Your PhD application

How to apply

Applying for a PhD programme is a simple process, and we accept applications throughout the year, although we will not be awarding LUMS studentships until April 2024 for the October 2024 programme start.

ESRC and other funding opportunities may have earlier deadlines.

Application process

All applications for UK, EU and International applicants must be completed using our online application system where you can complete the form, upload your supporting documents and track the progress of your application. It's best to apply early as competition for places is intense.


The online system will require you to provide the below documents:

  • Degree transcripts for undergraduate and Master's study
  • Two references (at least one should be an academic reference)
  • A research proposal, which will help us identify an appropriate supervisor(s) for your areas of research.

A PhD thesis is a structured argument that demonstrates expertise in a specific but very deep area of research. A successful PhD depends on showing that this argument is based on a strong body of theoretical and empirical evidence. Therefore, a strong research proposal should be a substantial attempt to explain your project (a maximum of 5,000 words). The proposal should include the elements below. The text should be clear and relevant to subject areas covered within LUMS. A strong PhD proposal is addressed to an academic audience and should explain a proposed inquiry into a question of relevance to a discipline, or an interdisciplinary field.

A working title

A proper title will inform the reader of the predicted intention of the proposal. The title should be no longer than 15 words and can contain a subtitle. It ought to indicate accurately the subject and scope of the proposed study, and should reveal the essence of the fundamental research question you will pursue.

General overview

This section will show why your central research question matters to you, and why it should matter to your readers. A strong proposal would do so by:

  1. Clarifying the phenomenon being investigated: what aspect(s) of reality are you concerned with? – this is an obligatory element of any research proposal;
  2. Clarifying what research question(s) you are asking about this phenomenon and therefore the main research aim.
  3. It will then explain clearly the area(s) of academic study and the discipline(s) within which you aim to situate the study.
  4. Finally, you should explain the context in which your pursuit of a PhD emerged and show how your own background gives you competence in this area.

Relevant literature review

A coherent analysis of the relevant literature you have used to arrive at your research question. This should be focused on academic literature in the discipline(s) to which you aim to contribute. This section must be clear about the areas of academic thought you will be working in for your research. Without clarity in this respect, a PhD project cannot find a proper home (meaning faculty, department, supervisors) in the university system. You need to explain relevant theoretical and conceptual structures, key debates, limitations and areas of disagreement that will all clarify where your original contribution intends to be.

Key research questions

Following your literature review and general overview, this section will spell out clearly the research question(s) that will structure your project. This is not merely a list of questions, but an explanation of how these are formulated and what answering them will contribute to the original argument you are aiming to develop. This section will help you and the readers think through the significance of the proposed research:

  • Is it substantive enough?
  • Will it be deep enough?
  • Is it realistic within the three-year timeframe?
  • A PhD thesis must be a serious process of thinking through substantial questions that animate debates in academic work. Are your research questions at the required level?


This section will explain how you plan to investigate systematically the research question(s) you posed above. You need to show how the phenomenon will be dissected and investigated:

  • What modes of investigation, what sources of information, and what kind of fieldwork will allow you to dissect the reality of the phenomenon?
  • What concepts, what arguments, what further additional questions, will allow you to help the reader think through the research question(s) as you would like them to see it and think about it?

Your method can entail empirical investigation strategies, theoretical and conceptual reviews, various types of sources of information about the reality you aim to examine.

The question of method is simple: what is the path of thinking you will follow in order to shed light on the phenomenon you propose to research? The method needs to persuade the reader that your thinking about your question(s) is coherent, substantial, systematic, and feasible.

Anticipated original contribution

A PhD degree is awarded for an original theoretical contribution to knowledge and understanding in a field of academic study. Without such a contribution, a PhD degree cannot be awarded.

  • What do you consider to be your original potential contribution?
  • What would your research help the academic community see in new ways if other academics look at things as you claim they should?

This section should be clear and show a sense of self-critical and measured ability to make intellectual propositions and claims.

Important note: A PhD thesis is not:

  1. a ‘management report’, or a bit of ‘reportage’, or a piece of simple journalistic writing;
  2. it is not a diary of personal experiences, a simple collection of impressions of what may have taken place during a period;
  3. it is not a ‘learning log’ (a simple collection of impressions of what happened to ‘me’ over a period);
  4. finally, a PhD dissertation is not a ‘consultancy advice report’.

Timescales and preliminary project plan

The aim of this section follows on and should explain

  1. The viability of the project both in terms of your own view of what can you do and in what timeframe; and
  2. The realistic prospects of the project if it entails working with other people and organisations required to make possible your empirical research.

If you are applying for funding, please note that the project must be achievable within the period for which it is covered. Research projects that are not realistic cannot be taken into consideration for funding.


Include a list of references to key articles and texts included in your application. Follow any proper, formal, academic referencing style consistently.

Before you submit your application, we encourage you to suggest potential supervisors for your studies by reviewing the research interests of academics on our website and evaluating synergies with your own proposed topic area.

When you are ready to submit it, you will need to visit our online application system where you can complete the form, upload your supporting documents and track the progress of your application. It's best to apply early as competition for places is intense.

Once an application has been received, the Doctoral Director for the relevant programme will circulate it to any academics they feel might be suitable/interested in supervising the project (including any suggested by you) for review.

Reviewing academics will consider both their capacity to supervise you and your ability to complete doctoral level research within a required timeframe and to Lancaster’s high standards in order to decide whether we should offer you a place to study with us.

We will carefully review your application, and our offers are dependent upon the availability of suitable academics with the knowledge, interest and capacity to supervise your proposed studies, and on your proposal offering the potential to contribute to our excellent standard of research within the School.

We make every effort to find supervisors for quality proposals, but please note that meeting the basic entry criteria may not automatically result in the offer of a place.

Studentships and funding

Our studentships and funding opportunities for PhD study are available through the UK's research councils, Lancaster University, and various other organisations. For details of some different types of studentships, which include fees and a living allowance, and further links for other funding opportunities, please see our PhD scholarship and funding information.

Scholarships and funding information

Allocating a supervisor

Matching you with a supervisor is an important step to create a long lasting relationship that will shape your doctoral studies. We recommend reading the LUMS staff profiles and some of their research papers to find potential matches for your interests. As part of your application, you can mention the member of staff who is closest to your interests, and we will invite them to consider supervising you. Our places are limited, so it's best to apply early and be flexible in your research topic.

LUMS staff profiles

Start your application now

Apply now for postgraduate study