Research Degrees: MPhil & PhD

Information for Applicants

The School of English at the University of Hong Kong offers full- and part-time research postgraduate programmes for the degrees of MPhil and PhD.

Successful full-time applicants will receive a grant of HK$16,660 (US$2,130) per month for 2019-20 (subject to revision). Applicants for the PhD programme, however, are encouraged to apply through the Online Application System of the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship (HKPF) Scheme to compete for a monthly scholarship of HK$25,800 (US$3,300) and a conference and research related travel allowance of HK$12,900 (US$1,650) per year. Please see for more information.

The School of English at HKU has an international academic staff and postgraduate student body, working in these areas:

Literatures in English
Cross-cultural Studies in English
English Language and Linguistics
Language and Communication

For PhDs, we would particularly encourage applications in the following areas:

Modern and Postcolonial Literary Studies
Cross-cultural Writing
Law, Language and Literature
Sociolinguistics and Psycholinguistics (currently with application of PhD/MPhil Studentship in Sociolinguistics / Language and Health Communication, application deadline: 31st October 2019)
English Syntax, Semantics and Pragmatics

The next round of admissions is for the academic year 2020/21, with entry in September 2020. The deadline for submission of applications in the Main Round is 1 December 2019.

General information

In addition to the coursework programme MA in English Studies (MAES) and the MFA in Creative Writing in English, the School of English also accepts postgraduate students for research studies leading to the degrees of MPhil and PhD.

The MPhil and PhD are research degrees. Their chief component is the production of a scholarly thesis of original work in some area of English studies. Of the two, the PhD is the senior degree, requiring a more substantial thesis of publishable quality.

If you are thinking of applying to join our MPhil or PhD programme, you should begin by studying the information given here online. We also give important advice below (under Frequently Asked Questions) about the application process, the qualifications needed, and the research proposal you must submit. In planning your research proposal, you should bear in mind the research strengths and interests of potential supervisors, shown below. You can also find out about our teaching staff and undergraduate teaching programmes.

All students in these programmes have to attend and pass certain courses offered by the Graduate School. They must also take a number of courses in the School, as well as writing their thesis. 

Research students are assigned a supervisor, or sometimes two, to act as their advisor, help them plan their research project, meet for regular discussion of their work, and oversee and comment on their writing. MPhil students taking courses in the School will have regular contact with the teachers of those courses, and often postgraduates find other teachers (and students) in the School with whom they can discuss aspects of their work. Staff from the Graduate School offer instruction in research methods, thesis writing and other matters.

There is a regular School research seminar, at which staff and research students get together to share and discuss their work, and sometimes to hear distinguished visiting scholars. The School also has a Research Postgraduate Advisor who can offer further help and support. However, research degree students have to take responsibility for their own work. In the end, their success in the programme depends on their own resources of hard work, discipline and intellectual creativity.

The period of full-time study for MPhil students is 24 months, and for PhD students it is normally 48 months. In exceptional cases the School will accept students who wish to do research studies on a part-time basis.

The department currently has some 35 research students. Many of them are from Hong Kong, but we also have international research students. In recent years they have come from Belgium, Canada, Iran, Japan, Macau, Mainland China, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.



Frequently asked questions

  • What qualifications do I need?

Candidates for admission to our research programmes must have a good first degree in a relevant discipline from a reputable university. Normally, candidates are not admitted straight into PhD studies unless they have some research experience in a postgraduate programme. If you have a first degree from a university where the language of teaching and examination is not English, you must have obtained a score of 550 or above in the TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language) and a score of 4 or above in the TWE (Test of Written English). We also accept the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) but you must have at least a score of 7 with no subtest lower than 5.5. You will be expected to have good academic references. Applicants for both MPhil and PhD studies are required to submit a research proposal (see below), and the School may ask for further information from you, in an interview or in writing.

This may not be enough! Entry is competitive and places are limited. Sometimes the School is not able to accept a well-qualified applicant because there are no places, or no appropriate supervision, available at the time. But we welcome applications from promising young scholars with interesting ideas for research in English, and we accept as many as we can.

You can get full information about admission requirements and procedures at the Graduate School website.


  • What is required for the research proposal?

We suggest that the proposal for MPhil application should be 3 to 4 pages double-spaced. It should include a brief  account of your academic history (what you have studied and what in particular has interested you; also, where relevant, the reason why you want to undertake your research at HKU), and it should set out the area of study you propose to work in, and the research you intend to do in it. We understand that your proposal at this stage will be provisional, but it should show that you know something about the field, have started on the relevant reading, and have a sense of the interesting research questions and problems you are likely to face, of the methodology proposed and, if relevant, the resources required. You should append a preliminary bibliography.

The research proposal for PhD studies should be 4 to 5 pages in length, double-spaced. It should outline a clearly-considered and defined research topic, with an account of research questions and methodology proposed, an explanation of the value and originality of the research, and a bibliography.

Go to next question and the School's staff profiles to see if your area of research interest falls within the scope of our scholarly activity.


  • What sort of research work is done in the School of English?

We welcome proposals from students wishing to undertake research work in the School for the degree of MPhil or PhD.

It will be useful for prospective students to know what sort of research is being done by scholars in the School. Research proposals concerned with the following areas and topics are more likely to find a prospective supervisor in the School.


Areas of research: literary studies

Literary and cultural research in theoretical and textual studies in the School of English concentrates mostly on work in the Renaissance and work from the 19th to the 21st century. We have particular strengths in cross-cultural studies, post-colonial theoretical, literary and cultural studies, Hong Kong and other Asian literatures in English, literature and the law, and travel writing.


Areas of research: language studies

Most of the linguistic research going on in the School of English can be situated in the interdisciplinary areas of sociolinguistics and discourse analysis. Supervision can also be offered for usage-based theoretical linguistic studies and corpus-based descriptive linguistic work. Linguistic research in the School of English naturally focuses on English language data, especially Hong Kong English, African Englishes (including pidgins and creoles), but also other varieties of English. Specific areas of expertise include: the politics and ideology of language, language in workplace and institutional settings, language and the law, language and gender, cognitive sociolinguistics, construction grammar and grammaticalization, second language acquisition, applied linguistics, and psycholinguistics.

(Students wanting to do research in language pedagogy and English language teaching should consider applying to the Faculty of Education, the Centre for Applied English Studies, or the Department of Psychology. If you are interested in working on structural aspects of Chinese or Cantonese data you could contact either the Department of Linguistics or the School of Chinese.)


Individual research specialisms

Take a look at the staff profiles to learn more about individual scholars in the School. Staff members have indicated they are particularly interested in research proposals related to the following specific areas and topics of ongoing research:


You can click on the staff name to find more details.

Dr Frederick Blumberg: Early modern literature, poetics, rhetoric, law and literature.
Dr Ricky Chan: Experimental Phonetics, forensic phonetics, prosody, psycholinguistics, second language acquisition, implicit and explicit language learning, English in Hong Kong.
Dr Brandon Chua: 17th and 18th Century British Literature; Literature and Jacobitism; Critical Theory; History of Sexualities; Religion and Literature; History of the Novel; Shakespeare Adaptation Studies.
Dr Wendy Gan: British middlebrow women's writing from the early twentieth century, female modernist writers, representations of the East in middlebrow writing.
Dr Otto Heim:
Postcolonial literature, Pacific writing, island studies, literary and cultural theory.
Dr Elizabeth Ho: Contemporary literature, postcolonial theory and fiction, neo-Victorian studies; comics and graphic novels, global literatures in English, and geo-humanities.
Professor Christopher Hutton: language and politics, sociolinguistics, language and law, history of linguistics.

Professor Adam Jaworski: Sociolinguistics, critical discourse analysis, language and globalization, language and art, visual and nonverbal communication.
Professor Kendall Johnson: American literature, colonial through early-twentieth centuries; Native American literatures; race studies; law and literature; anthropology and literature; visual aesthetics; postcolonial theory; history of the novel; transnational dimensions of the China Trade.
Dr Brian King: Discourse analysis, critical sociolinguistics, gender, sexuality, linguistic landscapes, health communication (particularly in relation to intersex and differences of sexual development).
Professor Julia Kuehn: Nineteenth-century British literature and culture, with particular focus on the realist novel, travel literature, popular writing, gender, empire and Anglo-German relations.
Professor Janny Leung: Language and the law; legal bilingualism and multilingualism; language politics; legal and political communication; law, media and technology; cognitive approaches to meaning and conceptual organisation; implicit learning of language.

Dr Nicholas Luke: Shakespeare; early modern literature; drama; literary theory; religion and literature; law and literature; aesthetics.
Dr des Rashna Nicholson: South Asian drama and linguistics, Palestinian theatre, globalisation of opera, world literature.
Dr Dirk Noël: Cognitive-functional linguistics, grammaticalization, diachronic construction grammar, clausal complementation in English, Dutch-French-English contrastive verb valency, evidentiality, modality in World Englishes.
Dr Adrian Pablé: Integrationism, philosophy of mind/language, history of linguistics.
Dr Page Richards: Poetry, creative writing, life writing, drama, interdisciplinary theatre practice.

Dr Jessica Valdez: Nineteenth-century British literature and culture, the novel, popular literature, literary theory.
Dr Daniel Weston: Sociolinguistics, World Englishes, discourse analysis, English dialect emergence and development, bilingual pragmatics.
Dr Olga Zayts: discourse analysis, (interactional) pragmatics, conversation analysis, intercultural communication, professional communication (in particular, in healthcare and business contexts), politeness, identity, leadership.

Here is a list of successfully completed postgraduate research degrees in the School since 1998.


  • How do I apply?

There are three application deadlines for MPhil or PhD studies: early December, end April, and end August. Most people apply in the first round, in December, when the majority of places are assigned. The second and third rounds, in April and August, are clearing rounds, and very few places are available at these times.

At present, successful applicants for the PhD programme can commence their studies on the first day of any calendar month. Most, however, prefer to start in September, at the start of the academic year. A September starting date also suits the department best, since studentship holders will be assigned their teaching duties at that time.

You can apply through the Graduate School website at


  • What about funding?

Composition fees for full-time MPhil and PhD students, which are subject to revision, are currently HK$42,100 per year. Applicants for full-time study normally apply at the same time for a Postgraduate Studentship (current value HK$16,660 per month). Studentship holders will be required to do up to 100 hours per year tutoring work, or research assistantship, in the School.


  • Where can I find out more?

Full details about application and admission procedures, awards and financial assistance, and the amenities and services provided by the University, can be found at the Graduate School website.

If you have questions about research studies in the School of English that are not covered in the information above, you can direct them to the Postgraduate Advisor, Dr Dirk Noël, by e-mail at



Last updated: 15 August 2019