How to Apply - Postgraduate Research

This section is designed to guide you through the processes so that the correct decision is made both for yourself and for Keele.  We focus on applications for PhD programmes, but the same processes apply to MPhil programmes and include the following Steps:

  1. Direct entry to a PhD or do a Masters degree first?
  2. Contact the Research Office or Institute
  3. Explore funding options
  4. Make a formal application

Note that the application process for professional doctorates is more straightforward and you can either first contact the Research Office or Institute informally or make a direct application.

Step 1 - Direct entry to a PhD or do a Masters degree first?

Direct entry from a good first degree is still the norm in science disciplines, but most humanities and social science disciplines look also for relevant research training in the form of a Masters qualification before they will accept students to a PhD.  Many of these programme give MRes qualifications, but some give other qualifications (MA, MSc) though they are still essentially research training.

MRes programme have been designed to provide a formal research training programme as preparation for a PhD or a research career.  Research Councils, particularly AHRC and ESRC encourage the development of such programmes and provide studentships (on a competitive basis) for what is known as 1+3 awards (1 year MRes followed by 3 years’ PhD).

The Humanities and Social Sciences Research Office is interested in hearing from good applicants who wish to submit 1+3 applications to ESRC or to AHRC through Keele.  Note that you may submit only one such application so you need to decide early where you wish to study, and contact the Research Office.

For a full A-Z list of research degrees available at Keele refer to the research directory.

For details of our Masters courses including MRes courses refer to the taught directory.

Step 2 - Contact the Research Office or Institute

Contact details for the Research Offices and Institutes are highlighted with the research programme information.  We recommend that once you have identified the subject area you wish to undertake a research degree in, that you contact the Research Office or Institute to express your interest in applying.  This is a pre-application stage designed to help you focus your efforts and identify whether further work on a Keele application is likely to be productive.

It is useful to give the following information in your first email or other contact:

  • Name
  • Intended degree (PhD or MPhil)
  • Broad field of intended research (discipline)
  • More specific topic(s) of interest
  • Either a brief research proposal or some research ideas or a request for projects in your preferred subject area
  • Indicate any preferred supervisor if known
  • Indicate whether you are seeking funding
  • University-level qualifications (including class of first degree) and relevant professional experience

The Research Office or Institute will be able to give you a preliminary view about whether your proposed research and background would be a good fit with their research strengths and, if so, identify an appropriate supervisor.  They will also be able to give an initial view about funding opportunities.

Step 3 - Explore funding options 

It is your responsibility to ensure you have sufficient funds to pay your annual tuition fees and cover living expenses.

There are sources of funding support for PhD students, but they are highly competitive.  If you wish to pursue these you need to make sure you start your search for funding early, understand the options available to you, and learn the relevant procedures and closing dates.

Research council funding

There are seven research councils that offer financial support to postgraduate students. The majority of the awards made by these councils are to students undertaking research degrees.

Competition for research council funding is fierce, as the awards made provide cover for both fees and maintenance (though applicants from EU countries other than the UK may only be eligible to apply for assistance with fees). For more information about the research councils and the awards available, visit the website.


Some charities, trusts and foundations offer funds to students who are undertaking particular routes of study and research. A list of organisations offering funding can be found in The Grants Register, published annually by Palgrave MacMillan.


Some Research Offices and Institutes have studentship schemes, which they are able to offer to prospective students.  Some of these may be from Research Councils or from industry. 

In order to find out what opportunities are available to support your studies please visit the studentships page.

Disability Allowances

UK or EU students with disabilities may be eligible to receive a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). Our Disability Services Co-ordinator Jane Higgins will be able to advise and assist you.

Learn more: Telephone: 01782 734105, website.

Step 4 - Make a formal application

No formal offer will be made until an online application has been submitted. Research Areas A-Z

Before Applying:

Before submitting an application to undertake a research degree at Keele, you are advised to contact the respective Research Institute. This will allow you to discuss your research proposal, supervision and entry to the research degree.

Entry Requirements:

Before submitting an application ensure that you understand the entry requirements.

In addition, if English Language is not your first language, then you must provide evidence of your competence in English Language before you commence your programme.  Please refer to Keele’s English Language requirements for more information.

Online Application and Relevant Documentation:

There is an on-line application link from your chosen research area page. To complete an online application please note you will need the following information unless you have already forwarded the necessary documents to the Research Office or Institute:

  • an outline of your proposed research (Contact the research office or institute to establish whether this should be a full research proposal or a summary of interests, experience and expertise.)
  • copies of transcripts and certificates verifying your qualifications
  • two references from referees who can comment on your academic and professional work as appropriate (note that we will accept emailed references if they are sent from the referee’s own email address)
  • a completed equal opportunities monitoring form

If you have already been in discussion with the Research Office or Institute and prospective supervisor please make sure that you indicate clearly in your application the relevant Research Office or Institute and name of the supervisor.

If you are currently undertaking a Masters degree you must supply transcripts of your work to date and a reference from your course director. If you are accepted on this basis and start your PhD programme before results of your Masters degree are confirmed, you will be required to confirm you have passed the Masters degree before the end of December. If you have not passed you may be required to withdraw from the PhD.

Start Dates and Application Deadlines:

You may commence your research degree (PhD or MPhil) at any time during the year. While most of the induction programmes and many research training modules assume that students will normally be starting their research degree in September (which most students do). ), we are usually able to provide for students starting at other times of year. However, it may also be difficult to find campus accommodation for students wishing to start at times of the year other than September.

There is no closing date for applications and forms may be submitted at any time during the year. However, you are advised to allow at least a month (at least three months for International students) to complete all necessary procedures before the intended start of your programme. If you would wish to live on campus (full-time students only) it is particularly important that you apply early.

Processing your Application:

Once we receive your application form there is quite an extended process to take place. We need to identify an appropriate supervisor and whether you are suitable for a doctoral programme. Some Research Institutes and Offices will also wish to ensure that you have appropriate funding for the whole programme.

If you have followed our advice and contacted a Research Institute Office or Institute in advance, then clearly this process can be much quicker.

We will contact you about your application within 18 working days, but this may not be a final outcome. Research Institutes and Offices will often contact you directly about details of your application or your project prior to a final decision being made.

If you do not hear from us then you should contact the Research Institute Office or to find out what is happening to your application. Once a decision has been reached, we will advise you whether or not it has been possible to offer you a place. Sometimes our offer of a place is conditional upon performance in examinations that you still have to take – this could include English Language tests. Any offer is subject to your agreement to observe the Charter, Statutes, Ordinances and Regulations of the University. If you accept our offer you will be understood to have given such an agreement.

All formal offers are issued by the University – you should not accept any other assurances that you have been offered a place.

If the University is able to provide financial assistance this will be clearly indicated on the formal offer of a place issued by the University. Otherwise the offer of a place carries no implication that the University will provide financial assistance and you will be required to find sufficient funding for the tuition fees and for your living expenses.

The Small Print

Applicants must note that, by accepting a place at Keele University, they give an undertaking to abide by the rules and regulations in force, both academic and disciplinary. It is the responsibility of students to make themselves familiar with these rules and regulations, and to understand that any breaches may lead to disciplinary action.

Pre-Arrival Information:

Once you have accepted the unconditional offer of a place at Keele, or met the conditions of any offer, then you will be sent pre-arrival information by the University to help you prepare for the start of your programme. In addition, your Research Office or Institute will contact you about starting your programme and any preparations you need to make.

For international students starting their studies in September there is a postgraduate Induction week run by the International Students Support Officer.

For more information please contact International Students Office alternatively email Karen Manley, International Students Support Officer.