UCL English


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 students opportunities to provide tutorial teaching.


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.

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 (but are by no means limited to):

Current Students' Research Topics

Selected list of current students' research topics

  • Pavlov's Dogs in the Press: Literature and Cybernetics 1928-61

  • Food, Masculinity, and British Fiction in the 20s and 30s

  • The Semantic Field of the Sacred in Old English

  • Early Modern City Comedy: The Afterlife of the Seven Deadly Sins

  • Emily Dickinson and Apophatic Poetics

  • The Art of Feeling and the Ethics of Style in James, Conrad and Nabokov

  • Optics in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries

  • Vivisection and the Victorians

  • Transmissions in Language Contact Between English and Chinese

  • Vagrancy in England, 1834-1948

  • Alchemy in Late-Medieval English Literature

See details of current doctoral students here.

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 100,000 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

Applicants should usually expect to begin their studies in September at the start of an academic year (although in some cases, January starts can be discussed). Potential research students can apply at any time throughout the year although we expect the majority of applicants to make applications in time for the standard funding rounds (Nov.-Dec.) as described below.

The standard application process is comprised of two stages: firstly, an application for a place in UCL’s English department; secondly, an application for funding (usually via LAHP, the AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership for home and EU students; or for an Overseas Research Scholarship for overseas students).

Stage one: Applying for your place in the English Department 

If you wish to be considered subsequently for AHRC (LAHP) funding (stage 2), you must submit a completed online application for your place in the English Department via the UCL website (including details of both referees) by Friday 8th January 2021 at the latest. When submitting your application via the online UCL system, please also send your research proposal and academic CV directly by email to the English Department’s Graduate Tutor, Professor Helen Hackett (h.hackett@ucl.ac.uk). If your application is considered suitable, the English department may call you to interview (see below).

PLEASE NOTE: 8th January is an internal departmental deadline and supersedes any dates given on external websites. PLEASE ALSO NOTE: UCL will go into an extended Christmas closure this year, from 5:30pm on Friday 18 December 2020 to 9:00am on Monday 4 January 2021. It is therefore in your interests to apply as early as possible, to allow time for the processing and consideration of your application, for interview (if we decide to proceed to this stage), and (if your interview is successful) for you to develop your project under our guidance for any funding applications you may wish to make (stage 2 below). Applicants who apply at the last minute may find that they have not left enough time to respond to our suggestions before submitting funding applications.

Stage two: Applying for funding 

EU and home students applying for LAHP should consult the LAHP website for details and deadlines: PLEASE NOTE as you need to have secured your offer of a place in the department before applying for funding, you must meet the English Department’s internal deadline (8th January 2021) for submission of your UCL application. If you wish to be considered for UCL-ROS, the Wolfson scholarship, GRS, or ORS you must submit a completed application (including both references) by Friday 8th January 2021 (as well as attending to any additional deadlines set by the individual funding bodies as outlined below).

For entry in September 2021 without applying for funding, candidates must have submitted completed applications (including references) by Friday 23rd July 2021: we strongly recommend that applicants apply for funding and that they therefore apply in the standard funding round (as above).

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. It is therefore advisable to contact a member of academic staff prior to applying, to check that they are in a position to support the project that you are proposing.

Applications must include a research proposal, two references, a CV, and transcripts from your previous academic courses. Further details can be found in the 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 two of the applicant's proposed primary supervisor, a potential secondary supervisor, and/or the Tutor for Graduates. During Covid restrictions, interviews are taking place online. This is also the usual method of interview for candidates who are not in the UK.



Scholarships for which you may be eligible to apply 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 is a consortium of eight partner universities, comprising King’s College London, School of Advanced Study, University College London, Queen Mary University of London, London School of Economics & Political Science, Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, Royal College of Art, and Royal College of Music.). You can find out some more details about the partnership and find guidance documents along with the application form on this webpage

All applicants that wish to be considered for funding need to have submitted a completed LAHP application form by their deadline.

Applicants who are interested in LAHP funding must also have submitted a completed PhD application to UCL by Friday 8th January 2021.

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

LAHP Applications

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, so you can submit 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 you can submit the LAHP form and include their details. Tutors will then complete the supporting reference after your interview, assuming you are successful. However, we recommend holding off if possible so that your application can benefit from advice given during and after the interview process.

If you have any further questions about these matters, please email Jose Prego jose.prego@ucl.ac.uk

Research Opportunity Scholarship (UCL-ROS)

UCL has launched a new scholarships programme to support BME postgraduate research degree students. The scheme offers full financial support and a skills development programme to UK-permanent residents from certain BME groups who hold an offer to complete a PhD in the Faculties of Arts and Humanities, Social and Historical Sciences, or Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

More information about the award, eligibility requirements, and the application process can be found here

For further details including the deadline for applications, please go to the UCL-ROS webpage. Applicants must already have an offer for the MPhil/PhD programme and so we recommend that you make the research degree application (deadline will be published in the autumn) so that there is time to be assessed by the department prior to the funding deadline. (Note that candidates should indicate in the ‘Funding’ section of the  research degree application that they are intending to apply to the UCL-ROS programme.)

Wolfson Scholarships

Six Wolfson Postgraduate Scholarships in the Humanities are normally available for PhD students 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 open to both UK and Overseas applicants. Typically the English Department will secure two of these nominations, although this is not guaranteed.

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

Further information can be found here

Graduate Research Scholarships

UCL Graduate Research Scholarships aim to attract high-quality students to undertake research at UCL. Up to 25 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 the mandatory documents to Jose Prego (jose.prego@ucl.ac.uk) by the end of Wednesday 13 January 2021.

Research Skills

Students work closely with their supervisors, and also participate in the research seminars run by the Department, the Doctoral 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 Doctoral 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.

Graduate students organise a one-day conference each year; many of the papers delivered at the conference are published in Moveable 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, the wider University of London, and in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. Our graduates are also well placed to pursue careers outside academia, as the research, analytical, writing, and communication skills obtained during the PhD transfer easily to high-level work in many sectors.

Further Information

UCL prospectus page for the MPhil/PhD programme.

For further information, please email Jose Prego, jose.prego@ucl.ac.uk

Apply Online

You can find a link to the online application form on the main UCL website at the bottom of this page: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/graduate/apply