What you will need

When you send us your application you will be asked for a number of documents, these include:

  1. Personal statement
  2. Research proposal
  3. Two references
  4. Degree documents
  5. Language testing certificate (if applicable)

Personal statement

Your personal statement (up to 500 words) should outline why you have chosen this particular PhD programme and subject, and how it fits with your skills, experience and interest – both academic and vocational. We would like you to use it to communicate your knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment to the research area, to demonstrate to us that you are equipped to study at PhD level, and to reflect on the contribution that a PhD could make to your future career.

In writing your personal statement you might want to consider addressing the following:

  • What has led up to you wanting to do a PhD, and why you want to do it now.
  • The reasons for your choice of research topic and why it is of interest to you.
  • Why you think that are a suitable candidate for the PhD programme (for example, the quality and relevance of your academic credentials; any research training and experience you have; any research papers you have written, presented or had published; evidence of your ability to undertake significant pieces of independent work; or how you envisage engaging in University and school-related activities).
  • Why you want to do your PhD at the University of Bristol, and at the School for Policy Studies.
  • How your research fits in with your future career plans.

Research proposal

Your research proposal is a concise statement (up to 1,000 words) of the rationale for your research proposal, the research questions to be answered and how you propose to address them. We want to see that you can construct a fairly rigorous, high quality research proposal. Your proposal should include the following:

  • title;
  • background to your research;
  • the aims and objectives of your research and the research questions or hypotheses you are asking;
  • your proposed methodology;  
  • how your data will be analysed;
  • how your research will fit within the School for Policy Studies and the wider academic and non-academic field;
  • the anticipated outcomes from your project, in terms of its contribution to knowledge and understanding, collaborative activity that can lead to greater impact to you or an external agency, etc;
  • a properly referenced list of the sources you have used in your research proposal (not included in the word count).

What we expect from your research proposal

We know that during the early stages of your PhD you are likely to refine your thinking and methodology - your PhD will evolve! However, we want to see that you can construct a fairly rigorous, high quality research proposal, and would not expect you to radically diverge from it without good reason.

We want you to provide us with evidence that you will be able to undertake original, high quality academic research that will make a contribution to an existing body of knowledge and that can be completed within the required timescale. We therefore expect to see evidence in your proposal that you have researched your ideas, are familiar with, and can critically assess, the pertinent literature, and have considered a methodology to answer your research questions that is appropriate and feasible.

We use your research proposal to help us decide whether you would be a suitable candidate to study at PhD level. We therefore assess your proposal on its quality, originality, and coherence. It also helps us to decide if your research interests match those of academics in the School for Policy Studies and whether or not they would be able to provide suitably qualified and interested supervision for your proposed research.

Potential applicants are welcome to contact our academic staff (pre-application) to discuss their research proposal (although we do not expect definite supervision arrangements to be in place before applying).

The content of your research proposal

The following headings might be a helpful guide to writing your research proposal:

  1. Background to your proposed research
    Provide a short introduction to your area of interest with a succinct, selective and critical review of the relevant literature. Demonstrate that you understand the theoretical underpinnings and main debates and issues in your research area and how your proposed research will make an original and necessary contribution to this. You need to be convincing that your proposed research will fill a gap in existing knowledge and the importance of filling this gap.
  2. Research questions and/or hypotheses to be addressed
    Present your research questions to be explored and/or the hypotheses you will test.
  3. Methodology of proposed research
    Outline how you plan to conduct the research and the data sources that you will use. We don’t expect you to have planned a very detailed methodology at this stage, but you need to provide evidence that you have given some thought to how you will conduct your research and the timescale within which you will do so. You need to be convincing about the appropriateness and feasibility of the approaches you are suggesting, and reflective about problems you might encounter (including ethical and data protection issues) in collecting and analysing your data.
  4. How your research will fit within the School for Policy Studies, broader academia and non-academic interested parties such as policy makers, practitioners and the public
    Explain how your research will fit within the specialist research areas of academics at the School for Policy Studies, and beyond. If you have been in contact with a member of the academic staff to discuss your proposed research topic, or as a potential supervisor for you, please give their name. However also think about broader collaborations and partnerships (academic and non-academic) that will support your research and bring benefits to both yourself and others. Collaborative activity can lead to a better understanding of the ways in which academic research can translate into practice and it can help to inform and improve the quality of your research and its impact.
  5. Reference list
    Provide a properly referenced list of the sources you have mentioned in your research proposal.

Prior to submitting your research proposal

We expect your research proposal to be clear, concise and grammatically correct, so we recommend that you ask someone else to read it before you submit it to check for clarity and focus – for example you could ask them to comment on the following:

  • Is the language clear and easy to understand by someone who is not an expert in the field?
  • Is the grammar and spelling correct?
  • Can they understand what the proposed research is about and why it is significant?
  • What do they think your proposed research will add to our understanding of theory, knowledge or research design?
  • What contributions will it make to policy and/or practice?
  • How do they think you will do the research?
  • Do they think that you could do the research in the required time?

Your research proposal should indicate to us that you have the ability to undertake original, high quality academic research. Make sure that you have researched the relevant literature, and that you have written a clear, succinct and considered proposal. You will then have the best possible chance of success.


We recommend two academic referees, but an employment reference that is directly relevant to the topic could be used in addition to an academic reference.

Degree documents

We will need to see verified transcripts and certificates relating to all of your undergraduate and/or postgraduate degrees and the grades you have obtained

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