Postgraduate study

English Literature PhD

Awards: PhD

Study modes: Full-time, Part-time

Funding opportunities

Programme website: English Literature

Doctorate-level study is an opportunity to expand upon your interests and expertise in a community that really values research; and to make an original, positive contribution to learning in literature and related fields. As the oldest department of English Literature in the UK, based in one of the largest and most diverse Schools in the University of Edinburgh, we are the ideal place for PhD study.

Our interdisciplinary environment brings together specialists in all periods and genres of literature and literary analysis. Given the breadth and depth of our expertise, we are able to support students wishing to develop research projects in any field of Anglophone literary studies.

We have particular strengths in each of the main periods of English and Scottish Literature – medieval, renaissance/early modern, enlightenment, romantic, Victorian, modernist, post-war, contemporary and 21st century. We also have concentrations of expertise in American studies, in literary and critical theory, the history of the book, gender and sexuality, and in global Anglophone literatures (including postcolonial studies).

Emergent research themes in the department include the digital humanities, the economic humanities, the environmental humanities and literature and medicine.

Working with colleagues elsewhere in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, and across the wider University, we are able to support PhD theses crossing boundaries between disciplines and/or languages.

Over the course of your PhD, you’ll be expected to complete an original body of work under the expert guidance of your supervisors leading to a dissertation of between 70,000 and 100,000 words. You will be awarded your doctorate if your thesis is judged to be of an appropriate standard, and your research makes a definite contribution to knowledge.

Between LLC, the Careers Service and the Institute for Academic Development (IAD), you’ll find a range of programmes and resources to help you develop your postgraduate skills, as well as having access to the University’s fantastic libraries, collections and worldwide strategic partnerships.

Part of a community

As part of our research community, you will be immersed in a world of knowledge exchange, with lots of opportunities to share ideas, learning and creative work. Activities range from talks by visiting speakers and work-in-progress seminars, to reading groups, conferences, workshops, performances, online journals and forums, many of which are led by PhD candidates. Highlights include student reading for the James Tait Black Prizes, Britain's oldest literary awards which typically involve reading submissions across fiction and biography and advising the judges on the shortlists.

Our graduates tell us that they value the friendliness of the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC), the connections they make here and the in-depth guidance they receive from our staff, who are published experts in their field.

A UNESCO World City of Literature, Edinburgh is a remarkable place to study, write, publish, discuss and perform prose, poetry and drama. Take a PhD with us and you will be based in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) in the historic centre of this world-leading festival city.

We are home to the Scottish Writing in the 19th Century project and network, the Centre for the History of the Book, and Scotland’s Early Literature for Children Initiative. We are also collaborators in the Edinburgh Environmental Humanities Network.

Our buildings are close to the National Library of Scotland (where collections include the Bute Collection of early modern English drama and the John Murray Archive), Edinburgh Central Library, Scottish Poetry Library, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Writers’ Museum and a fantastic range of publishing houses, bookshops, and theatres. We have strong links with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which annually welcomes around 1,000 authors to our literary city.

You will have access to the University’s many literary treasures, which include the libraries of William Drummond, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Hugh MacDiarmid and Norman MacCaig, plus the W.H. Auden collection, the Corson Collection of works by and about Sir Walter Scott and the Ramage collection of poetry pamphlets.

The Centre for Research Collections also holds a truly exceptional collection of early Shakespeare quartos and other early modern printed plays put together by the 19th century Shakespearean James Halliwell-Phillipps, the correspondence of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle (the focus of one of the major editorial projects in Victorian studies of the last half-century), and the extensive Laing collection of medieval and early modern manuscripts, as well as letters and papers by - and relating to - authors including Christopher Isherwood, Rudyard Kipling, John Middleton Murry, Walter de la Mare, Edwin Muir, George Mackay Brown and Compton Mackenzie.

A UK masters, or its international equivalent, with a mark of at least 65% in your English literature 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

You must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies, regardless of your nationality or country of residence.

English language tests

For 2021 entry we will accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS: total 7.0 (at least 6.5 in each module)
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Special Home Edition): total 100 (at least 23 in each module). We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • CAE and CPE: total 185 (at least 176 in each module)
  • Trinity ISE: ISE III with a pass in all four components

Your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL or Trinity ISE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

Degrees taught and assessed in English

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that has been taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country, as defined by UK Visas and Immigration:

We also accept a degree that has been taught and assessed in English from a university on our list of approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries.

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than three and a half years old at the beginning of your programme of study.

Find out more about our language requirements:

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
PhD3 YearsFull-timeTuition fees
PhD6 YearsPart-timeTuition fees

Featured funding

There are a number of scholarship schemes available to eligible candidates on this PhD programme, including awards from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.

Please be advised that many scholarships have more than one application stage, and early deadlines.

*(Revised 27 November 2020 to update featured funding information.)

Other funding opportunities

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures
  • 50 George Square
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9LH
Programme start dates Application deadlines
13 September 2021 31 July 2021
10 January 2022 31 October 2021

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.

Pre-application guidance

Before you formally apply for this PhD, you should look at the pre-application information and guidance on the programme website.

This will help you decide if this programme is right for you, and help us gain a clearer picture of what you hope to achieve.

The guidance will also give you practical advice for writing your research proposal – one of the most important parts of your application.

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

Further information

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