PhD in Music

STEIM research project "the resistant violin" by Bennett Hogg; image by Will SchrimshawThe PhD can be taken by thesis (musicology, music education) or by portfolio (composition) or can include elements of both academic and creative work. The PhD by thesis requires the submission of a 100,000 word thesis based entirely on original research. The PhD by portfolio requires the submission of work based around your creative practice (and usually accompanied by a smaller thesis). The PhD requires a minimum of 36 months full-time study or equivalent. During your time as a student in ICMuS, you will have your research training needs assessed and attended to, you will be assigned two supervisors in your chosen area of specialisation and you will have full access to our outstanding research facilities in ICMuS.

ICMuS staff have research expertise in, and are keen to supervise research students in, these areas: historical musicology (medieval, early modern, nineteenth-century and twentieth-century musics), music and cultural theory and philosophy, music and gender, ethnomusicology and world musics, popular music studies, music education, folk music (Ireland and Britain), music analysis, composition, performance, studio-based work, improvisation, work with mixed-media.

  • For more information about the areas in which staff at ICMuS undertake research, click here.

How to apply

Applications for the PhD can be made at any time but we would advise you to contact the Secretary for Postgraduate Studies in Music (pgmusic@ncl.ac.uk) before submitting a formal application (see here for the timetable for submitting an application for AHRC funding). We can then discuss the feasibility of your proposal and indicate whether we are able to support you academically. We would then be able to indicate whether there is any specific information or documentation that we require. If we are interested in your proposal and feel it can be supported academically we will ask you to submit a formal application. If, however, you need to submit your application quickly (if you want to apply for AHRC funding, for example), please follow the instructions given below and inform the postgraduate secretary once you have done this.

You should normally have both a good honours degree (2i or above) and a Masters degree in a subject relevant to your research proposal and it is advisable to discuss your proposed subject with us before beginning the application process. It is also a good idea to bear in mind our research interests when deciding to apply for research degrees with us.

Applicants for AHRC funding should apply through the university's online portal. Remember that this application will be the one we use to determine whether or not to forward you for consideration for funding, an therefore needs to be well-argued, well-written and clear.

When submitting the formal application to the University, you are asked to submit with your application a research proposal of maximum 1,000 words, if applying to the AHRC, or 1,000-2,000 words if not applying to the AHRC. There is no strict template of the structure for this. However, it is recommended that applicants include the following details:

for PhD by thesis

  • a provisional title;
  • an introduction to the research topic (possibly with an initial literature review) to set the scene;
  • reasons to show why the research is important and a statement about the academic contribution it is likely to make;
  • a well thought through 'research question' that the research will aim to answer, or a thesis to be tested;
  • clearly defined research aims and more detailed research objectives;
  • an outline of the methodology that will be used to achieve the research objectives and answer the research question, or test the thesis;
  • an initial suggested chapter structure (although this is likely to change as the research progresses); and,
  • an initial bibliography.


for PhD by portfolio

  • a provisional title;
  • an introduction to the research theme/idea (and, where appropriate, an initial review of other practice-based work in this area) to set the scene;
  • a well thought through 'research question' that the research will aim to answer, or a thematic to be explored;
  • an outline of the kinds of practice that will be used to achieve the research objectives and answer the research question, or fill out the research theme;
  • a description the written component of your portfolio;
  • an initial suggested structure (although this is likely to change as the research progresses); and,
  • an example of your recent work (written or practice-based).

International applicants who have not done a masters or equivalent in an English speaking institution will be assessed individually using samples of their writing and an interview.

The fastest way to apply is via our online application system.

  • AHRC-funded scholarships: see here for more.