PhD Studies FAQ

We are often asked very similar questions by prospective PhD students. Here are some tips as you consider a PhD in world Christianity at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh.

What can I expect from a British PhD?

The British PhD is a research degree. The goal is the production of a thesis within 3-4 years of full-time study. The thesis is examined by a viva (oral examination) conducted by two examiners, one of whom is external to the University of Edinburgh. Unlike programmes in North America, there are no other forms of coursework and no comprehensive examinations.

After about nine months of the first year, students will place their work before a review board to decide whether they may continue on the doctoral programme. Students are expected to audit relevant courses and attend research seminars, and make full use of Edinburgh’s resources.

Where can I find the School and University information?

All relevant information can be found on the Graduate School website and linked pages. Further details include entry requirements, how to apply, degree costs, etc.

There is lots of material here. Please set aside time to read everything very carefully.

Is funding available?

Yes, see the scholarships and funding page. The School of Divinity has very limited funds for PhDs. This means that the application process is very competitive and based on academic merit alone. Successful students are often only granted partial scholarships. Please apply for Divinity scholarships. Please also seek other means of funding.

Do I really need to take an IELTS test?

Students coming from many countries in the world are required to take an IELTS test and gain a mark of 7.0 and above, overall, with no unit under 6.0. This may seem surprising if your entire education has been in English medium. However, preparation for the IELTS test is also preparation to work in academic English at a leading University, with very high standards. The university will not accept students without the requisite English language qualifications.

See the University’s page on English language requirements for further details on the IELTS or comparable exams.

My previous results do not quite reach the entry requirements. Does this matter?

Yes, it does. The University insists that PhD applicants should hold UK 2:1 honours (undergraduate) degree with a mark of at least 65% in a relevant subject, and typically a specialist Masters degree with a high level of attainment (at least 67% in both coursework and dissertation), or their international equivalents. For North American applicants, the equivalent Masters degree of 67% is a GPA of 3.70. If your marks fall a little below this level please consider applying for the Masters programme.

What is the aim of the research proposal?

The aim of the research proposal is to (1) demonstrate you can work at PhD level, (2) show that you are thinking sufficiently sharply about a defined and viable research topic, and (3) ensure that we have the expertise to supervise you. The University provides helpful guidance on how to write a research proposal.

A research proposal should include the following information:

  • Introduction to research topic: its scope and limitations in terms of period, geographical focus, and denominational range.
  • Statement of your primary research question and two to four subsidiary questions.
  • A review of some secondary literature, indicating what has been omitted by previous writers or what is less than satisfactory. This may include a discussion of a conceptual framework for your study.
  • The primary methodology you will adopt.
  • The wider significance of your topic for the scholarly community.

Write confidently (but not arrogantly). It does not matter that aspects of the proposal will change once you embark on the doctorate.

How long should the research proposal be?

Less is more! Three to four pages of very careful work is enough to demonstrate your academic skills.

Can I discuss my proposal with a member of staff before I submit my application?

Yes. Potential supervisors are pleased to read and offer guidance on a proposal. They may make suggestions, however they will not help you re-write it.

Do I need to find a supervisor myself?

It is good to identify a possible supervisor and be in touch with him or her. From this initial contact, they may suggest you get in touch with a colleague who they judge to be better suited to supervise your topic. They may also approach a colleague on your behalf. At Edinburgh, students are given two (or sometimes three) supervisors. You will only need to be in contact with one person as you make your application.

Why did a member of staff suggest I should take the Masters in World Christianity before a PhD when I already have a Masters?

We often suggest that students consider this option if your previous Masters degree is in a different subject or may not have fulfilled the entrance requirements for a doctoral programme at Edinburgh. Listen to how some students pursued an MTh in preparation for their PhD:

Can I study a PhD part-time or at a distance?

The recommended PhD study option is through full-time residence. The School of Divinity has a strong scholarly community and excellent resources, engagement with which will enrich and deepen your work. Therefore, full-time PhD students are expected to be resident in Edinburgh for a large part of their studies. Furthermore, residency is often a visa requirement. However, many World Christianity theses have a large component of fieldwork. Many students are away from Edinburgh for all or part of their second year.

Alongside this normal route to a PhD, since 2019, the School of Divinity has begun to offer a part-time distance PhD. These students do not have the benefits of the full research community or resources in Edinburgh. Applicants will therefore need to indicate how such library and computing resources would be met in their local site, as well as potential participation in research seminars/research groups at their local University. The School of Divinity may recommend the residential degree if there are concerns that support and resources are not properly met outside Edinburgh. Please see the School’s information page and contact a potential supervisor ahead of application.

Can I apply to other Universities at the same time?

Yes, this is often advisable. Staff are aware that students apply to multiple Universities at the same time, and you can be open about it in your correspondence with them.

What do you hope to do after you have completed the PhD, and what is your back up plan?

We do not need to know the answer to this question, but it is one you should consider carefully. Doctoral studies can be very rewarding but a PhD gives no guarantee of employment. You should think carefully about how much disruption and insecurity you and any dependents are willing to endure, and you should certainly think about alternative career possibilities.

Please contact one of our academic staff if you have further questions. Thank you for considering PhD studies in world Christianity at the University of Edinburgh!