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We’ve curated the most frequently asked questions about applying and studying for a PhD in Sociology. If your question isn’t answered here, feel free to contact us at

Who can apply for a PhD in Sociology?

We welcome and encourage applications from people of all backgrounds, regardless of ‘race’, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or ability. We have a strong record of supporting students with a range of disabilities to successful completion of PhDs. If you have any questions about how we can provide support while you study, please get in touch.

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

Most successful applicants to the PhD programme have a Masters degree in Sociology or a related social science discipline, and/or a first class Sociology degree with a substantial dissertation. We prefer students to already have theoretical and practical knowledge of social research methods. However, applicants with these will still be considered provided they demonstrate clear evidence of the ability to pursue research and write to a high standard in the chosen discipline.

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Is there a residency requirement?

We welcome applications from students all over the world. 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 OU’s main campus in Milton Keynes, as well as training provided by the universities of Oxford and Brunel as part of our Grand Union doctoral training partnership. As such, students are encouraged to reside in or near to Milton Keynes. 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 and ESRC, may require students to reside in the UK, for example as a condition of receiving a grant.

Find out more information on support for overseas students.

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How much does it cost?

Current tuition fees for the PhD programme can be found from OU Research Degrees website.

Full-time PhD students are entitled to an annual research budget of £1,000 (£500 for part-time students), which can, for example, be used to travel to conferences or archives.

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What funding options do you have?

The Open University (OU), in collaboration with the universities of Oxford and Brunel, is also part of the Grand Union ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP). Each year, this group awards a number of ESRC-funded doctoral studentships to incoming PhD students at the OU, covering fees and maintenance. Find out more information on the DTP studentships.

If you are interested in applying for a DTP studentship, simply indicate on your PhD application form that you would like to be considered for DTP funding and identify whether it is the Grand Union DTP or OOC. 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. General information about funding opportunities for postgraduate research can be found from OU Research Degrees website.

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences does not presently fund PG student scholarships.

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How long does it take to do a PhD? And can I study part time?

You have the option of studying full time or part time. Full-time students usually complete their PhD in three to four years, while part-time students typically complete within six years.

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

The deadline for applications, including funded and self-funded students, is 31 January for all applicants wishing to begin their studies on 1 October of that same calendar year. For those wishing to begin their studies on 1 February, the application deadline is 31 August of the previous calendar year.

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Which areas of Sociology does the OU supervise?

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

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Are there different application deadlines for funded and self-funded students? 

No. All applications to undertake an advanced research degree in Sociology starting on 1 October are due on the same date (January 31) of the same calendar year. All applicants, regardless of whether they are self-funded or are applying for funding, must submit their applications by the January deadline. All applications to undertake advanced postgraduate research degree with us starting on 1 February are due on the same date (31 August) of the previous calendar year.

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Do you offer an MPhil in Sociology?

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. Students pursuing this option are funded by their employer or out of their own income or savings.

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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 know you well enough to 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.

The research proposal should be a maximum of 3,000 words (excluding references). It should provide an introduction indicating what the main research question is and why this is an important question. It should offer any contextual details to support the rationale of the research. It should provide a literature review outlining the key relevant research the project will draw on and the key scholars / thinkers who have inspired the study. A third section should cover the methodological approach and justification of why these methods will help answer the main research question and subsidiary questions. A brief timeline and details of any fieldwork or empirical research should be included. A final section or conclusion could summarise your motivation to study this topic. Please note, the above is not prescriptive but offered as a guide.

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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 develop your understanding and command of 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 application to 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. Members of the department currently take part in several research groups, in collaboration with members of other disciplines. PhD students are encouraged to participate in the activities of these research groups, where they can present their research, listen to invited speakers, and meet other leading academics in their field.

We currently cooperate closely with the following research groups:

ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-cultural Change
Strategic Research Area in Citizenship and Governance
Strategic Research Area in International Development and Inclusive Innovation
Culture and Social Psychology Research Collaboration

We also encourage our PG research students to make contact with others in our department and to participate in departmental-wide events with other students and staff.

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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, local government, public services, private sector organisations and voluntary and charitable organisations.

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Are you an international student interested in having a PhD degree in Sociology at The Open University?

The postgraduate research office will need some extra information. The office will also guide you to apply for Tier 4 visa if you haven't already got it. You will also need to comply with Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) and NARIC qualifications. Please note that there is a residency requirement: you need to live within approximately 40 miles (or 40 minutes traveling time) from Milton Keynes for full time and within the UK for part-time study

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