funding agencies may also provide scholarships for postgraduate research.


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