Postgraduate study

English Literature

Awards: PhD, MPhil, MScR

Study modes: Full-time, Part-time

Funding available

Programme website: English Literature

It’s not every graduate who can claim to have earned a degree at the oldest department of English Literature in the world. We first offered courses on ‘rhetoric and belles lettres’ 250 years ago, and have been renowned as a vigorous centre of scholarship, teaching and learning ever since.

At the last Research Assessment Exercise, we were awarded the highest research rating possible, 5*A, making us one of the top three departments of English Literature in the UK.

We have one of the largest graduate offerings in English Literature in the country, with an expansive range of research possibilities. These include each of the main periods of English and Scottish Literature – Medieval, Renaissance/Early Modern, Enlightenment, Romantic, and the 19th and 20th centuries – along with all genres of literary analysis: literary and critical theory, literary history, the history of the book, cultural studies, gender studies, post-colonial literature and American studies. Scottish literature is particularly favoured: we are home to the Centre for Scottish Writing in the 19th Century.

English Literature houses the Centre for the History of the Book and is one of the UK's leading forces in this area. It works closely with the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and with the National Library of Scotland. The latter's recently acquired Murray Archive is crucial for studies in Romanticism, Book History, Bibliography and Archive Studies.

Our interdisciplinary approach also encourages the development of research projects that span various subject areas across our School, the wider University and the cultural life of the city itself.

Doctor of Philosophy

For the degree of PhD, you will pursue a research project for a period of at least 36 months if studying full-time, or 48 to 72 months part-time.

The outcome of your research is embodied in a thesis of between 70,000 and 100,000 words. A doctorate will be awarded if your thesis is judged to be of an appropriate standard, and your research makes a definite contribution to knowledge.

Masters by research

The MSc by Research English Literature I programme is a highly flexible programme allowing you to undertake a research degree by writing two substantial essays of 6,000 words on related topics of your own choice, as well as Research Skills and Methods assignments, before building on this with a dissertation of 15,000 words.

The MSc by Research English Literature II programme allows you to undertake a research project of your own devising, leading to a 30,000 word dissertation.

The academic staff you will be working with are all active researchers or authors, many of them prize winners and leading scholars in their fields. As well as benefiting from their expert supervision, you will undertake a seminar-based programme of training in core research skills and subject-specific methodologies. You will also have the opportunity to develop other transferable skills through the University’s Institute for Academic Development

We encourage you to share your research and learn from the work of others through a vibrant programme of Work-in-Progress seminars, reading groups, visiting speakers and conferences.

Our postgraduate journal, Forum, is a valuable conduit for research findings, and provides an opportunity for editorial experience.

You can also apply your analytical and critical skills to the UK’s oldest and most distinguished literary awards: PhD students form part of the judging panel for the prestigious James Tait Black Prizes.

Our location in the first UNESCO City of Literature places you at the heart of a major cultural centre, enriching your experience with opportunities for literary engagement through world-class facilities and events.

On hand are all the amenities you would expect, such as computing facilities, study areas and a common room and kitchen. Our location gives you easy access to the University’s general facilities, such as the Main Library and our collections, as well as to the National Museum, National Library and National Galleries of Scotland at the heart of the city.

In addition to the impressive range of resources available at the University’s Main Library (more than two million printed volumes and generous online resources) and the nearby National Library of Scotland, we host a number of collections of rare and valuable archival materials, all of which will be readily available to you as a postgraduate student.

Among the literary treasures are the libraries of William Drummond, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Hugh MacDiarmid, Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart and Norman MacCaig, plus the WH Auden collection, the Corson Collection of works by and about Sir Walter Scott and the Ramage collection of poetry pamphlets.

Our cultural collections are highly regarded and include a truly exceptional collection of early Shakespeare quartos and other early modern printed plays, and world-class manuscript and archival collections.

For entry to the PhD programme, you will be expected to have achieved a mark of 65% or higher in your English Literature Masters dissertation of at least 10,000 words.

If your Masters programme did not include a dissertation or included a dissertation that was unmarked or less than 10,000 words, you will be expected to produce an exceptional research proposal and personal statement to show your ability to undertake research at the level required by this programme.

International qualifications

Check whether your international qualifications meet our general entry requirements:

English language requirements

If English is not your first language, you must have one of the following qualifications as evidence of your spoken and written English:

  • IELTS: total 7.0 (at least 6.5 in each module)
  • TOEFL-iBT: total 100 (at least 23 in each module)
  • PTE(A): total 67 (at least 61 in each of the "Communicative Skills" sections)
  • CAE and CPE: total 185 (at least 176 in each module)

If you completed a CAE or CPE before January 2015 please contact the Admissions Office for the accepted grades.

Find out more about our language requirements:

  • Graduate School
  • School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures
  • Room 1.13, 50 George Square
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9LH
Programme start date Application deadline
12 September 2016 31 July 2016

We strongly recommend you submit your completed application as early as possible, particularly if you are also applying for funding or will require a visa. We may consider late applications if we have places available.

You must submit two references with your application.

Before you apply, we strongly recommend that discuss your research proposal by email with a prospective supervisor.

In addition to the supporting documents requested on the application form, you should include a sample of written work of about 3,000 words (this can be a previous piece of work from an undergraduate degree).

Masters by Research applicants should also include an outline of their proposed area of study; MPhil and PhD applicants should include a full research proposal.

Find out more about the general application process for postgraduate programmes:

Further information

  • Graduate School
  • School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures
  • Room 1.13, 50 George Square
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9LH