Steps Towards Writing a PhD Proposal in Applied Theatre

Friends have asked to take a look at the PhD proposal I used to submit to the University of Manchester (Drama Department). It has taken me a while before I am comfortable showing it — for fear of (i) plagiarism; (ii) scrutiny and criticism; (iii) preliminary disclosure of my research that might affect its eventual impact; and (iv) it being misconstrued as the only way of writing a proposal. Understandably, we all prefer to have a template to help us shape our writing to make it sound more ‘academic’. As far as I know, unfortunately, there are no templates within Drama. Various people I know have used very different styles and approaches, and have also been accepted in their PhD applications. I do not wish to claim that mine is the ‘correct’ model, as there is none.

Nevertheless, these were the steps I took in securing a PhD place. However, it was once told to me that the name of the University at the doctoral level is not that important; it is more important to find the right supervisor! Suffice it to say, with my previous training and research in prison theatre during my M.A years at New York University, Professor James Thompson had been a big influence in my praxis, so I tried my luck to see if he would take me in.

Research Mindmap

1. Write to the Postgraduate Academic Advisor in the Drama/ Theatre/ Performance Studies Department of the chosen University(ies).

(a) Introduce yourself and tell them your interest in applying for a PhD.
(b) In my subsequent email, I asked 4 specific questions:
– What is the difference between Professional Doctorate and a PhD?
– What might the 3-year PhD programme look like (e.g. coursework + research?)
– What is the application procedure?
– If there were scholarships or grants for international students?

2. Adhere to the guidelines given in the reply, as per the academic conventions of the Institution.

In the reply I received, I was told to structure my proposal in the following areas:
– title of research,
– research questions/problems,
– statement of the significance of the research – linking to existing research and practice in the field,
– methodology,
– timetable,
– bibliography.

Of course, I also used the formal academic referencing style according to the APA format (which I will illustrate in the next blog).

3. Submit your proposal.

I was told to write an approximately 5-page proposal. In retrospect, I realised I didn’t completely adhere to the guidelines. As I relook at my proposal now, I cringe at the silliness of it — the lack of academic style and the fluff in the timetabling.

Click here to view the pdf file: EdmundChow_ResearchProposal_v1

In my next blog, I will show the difference in academic style between the first proposal and the second one when I finally worked it out in writing with Professor James Thompson.

4. Wait for their acceptance and interview.

My supervisors agreed in principle to accept me into their PhD programme, but not until a Skype interview was conducted was I officially offered a letter of acceptance.