It’s that time of year again people…


Yes, degree application deadlines are looming. Oxford’s first run ends on the 16th November, but its second in January follows the trend set by most other universities in the country. While January might seem far away, when you need to prepare a SPARKLING PhD proposal that will wow departments into throwing funding at you, two months is pretty tight.

I’m knee deep in the mire of my research proposal, somewhere between laying down the points I know I need to include, and making it into a persuasive piece of prose worthy of a Booker Prize. I haven’t quite figured out the means of crossing between the two. However, I’ve picked up a few useful tips for writing a research proposal along the way, so I thought I’d share them here:

  1. Be superbly interested in the topic, to the point of craziness and comments from other people. You are going to be locked away in a library or dusty museum basement for the next three years, living and breathing pectoral amulets or whatever you decide on….make sure you don’t run out of steam 6 months in. My tutor once said to a friend about me “I’ve never seen anyone quite so…enthusiastic about pots before…”, so I’m pretty well set up!
  2. Have a rock solid methodology. A wishy-washy “I want to look at how chariots are portrayed” just isn’t going to cut it. WHY chariots, chariots on temple walls or on material items, WHICH temples etc.
  3. Send it to a supervisor/academic/someone in the know to check you’re on the right path. I started my MSt proposal waxing lyrical on how my childhood inspired me to archaeological greatness. Luckily my tutor pointed out in time that they wanted basically a detailed plan of action, NOT a miniature autobiography.
  4. Emphasise that you have thought over timing and break down what you plan to do each year – Universities live in fear of the perpetual PhD-ers, still in the library years after the initial deadline. They do usually let you up it to four years if you need extra time though!
  5. And finally: keep in touch with TRENDS OF THE TIME. Nowadays, huge manuscripts of pot typologies without a discussion are not only extremely dull and extremely expensive, but are also mightily out of fashion. More emphasis is, thankfully, being placed on the WHY than purely the HOW. The move towards social interpretations of material culture has finally started to catch up to Egyptian ceramics! 

The first draft of mine has just been sent in, so fingers crossed I haven’t gone hurtling down a side-street….and I’ll update any more tips I hear as I go.


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