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Hello Antonia! I am an Italian student and I am currently completing my Master’s degree in Italian and Comparative Literature. I am considering studying Italian at the University of Birmingham. Could you possibly explain to me the difference between a 1-year MA Research and a 3-year PhD, apart from the length? In my country there is no such distinction. Thank you for your support. -F

Hello, and thanks for your message. The main difference between the MA by Research and the PhD is the length of the written thesis. For the MA by Research, you are required to write a thesis of up to 40,000 words; for the PhD, the thesis length is 80,000 words. This explains the difference in the course length. For both degrees, you are supported by academics within your field and can attend a variety of training and professional development courses. The annual fees are the same for both courses. I’d recommend having a look at this web page if you haven’t done so already for more information:

I hope that is useful, and feel free to ask any more questions!



Hello Antonia! I am a prospective PhD candidate for Spanish studies. I am interesting in 15th century women’s writing and would be working with Doctor Aengus Ward as a distance student (I live in New York). Could you tellMe how you schedule your writing/ research? Does the university organize the three years if full time study and is it possible to finish in under three years? Thanks so much for your help advance! -Holly Brown

Hi Holly, and thanks for your question. My supervisor has always encouraged me to write alongside my research, and while this was a little daunting at the outset, I am now really grateful for this advice! It means that I already have a substantial amount of words written, and while I will definitely go back and edit each chapter, it’s certainly a help to know that the bulk of the work has already been done. I am currently in my third year and hoping to submit my thesis at the end of this year, so it is definitely possible if you organise your time well, although it is not a weakness on your part if you do end up taking an additional year to finish writing and editing your thesis. I hope that helps and good luck with your application!

Hi Antonia, In modern language master, do we have to write the thesis in English or we can write it in the department´s language French, Spanish,…?

Thank you for your question! All taught Masters programmes within the department include a 15 000-word dissertation (if you are thinking of studying for a Masters by Research, you will write a 20 000-word dissertation). Usually this is written in English; this gives you the opportunity to fine-tune your academic writing skills, paying attention to how you build your argument. If you would like to write your dissertation in a different language, I would recommend that you contact the convenor of your chosen programme, to see if this would be an option. Here is the link to the ‘Postgraduate study in Modern Languages’ webpages, where you will find information about the different postgraduate programmes on offer within the department and the contact details of the programme convenors. I hope that helps!

What projects are you working on this summer?

I am in the middle of co-organising a postgraduate conference for the Society of Francophone Postcolonial Studies, entitled ‘(Be)Longing in the Francophone World’, with another PhD student from the University of Warwick. This interdisciplinary conference will be held in June at Westmere House on the university campus, and postgraduate researchers from across the country and beyond will present their work on Francophone literature, history and culture. Organising the conference has been a great experience- I have learnt how to apply for funding, manage a budget (food and refreshments cost more than you think!) and put together a conference programme. It has given me a very useful insight into another aspect of academia.

I shall also be presenting part of my work to date at a number of conferences this summer, in Nottingham, Exeter and Glasgow. Conferences are a really good way of trying out new ideas and consolidating your research, and are really important for networking and meeting the key academics in your field. Presenting your work can be a daunting prospect, but most conferences are friendly and relaxed and you get lots of feedback on your work.

Finally, I shall be busy writing the next chapter of my thesis! This chapter examines returning from exile in the autobiography of Franco-Ivorian author Véronique Tadjo. I was really lucky to meet Tadjo during a symposium on West African literature in French at the British Library in January, so it’s exciting to be looking at her work in more detail.

Have you joined any clubs or societies, gone on any research trips or done any volunteering?

In my first year I went on a research trip to Martinique in the French Caribbean with my supervisor, which was a brilliant experience! I used my time there to find statistics, articles and books about state-run migration from the French Caribbean to mainland France, and I have been able to draw on this information in one of my thesis chapters about exile and migration in Guadeloupean author Gisèle Pineau’s work. I also took part in my supervisor’s impact events in schools and museums on Martinican author Joseph Zobel which had been organised to commemorate the centenary of his birth.

I am also a Postgraduate Representative for the Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies, an international organisation which promotes research on colonial and postcolonial studies in the French-speaking world. I am currently organising a postgraduate study day for the society which will be held at Birmingham in June 2016.

Why did you choose the University of Birmingham?

Having completed both my undergraduate and Masters degree programmes at the University of Exeter, I felt I was ready for a new challenge. The University of Birmingham has a very good reputation for research in Modern Languages, with a wide range of scholarly activities, research networks and support for postgraduate students available. The research interests of academic members of staff within my field of Francophone postcolonial studies were an excellent fit with my own ideas, and the Francophone Colonial and Postcolonial (FRANCOPOCO) network is at the forefront of teaching and research into the historical, cultural and legacies of France’s colonial project. I was also fortunate to be offered funding at Birmingham through the Midlands3Cities AHRC Doctoral Research Partnership. I have cross-institutional supervision with the University of Nottingham, meaning that I can access resources and training courses at both institutions. The University of Birmingham was therefore the obvious location for me to continue my studies.

How will your degree prepare you for what you want to do afterwards?

I would like to continue in academia once I have finished my PhD, and I see my time spent at Birmingham as excellent training for this. I have presented several research papers at seminars and conferences, which is a great opportunity for networking as well as allowing me to practise disseminating my research and discussing my ideas with the experts in my field. A publication in a discipline-specific journal has led on from a postgraduate conference. I have also been able to gain teaching and mentoring experience through my work as an Academic Skills Advisor at the University Library, where I help undergraduate students to improve their academic writing and study skills. My PhD has been a very valuable preparation for an academic career.

What was your motivation for undertaking postgraduate study?

I thoroughly enjoyed my BA in French and Spanish and my MA in Translation, and I particularly relished the challenge to carry out research into postcolonial translation strategies for my MA dissertation. After completing my MA I undertook the PGCE course in secondary French education, and while teaching in secondary schools was rewarding, I knew I wanted to continue my training as a researcher in order to pursue a career in academia. Doctoral study has been a very enriching experience, giving me the opportunity to hone my teaching, researching, writing and oral communication skills.

What, for you, are the best things about the course?

I have chosen to research a topic which fascinates me; it really is a privilege to be able to spend my time reading and writing about such interesting cultures and languages. Also, I have had so many different opportunities during my PhD, both at the University of Birmingham and beyond: teaching, presenting at conferences, going on research visits and getting involved in outreach projects. I would definitely recommend getting involved in as many activities as you can, while not neglecting your thesis obviously! These projects have certainly enriched my time at Birmingham.