PhD and MLitt Research Programmes

PhD Programme

The School of English Drama and Film at UCD welcomes applications from potential PhD students. A UCD PhD is a four year research degree, undertaken within a clearly structured programme leading to the production of a thesis of around 100,000 words which will make an original contribution to knowledge. The programme includes taught modules, a Research and Professional Development Plan and the possibility to develop teaching skills.

Potential PhD researchers wishing to start in the Autumn trimester are required to apply by 1st July 2023 (Sept 2023 start) and 15th June 2024 (Sept 2024 start). Those applying for January start need to submit before 15th October. For a May start, applications must be completed and submitted by 1st March.

MLitt Programme

An MLitt is a master's-level research degree based primarily on an independent research project, usually proposed and developed by the student, and carried out under the guidance of a supervisor and a research studies panel. In the case of the MLitt, or the research master's, the student will produce a thesis of 40,000- 60,000 words.

The MLitt degree is normally carried out over 6 trimesters (2 years) full time (or 3 years part time). MLitt students who do not complete the requirements for the degree within these timelines must apply for permission to continue. 

MLitt students may be eligible to transfer to a doctoral programme on successful completion of a transfer assessment following a minimum three trimesters and maximum of six trimesters of registration (full-time) or a minimum of six trimesters and maximum of twelve trimesters (part time) on the research master’s degree programme. This will also be subject to approval of the Graduate Research Board and any policy the University may establish.

Potential MLitt researchers wishing to start in the Autumn trimester are encouraged to submit their completed online application before the 1st of July at the latest. Those applying for January start need to submit before the 15th October. For a May start, applications must be completed and submitted by the 1st of March.

General Information 

All students are assigned a primary supervisor. In some cases where the work is interdisciplinary, co-supervision will be offered.  Students are supported by supervisors in their programme of independent research, which frequently culminates in the production of research worthy of peer-reviewed publications.

The School of English, Drama and Film and the College of Arts and Humanities at UCD are consistently ranked highly. Members of the School have attracted some of the most competitive research grants and awards available in Ireland and internationally. These include funding from the following bodies: European Research Council, Irish Research Council, Fulbright Ireland, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Award Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Foundation. 

At the School of English, Drama and Film, we offer wide-ranging experience in the supervision of PhD students Many of our PhD students have been successful in obtaining postdoctoral funding following their research.

School members have also played a significant and recognized role in shaping their respective fields of study. A full staff list can be found here . The list includes links to staff research profiles.

Current research students in the School of English, Drama and Film

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It is expected that PhD students will have an academic background necessary to support doctoral level research. The majority of our candidates have a strong graduate and postgraduate record (a high MA result of 2:1- 1:1 or GPA above 3.2). The School requires an IELTS band 8 if English is not your first language. A potential supervisor will be able to advise on the knowledge they expect their students to have gained before applying for entry to the programme.

MLitt students are also required to have an academic background necessary to support independent research. The School requires an IELTS band 8 if English is not your first language, and a high BA result 2:1- 1:1 or GPA of GPA above 3.2. A potential supervisor will be able to advise on the knowledge they expect their students to have gained before applying for entry to the programme. 

In addition to subject specific knowledge, all PhD and MLitt students are expected to have a basic understanding of research methods before applying for entry to the PhD and MLitt programme. It is compulsory to complete Research Intergrity Training during all UCD research degrees and it is expected that students will complete any modules, either in the School or in UCD, required to meet research needs.

While you can submit an application without consulting anyone in the School, it is not advisable. You should first send a proposal to a member of academic staff that you would like to act as your supervisor. Anyone thinking of applying for a PhD or MLitt is required to share a project proposal.

If you are unsure as to who to contact, you could contact someone working in the general area that interests you, who may be able to recommend a potential supervisor. Alternatively, you can email with your proposal. Staff research interests are listed on the School webpages. This may be helpful to you in identifying a potential supervisor.

You should have at least a general proposal prepared before contacting a potential supervisor.  The key purpose of contacting your potential supervisor is to satisfy yourself, as the supervisor must also be satisfied, that you can work with each other toward the completion of your studies. However, the success of this does not guarantee that you will be offered supervision or a place on the programme, as the School must consider your application in relation to a range of other factors. 

Preparing a proposal and contacting a potential supervisor:

First you need to identify what has already been done in your chosen research area and identify a gap in the existing knowledge that your research could fill. Following this, you need to articulate a clear focus and approach for your research, and a breakdown of provisional chapters. Once you complete the proposal, you should make contact with a potential supervisor to discuss possible directions to your project.

As well as an in-depth proposal a future supervisor would also need to see

  • a short academic CV, 
  • a sample of academic writing (ideally a chapter from a postgraduate dissertation, or if applying for an MLitt a lengthy chapter or research essay)

If a member of staff is interested and willing to provide supervision after reading your proposal, you should arrange to meet with your potential supervisor—meetings and conversations may also take place online if you are unable to travel or are living outside Ireland.  If the supervisor provisionally agrees that the work has merit, you can work with the supervisor on the proposal then begin the application process. You should seek the advice of your potential supervisor about your ideas, choice of materials, methodologies, or background reading, but the potential supervisor is not expected to edit or revise your application proposal.

All research degree applications are reviewed by the School's Research Degree Admissions Board. The time from application submission to formal communication of the application outcome takes two months on average. International students should apply with sufficient time to arrange visas in advance of degree commencement date should they receive an offer.


The PhD programme in Creative Writing provides students with the opportunity to engage in individual research over three to four years of full time study under the supervision of a member of academic staff, leading to a thesis that combines creative work with a critical commentary.

The majority of any PhD research will be practice based, that is carried out through your own creative practice, and will lead to a novel, a collection of short stories, a poetry collection or other major piece of writing. You will also need to produce a critical commentary that contextualises your writing and demonstrates understanding of the writing process. The final composition of the submitted thesis will be a matter of negotiation between the supervisor and the candidate in order to ensure that it satisfies the requirements of doctoral study, but will be approximately 70% creative work and 30% commentary.

The application requirements, procedures, timelines and deadlines for a Creative Writing PhD are the same as that for all other PhD programmes in the School.

More Details:

The creative writing PhD has broadly the same characteristics as any other doctorate in terms of its requirements of breadth, depth and originality. It does differ from a literary studies PhD, however, in some significant details, and particularly in the composition of the thesis and research methods.

The creative writing PhD will normally have two components:

  1. A ‘creative’ element made up of, for example, a collection of poetry, prose fiction either in novel form or a collection of shorter fiction, or creative non-fiction such as life writing, travel writing etc.
  2. a ‘critical’ element that might include but is not limited to, critical work on relevant literature, theoretical enquiry and critical reflection on the writing process.

These are both part of the research processes of the doctoral programme of study. If the PhD is exploring something like ‘how do experiments in poetic form develop our understanding of the experience of critical illness?’, or ‘how does the historical novel contribute to our knowledge of ecological issues in the nineteenth-century?’, then both creative and critical work will respond to the question.

Important considerations:

  1. UCD has a norm of 70% creative work and 30% critical work for the creative writing PhD. This can vary but it is very helpful to bear these proportions in mind, particularly in the early stages. As the thesis approaches completion, it is important to ensure that, whatever the final proportions, the creative and critical components taken together meet the requirements of a PhD.
  2. Candidates are encouraged to think about their critical work in parallel with their creative practice. While the critical element needs to be at doctoral level, the candidate cannot reproduce the volume of critical research in a literary studies PhD in their field and will need to be selective in the avenues they explore. Clear and well-constructed research questions can be helpful in providing boundaries and limitations.
  3. In common with other doctoral candidates, those on creative writing PhDs will be searching for a style or tone adequate to express their ideas. The creative element will bring its own aesthetic demands, but some candidates will also seek to develop their own style for the critical element. This can result in work that is more like an essay that might appear in the New York or London Review of Books for example, rather than work closer to an academic article. Thus, some candidates may explore different styles in the critical element of their thesis while fulfilling all requirements of citation and referencing, and might be aiming to write for publications other than the academic and the scholarly.
  4. Creative practitioners often carry out other ‘research’ into particular topics in order to inform the content of their work. Examples might include gathering historical information for the plot of a novel, or scientific knowledge to inform work in ecopoetics. The focus is on the ways that such work is used in the creative practice.
  5. Linked to 3 above, writers of poetry and prose fiction often range very broadly across many fields to get ideas for their work. The critical part of the thesis does not have to reflect all aspects they have thought about but should focus on one or two most relevant to their research questions and that they feel they really want to consider in some depth.

For more information on the structured PhD Creative Writing programme, please see Creative Writing PhD student information

The Irish Research Council is the major source of funding for PhD studies in Ireland.

Internal UCD scholarships are advertised here

Other sources of funding include the Fulbright and the UCD China Scholarhsip scheme.

UCD Global may have opportunities and information for funding for international students. Contact the representatives in your region for further information.

Irish citizens may be able to apply for financial assistance from Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI).

Following a successful application, each student and supervisor meet early in the first trimester of the programme to mutually set expectations. Each research student is also allocated a supervisory support panel, known as a Research Studies Panel (RSP). 

The Research Studies Panel provides advice, monitors your progress and supports the Student-Supervisor relationship. The members of the panel are nominated when the student is approved for admission and will comprise of 

  • the Principal Supervisor, 
  • any additional Co-Supervisor(s), 
  • a number of advisers (at least two but normally no more than four). One of these will be Chair.

The RSP meet at least twice in the first year and at least once a year thereafter. For each RSP meeting, students submit a Research and Professional Development Plan (RPDP) which is discussed and approved by panel.

The Principal Supervisor had the main responsible for supporting the student’s progress in the research degree programme. While the ways in which an advisor might support a student will vary, it is recommended that a Principal Supervisor and student plan to meet one-on-one at regular times throughout each trimester. The Principal Supervisor is responsible for responding promptly to a student’s request for additional meetings. The student and Principal Supervisor work together to set realistic goals for the timing of submission of documents for feedback and the return of that feedback. Discussion and planning between the student and Principal Supervisor may also include module planning (during the first two years of the programme).

More information on the structured UCD PhD can be found here.

More information on the UCD Research Masters (MLitt) programme can be found here

The School of English, Drama and Film hosts the James Joyce Research Centre, Centre for Gender, Sexualities and Feminisms (in conjunction with the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice and UCD Centre for Canadian Studies.

The Graduate Futures Workshop series run by the School is intended to help PhD Candidates, recent graduates, and early-career staff in the School prepare for the job market, articulate skillsets, and prepare materials. It’s designed as a supportive peer review and mentoring setting.

UCD Graduate Studies organises and hosts and a wide range of events, development seminars and workshops, and opportunities for engaging with postgraduate researchers in the university. See their News webpages for recent and upcoming events.

The world class UCD research community provides a culture and environment that enables our researchers to deliver on their potential and ambitions. 


To find out more about life as a research student in UCD, watch these testimonials which include a video from the School's PhD student Grainne Daly.


MLitt and PhD students have the opportunity to gain teaching experience (paid) to undergraduate students during the course of their research.

Students are also encouraged to register for relevant research and skills development courses organised by UCD Library and Graduate Studies.

The School is home to a lively English Graduate Society (EGS) who organise an annual conference, workshops, seminars and informal social events.

The School's own research seminar series hosts staff and visiting speakers. 

Importantly the school has robust affiliations with UCD's Humanities Institute and The Clinton Institute  who host an impressive range of interdisciplinary symposia, conferences and visiting international speakers. Students are also welcome to attend any of the seminars hosting visiting in other Schools, in the College of Arts and Humanities and beyond.


For more information about the application process please check PhD application guide 2023-24

For more information on the structured PhD programme, please see 2023-24 EDF Structured Info Sheet

For more information on the MLitt programme, please see here MLitt Information Sheet

For Film Studies PhD enquiries, contact Head of Subject Assistant Professor Harvey O'Brien (
For Drama Studies PhD enquires, contact Head of Subject Assistant Professor Ashley Taggart (
For Creative Writing PhD enquiries, contact Creative Writing PhD Admissions Coordinator: Professor Ian Davidson (

The School look forward to hearing about your proposed research.