We’ve curated the most frequently asked questions about applying and studying for a PhD in Geography. If your question isn’t answered here, feel free to contact us at fass-geog-pg-admissions@open.ac.uk.

Who can apply for a PhD in Geography?

We welcome and encourage applications from applicants from all backgrounds, regardless of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or ability. If you have any questions at all about how we can accommodate your study, please get in touch with us.

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What are the entry requirements for studying for a PhD in Geography?

Most successful applicants to the PhD programme have a Masters degree in Geography or a related discipline, a strong first degree in Geography or related discipline and/or relevant professional or life experience. However, applicants can still be considered provided they demonstrate evidence of the ability to pursue research and write at a high level in the discipline.

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Is there a residency requirement?

We welcome applications from students from all over the world. Full-time students are, however, required to attend regular, face-to-face supervision meetings and to take advantage of our year-round programme of workshops, seminars, and training at The Open University’s main campus in Milton Keynes, as well as training provided by the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Brunel as part of our OOC and Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnerships. As such, students are encouraged to reside in or near Milton Keynes. Part-time students are required to be UK residents and attend induction and training twice a year at the OU campus. On a case-by-case basis, we are generally able to accommodate students living in other parts of the UK or elsewhere in Europe, provided they can travel to Milton Keynes as required.

It is also important to check the residency requirements of any PhD funding. Some funding bodies, such as the AHRC or ESRC, may require students to reside in the UK, for example. Details of support available for overseas students can be found here.

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How much does it cost?

Current tuition fees for the PhD programme can be found here.

Full-time PhD students are entitled to an annual research budget of £1000 (£500 for part-time students), which can be used to travel to conferences or to archives, for example.

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What funding options do you have?

Geography at The Open University is part of two Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP). Each year, the two DTPs award a number of funded doctoral studentships to incoming PhD students at the OU, covering fees and maintenance.

  • The Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP funds projects in the fields of cultural geography, heritage, and the arts. More information on these studentships can be found here.
  • The Grand Union DTP, a collaboration of The Open University and the universities of Oxford and Brunel, awards funding for all projects in geography. More information on these studentships can be found here.

If you are interested in applying for a DTP studentship, please indicate on your PhD application form that you would like to be considered for funding. If your application to the PhD programme is successful, you will have the opportunity to complete a short additional application for the studentship. Studentships are open to applicants of all nationalities.

Students are also welcome to apply for external funding, such as Fulbright Awards or Commonwealth Scholarships. General information about funding opportunities for postgraduate research can be found here.

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What are the deadlines for applying for and beginning the PhD?

We have two intakes per year: October 1 and February 1. For students also applying for Grand Union DTP funding, the deadline for applications is January (for an October start later the same year).

For self-funded students, the deadlines for applications are:
April 30 for an October start
September 30 for a February start

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Who should I ask to be my referees for my PhD application?

You are required to provide the names and contact details of two referees in support of your application. Both referees should be individuals who can confirm that you have the skills required to successfully complete a PhD. At least one of the referees should be an academic - for example, the person who supervised your Masters dissertation. The other referee can also be an academic, or an employer who can confirm that you possess the necessary skills to undertake postgraduate research.

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Do I need to submit a research proposal as part of my application?

Yes, a research proposal is a vital part of your application. Any application submitted without a research proposal will be rejected. You should work on your research proposal with your proposed supervisor. Typically, the research proposal will include the background and rationale for your proposed study and a brief overview of the current literature on your topic, the research aims and objectives, your proposed methods, and the potential impact/contribution of your study.

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Which areas of Geography does the OU supervise?

Our department has a broad range of expertise, and is able to support many diverse research projects. We do have specific expertise in a number of areas, however, as reflected on our research page.

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Can I be co-supervised by members of two different Disciplines?

Yes. The OU fosters interdisciplinary research, and we often organise a supervisory team with academics from two different disciplines.

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Do you offer an MPhil in Geography?

Yes. Students do have the option of pursuing an MPhil rather than a PhD. An MPhil requires research students to produce a thesis of 60,000 words (rather than 100,000 for the PhD) and it is typically completed in 15 months (full-time). The application procedure is the same for the MPhil and for the PhD.

Unfortunately, there is no funding available to study for an MPhil.

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What is the first year of the PhD like?

When you first enrol for your PhD, you will technically be an MPhil student. During your first year, you will have the opportunity to attend induction and training sessions organised by the Graduate School Network and by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

During your first year, much of your research will focus on producing a literature review, which will allow you to master the secondary literature related to your chosen topic.

At the end of your first year of full-time study, or your second year of part-time study, you will submit your literature review along with some other work for your upgrade to the full PhD programme. For your upgrade, a panel of two OU academics will look at the work you’ve completed so far and your plans for the years ahead.

In the first year of the PhD programme, you can also be assigned a mentor, namely a more advanced PhD student in a different discipline within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Your mentor is there to help you with the transition to life as a PhD student.

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Would I be able to join a research group as a PhD student?

Yes. All members of the department take part in the Geography research group OpenSpace. PhD students are encouraged to participate in the OpenSpace activities, where they can present their research, listen to invited speakers, and meet other leading geographers in their field. OpenSpace operates in several clusters based on research interests, and PhD students are encouraged to participate in the cluster(s) that align closest to their research topic.

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Can I get teaching experience at the OU as a PhD student?

We currently run a Teaching Scheme that invites PhD students to join an undergraduate module team and take part in discussions around creating and marking exams and essays, while benefitting from mentorship from an experienced tutor. PhD students can also receive training on writing and delivering lectures and have the opportunity to lecture to undergraduate students. The OU also collaborates with the Brilliant Club, where PhD students gain experience teaching in secondary schools.

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What careers do graduates go on to pursue?

Graduates of our PhD programme thrive in a wide range of different sectors. Many of our graduates teach in universities across the UK and overseas, while others have pursued careers in the civil service, or in private and voluntary organisations.

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