Research Degrees: MPhil & PhD


The School of English of 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$13,100 ( US$1,650) per month. Applicants for the PhD programme, however, are encouraged to apply to compete for a monthly grant of HK$20,000 ( US$2560) through the Online Application System of the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme 2011/12. Visit PhD applicants may also consider our joint PhD scheme with King's College London where successful candidates will spend a year at King's as part of their PhD programme.

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

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

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

Modern and Postcolonial Literary Studies
Cross-cultural Writing
Sociolinguistics and Psycholinguistics
English Syntax, Semantics and Pragmatics

The deadline for all applications is 8 December 2010.

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 from the HKU Postgraduate Prospectus, published by the Graduate School.

  • 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 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, 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 KATHERINE CHEN: Sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, language ideologies, sociolinguistic aspects of bilingualism, language and identity, ethnography, sociolinguistic documentary films.

Dr WENDY GAN: British middlebrow women's writing from the early twentieth century, with a secondary interest in female modernist writers. Also Asian film studies, especially Hong Kong films.

Dr OTTO HEIM: American literature, especially its transnational and crosscultural aspects; postcolonial, especially Caribbean and Pacific, literature; local and global interactions in literature.

Dr ELAINE YEE LIN HO: Anglophone literature, postcolonial literature and theory, Hong Kong literature and culture.

PROFESSOR CHRISTOPHER HUTTON: language and politics, sociolinguistics, language and law, history of linguistics.

Dr AGNES KANG: Interactional sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, language and communication in medical contexts, gender and language.

PROFESSOR DOUGLAS KERR: Modernist and modern literature. Writing and empire. Joseph Conrad. Arthur Conan Doyle.

Dr JULIA KUEHN: Nineteenth-century literature and culture (particularly Victorian and fin-de-siecle). Popular writing. Exoticism.

Dr JANNY LEUNG: Psycholinguistics; cognitive approaches to second language acquisition; implicit learning; language, law and psychology.

Dr LISA LIM: World Englishes, Asian Englishes, postcolonial Englishes, sociolinguistics, phonetics, prosody, multilingualism, language maintenance, shift, endangerment and revitalisation.

Dr DIRK NOEL: the semantics/pragmatics of grammar, grammaticalization, diachronic construction grammar, clausal complementation in English, Dutch-French-English contrastive verb valency, evidentiality, empirical linguistics

Dr. A. Pable: integrational linguistics, sociolinguistics, dialectology, semiotics, history of linguistics, translation studies, literary linguistics

Dr PAGE RICHARDS: drama, creative writing, American literature, poetry, and theory

Dr PAUL SMETHURST: Postmodern culture, contemporary British and American literature, travel writing and travel theory, eco-criticism and the history of nature, landscape aesthetics.

Dr Q S TONG: British idea/representation of China; literary/critical ideas in history; liberalism and imperialism.


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

  • How do I apply?

There are two application deadlines for MPhil or PhD studies: 31st December and 31st May. Most people apply in the first round, in December, when the majority of places are assigned. The second round, in May, is a clearing round, and fewer places are available at that time.

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.

Application forms for MPhil and PhD can be downloaded from the Graduate School website or requested by phone or post from the Graduate School, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, Tel: (852) 2857-3470, Fax: (+852) 2857-3543, Email:

  • 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$13,100 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 in the Postgraduate Prospectus and from the Graduate School

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 W. Gan, by e-mail at, or by phone (+852 2241 5143) or fax (+852 2559 7139) or post at School of English, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong.




Last updated: 17 December 2010