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PhD Programmes in Linguistics

Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics


Becoming a Linguistics PhD Student

The nature of the PhD degree 

Candidates for the PhD in Cambridge are guided by a Supervisor, though they will normally also discuss their work with a number of other experts in their field. The nature of the work depends on topic. Within linguistics, some PhD students may do most of their work in libraries, or spend part of their time collecting and analysing data, or carry out experiments in the phonetics laboratory or psycholinguistics laboratory. The dissertation must make a significant contribution to learning, for example through the discovery of new knowledge, the connection of previously unrelated facts, the development of new theory or the revision of older views. The completion of a PhD dissertation is standardly expected to take three years, and most funding for PhD students is based on this assumption.

Students registered for the Linguistics PhD will normally have one of the staff members as Supervisor, though sometimes specialists from elsewhere in the University will fulfil this role. You are advised to contact your proposed supervisor before applying, in order to find out if they would be willing to supervise your PhD, and to discuss your proposal informally before submitting it.


We normally advise applicants for the PhD to enroll on our M.Phil. in Linguistics which is a research-based course and gives the necessary preparation for writing a doctoral thesis. Funding bodies usually require a master’s degree prior to funding a PhD, but it may be that your current master’s degree will be considered acceptable - depending on the course content and comparability of standard with our own masters. We would expect you to obtain a high grade in your masters in order to be accepted for the PhD and also to obtain the required standard in English - IELTS 7.5 (min 7 in each unit), TOEFL 620 or computer mode 260, 110 in iBT, (min 5 in essay). Look at the research interests of our staff to see whether it is likely that a suitable supervisor will be available for your particular interests. You should contact individual members of staff for advice on this. 

The overall deadline (not to be confused with the funding deadline) for the submission of applications for the MPhil course is 31st May 2018, although you are advised to submit your application sooner rather than later. 


Things You'll Need

In order to apply for this course you'll need to think about getting a few things ready before you apply.

  • Two academic references  
  • Transcript  
  • Evidence of competence in English   
    If required - you can check using this tool
  • Research proposal 
    Please upload a 500–1000-word research proposal. This should outline a topic of research which you have chosen, and the method for investigating it. You are advised to discuss your proposal informally with the person you would like to be your Supervisor before submitting it. The research proposal will form the basis of your research, but naturally may be modified as the research progresses.
  • Sample of work (max. 1) 
    Please upload a sample of recent research writing of approximately 5,000–10,000 words. The sample can be either an essay produced during masters-level studies or a section of a dissertation, and must be a single-authored work.


Gates Cambridge Scholarships

If you wish to be considered for a Gates Cambridge Scholarship you will also need to provide the following:

  • Gates Cambridge Reference  
  • CV/resume
  • Research Proposal (PhD applicants only)

See Gates Cambridge for more information.

Candidates are advised to apply in well advance of the funding deadlines listed on the Graduate Office 'Applying to MML' page. Graduate funding is increasingly difficult to obtain. As a guide, for home students, a first class degree is no longer a guarantee of winning a maintenance grant from the AHRC. It helps to have a top first or a very strong performance in the area of your proposed research.

Cambridge ESRC DTP Studentship

Linguistics is pleased to participate in a new ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership at the University of Cambridge.  A range of studentships are available across the social sciences at Cambridge; if you are interested in how society works and how it can handle global challenges, a DTP studentship will give you a world-class training programme, with access to leading international scholars both at Cambridge and other DTPs, and a wide community of fellow social scientists.


You can find out more about ESRC DTP studentships here: 

Please contact Professor Ianthi Tsimpli to discuss your interest in applying for a DTP studentship.


The funding deadline for the submission of applications for MPhil and PhD courses starting in October 2018 is 4 January 2018.

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