MPhil/PhD in English Literature and Language

Studying for a PHD at UCL

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 subsidiary 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.

UCL English Research Specialisms and Resources

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; world Englishes; 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; Anglo-German literary and cultural relations in the Romantic and Victorian periods; 19th-century publishing history; Victorian and Edwardian fiction, including children’s literature; the history and theory of consumer culture; Freud and psychoanalysis in literary 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.

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.

Selected list of current students' research topics

Depictions of chance in post-war fiction

Modern poetry: the Objectivists and the New York School

The language of advertising: a corpus-based study

Middle English lyric poetry

Tennyson and after

Modernism and the melancholic paradigm

South-Asian diaspora writing in Britain and America

The late non-fiction writing of Henry James

The genealogy of poetry: elegies for poets since 1939

Gift-exchange in Old English Literature

Knowledge and learning in Anglo-Saxon Royal Courts

John Lydgate's Life of Our Lady

Infanticide in Tudor and early Stuart England

Shakespeare's Domestic Tragedies

Milton's Latin and Italian poetry

Application Process

Potential research students can apply at any time throughout the year. For entry in September 2014, candidates must have submitted completed applications (including references) by 1st August 2014.

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.


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 not interviewed, but we may be in contact for more information.


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 new 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 application form by 31st January 2014 at the very latest.

Applicants who wish to be considered for AHRC funding must also have an offer from the Department before 28th February at the very latest. We therefore recommend that applicants apply as early as possible (ideally before the New Year), in order to give us time to consider applications. 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.


Section 8 of the LAHP form asks candidates to submit a reference from their proposed supervisor. As many applicants will not yet know who their supervisor may be, and may not have contacted them in the past, it is not necessary for you to complete these sections. If you are shortlisted for the awards, a potential supervisor for your project can then complete Section 8 for you, before we submit your application to the UCL-wide scrutiny panels.

  • If you are applying for the LAHP, please send in your LAHP form, minus Section 8, to by 31st January, as instructed on the LAHP website, and send a copy, as instructed, to a potential supervisor. We will then complete Section 8s for shortlisted English candidates.

If you have any further questions about this, please email

Further Information


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

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 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. A number of UCL English graduates regularly publish and review in journals while completing their research. The Department's complement of journal and series editors and the contacts of its experienced faculty are an invaluable asset to students.