MPhil/PhD in English Literature and Language

One of the highest-ranking English Departments in the UK, UCL provides fantastic opportunities for PhD students to study in the heart of literary London, with access to vast quantities of resources and research materials, and a high number of academic staff working on a diverse range of specialist topics.

Studying for a PhD at UCL

With access to a vast collection of archival materials, and world-leading supervision in a wide range of literary periods and topics, UCL is one of the best universities in which to study for an English PhD.     

There are normally about 45 students undertaking research degrees in the department. Graduate students initially register for the MPhil degree, but usually in the second year, when a realistic and workable thesis has been confirmed, and work-in-progress and a future plan have been discussed, students are upgraded from MPhil to PhD status.

Students accepted for admission are given a principal supervisor with whom the student will work closely during the course of the degree. A secondary supervisor is also appointed to provide additional advice. Great importance is attached to matching student and supervisor, and ensuring that students' progress is well monitored. Students meet either one or other supervisor approximately ten times during the academic year. The Department is eager to ensure PhD completion rates within four years, and therefore operates end-of-year interviews as well as offering when possible at least one Fourth Year Fellowship which provides funds for students writing up.


Students are expected to complete the PhD within three or four years of registration, and the minimum period of registration is two years. Under certain conditions (as set out in the UCL Doctoral School website) research can be undertaken on a part-time basis.

Research Specialisms

The Department offers MPhil/PhD supervision in a wide range of topics, including English and English-related language and literature from Old English to the present day.

Some specialisms among members of staff in which the Department would particularly welcome applications are: the history of the English language; corpus linguistics; London in literature; Old and Middle English manuscript studies; relations between English and insular and continental French writings from the 13th to the 15th centuries; post-medieval bibliography and palaeography; history of the book, textual and editorial theory and practice in all periods; Shakespeare studies, including Shakespeare’s London; the literature of the Elizabethan court; women writers of the 16th and 17th centuries; classicism in 17th- and 18th-century literary culture; literature and science in the 17th and 18th centuries; revolutionary writings in the Romantic period; the history and theory of consumer culture; homosexuality and literary history; literature and technology in late 19th-century and early 20th-century literature; Victorian and Edwardian writings on sexuality and adolescence; 19th- and 20th-century magazine publishing; 20th and 21st-century modernism and post-modernism; 20th-century poetry, especially the New York School.

This is not an exhaustive list, however; and staff would welcome enquiries from any student who wishes to pursue a PhD in an area where the tutor has supervisory expertise. You can read about our staff research interests here.

For many of the specialisms listed above, the UCL Library has relevant book and manuscript holdings in its excellent Special Collections department. Among these are the George Orwell Archive; Little Magazines; the Routledge and Kegan Paul Archives (publishing history); the Brougham Papers and papers of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (19th-century liberalism); the Chadwick Papers (19th-century sanitary reform); the Karl Pearson Papers (eugenics). The UCL Library also has superb holdings in London history. For language topics the Department is especially well placed, as it houses the world-renowned Survey of English Usage.

Other London archives with manuscript and rare book resources relevant to the Department’s research interests include the University of London Research Library Services, British Library, Guildhall Library, London Library, library of the London School of Economics, Dr Williams’s Library, library of the Victoria and Albert Museum, archives of the Royal Society, the Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University, and many more.

Current Students' Research Topics

Selected list of current students' research topics

  • Imagining Cleopatra: performing race, gender and power in Early Modern England
  • The Point of View of the Poor- Depictions of Poverty around Orwell, 1925-1935
  • Representations of garbage and waste in twentieth-century urban narrative
  • The Reception of Beowulf in the light of BL. MS Cotton Vitellius A.XV
  • Monstrous Births in Middle English Romances
  • Nationalism and Scots Poetry in the twentieth century
  • Dickens and Urban Fantasy
  • Representations of Christ in Old Norse Poetry
  • Shakespeare's Domestic Tragedies: Disrupted Homes on the Early Modern Stage
  • Geoffrey Hill and John Milton: a study of influence
  • Gardens, Society and civilising space in the work of Virginia Woolf
  • Derek Jarman and life-writing
  • Lexical Semantic variation and change: an onomasiological approach

The Research Proposal

Your research proposal does not need to be long (typically somewhere between 800-1000 words). The most important things we are looking for you to explain are:

1) What primary literature/texts will you be studying?

2) What is your idea/approach to this literature?

3) How does your project fit in to the secondary literature/criticism on this topic?

4) Practical details, like which archives you will use, roughly how long you will spend on each chapter, what each chapter may be about, etc

5) That you have considered how the chosen project will work within a 100-120,000 word limit (so it's clearly not something so small that it's 20,000 words maximum, nor have you chosen something so big that you couldn't possibly do it justice in 500,000).

Proposals and intentions often change a little/quite a lot once they are on the course, but the important thing is just to demonstrate that you have thought about the practicalities and you have a clear, viable research topic that we could supervise in the Department, and which you could complete within three years.

Application Process

Potential research students can apply at any time throughout the year. If you wish to be considered for AHRC funding, you must submit a completed application (including both references) by 31st December 2015 (as well as completing the LAHP form by 29th January)

For entry in September 2016 without applying for funding, candidates must have submitted completed applications (including references) by 1st August 2016.

The Department will make decisions on who to admit for the MPhil/PhD based on the strength of the proposed research project, the applicant's grades in undergraduate and Masters level study, and the suitability (and availability) of academic staff in the Department to supervise the proposed project.

Applications must include a research proposal, two references, a CV, and transcripts from your previous academic courses. Further details can be found in the main Graduate Application section of the main UCL website.


Shortlisted candidates from the UK will be usually invited to a short interview at UCL to discuss their research proposal in more detail: this will generally be with the Tutor for Graduates, and the applicant's proposed supervisor. Applicants from overseas are generally interviewed via Skype where possible.


Scholarships which you may be eligible to apply for are listed here:


If you are interested in and are eligible for AHRC funding, you will need to apply via the London Arts and Humanities Partnerships (LAHP) (a consortium linking UCL, King's and the School of Advanced Studies for funding purposes). You can find out some more details about this, and a link to the application form, here:

All applicants that wish to be considered for funding need to have submitted a completed LAHP application form to LAHP by 29th January 2016 at the very latest.

Applicants who are interested in LAHP funding must also have submitted a completed PhD application to UCL by 31st December 2015.

If you are applying from the UK, and are liable to be shortlisted for interview, then candidates should ideally be available for interview from mid-January to mid-February.


The online LAHP form asks students to name their proposed supervisor so they can provide a reference. As many applicants may not yet be sure who their supervisor would be, and may not have contacted them in the past, it may be difficult for some students to complete this section. If you wish to submit a LAHP form before you are shortlisted for interview, then you should put down the name of the tutor that you think would be the best academic fit, but it may be better and easier if you do not submit the LAHP form until you are confident that you know who would be supervising your project. We will make shortlisting decisions on all applicants prior to the LAHP deadline of 29th January, so you will certainly still be able to complete the LAHP form on time.

If you have been in discussions with a particular tutor and feel confident that you know who your supervisor would be, then do feel free to submit the LAHP form with their details on. Tutors will then complete the supporting reference after your interview, assuming you are successful.

The LAHP form is not too complex, but does require you to explain your research proosal in 750 words or fewer: if you have written significantly more than that in your UCL application, you will need to think about how to reduce the word count.

If you have any further questions about this, please email

Wolfson Scholarships

Six Wolfson Postgraduate Scholarships in the Humanities are normally available for PhD students starting in 2016 in the areas of language, history and literature. The Wolfson Scholarship, like the AHRC, provides full funding, including living expenses, for three years. The Wolfson Scholarship is only available for students from the UK or EU. Typically the English Department will secure two of these awards, although this is not guaranteed.

There is no application process for the Wolfson Scholarship- we consider all applications submitted by 31st December based on the strength of the standard UCL application form and research proposal.

Shortlisted applicants will be inteviewed on a date to be decided in the week commencing 21 March, with successful candidates being informed the following day.

Further information can be obtained from

Graduate Research Scholarships

UCL Graduate Research Scholarships aim to attract high-quality students to undertake research at UCL. Up to 17 UCL Graduate Research Scholarships (GRS) are available to prospective and current research students from any country (awards to overseas students are called Overseas Research Scholarships (ORS), and reduce the overseas fee rate to the level of the Home/EU rate). It is possible to receive both an ORS and a GRS.

More details about the application process for the Graduate Research Scholarships, including deadlines, can be found here:

Applicants should send a completed application form (either by email or post) to James Phillips in the English Department ( by 6th January.

They should also arrange for one reference to be sent by their referee before the deadline. If you are shortlisted for the award, we will complete Reference 2 (the supervisor support reference) in time for our internal UCL deadlines.

Research Skills

Students work closely with their supervisors, and also participate in the research seminars run by the Department, the Graduate School, and the Institute of English Studies at the University of London. Research is expected to take students into numerous libraries, archives and databases, not only within London, but also throughout Britain, and indeed further afield. When completed and submitted, the thesis is defended in an oral examination.

The Department places great emphasis on the need to provide opportunities for students to discuss their work and to learn new research methods. New research students attend a weekly seminar on essential skills, ranging from the use of libraries and bibliographies to new database and computing skills. Further introductory research seminars are run by the UCL Graduate School, and by the University of London's Institute of English Studies.

In addition, several other seminars, informal as well as formal, are held within the Department. The main formal seminar series is organised by the Graduate Tutor and the President of the Graduate Society and invites speakers from within and outside the Department to present papers on a wide variety of topics. Other seminar series and discussion groups are run by graduates, and include opportunities to try out early versions of work-in-progress.

Teaching and Employment Prospects

Teaching opportunities for research students

The Department also hopes to offer many graduates the opportunity of doing a limited amount of teaching, either of seminars or tutorials or both, normally in the students' second year of research.

The English Department has its own Graduate Common Room where students can meet informally.

Graduate students organise a one-day conference each year; many of the papers delivered at the conference are published in Movable Type, the Department's graduate-led online journal.

Graduate students have organised highly successful summer workshops for Year 12 school students, supported by funding from UCL and the University of London.

Employment Prospects

Graduate students from the Department have an excellent record of securing full-time posts in British institutions of higher education. In recent years successful doctoral students have gone on to academic positions here in UCL, as well as Oxford, Cambridge, and the wider University of London.

Further Information

For further information, please email the Admissions and Postgraduate Administrator,

Apply Online

You can find a link to the online application form on the main UCL website at the bottom of this page: