Professionalising the PhD in English

Employability & Enterprise, Postgraduate studies

Brief description

The aim of this project was to provide doctoral students with a knowledge base and set of skills that will enhance their employability both within and without an academic context.


The project was conceived as an opportunity to offer PhD students an element of training that would enhance their employability at the conclusion of their research degrees. Skills training has become part of the stated agenda of UK funding bodies such as the Arts and Humanities Research Board, which now awards institutions £450 per annum for each doctoral award holder to support skills training.

Project design

It was found that at present a culture of rigorous, formalised training of English PhDs does not exist in English in the British Isles, and the project looked to North America. A study-visit drew on the ideas and experiences of the Modern Language Association, which has established an ad-hoc committee on professionalising the PhD, and of the University of Toronto, which has a well-established and successful course. Information from these sources was incorporated in the Queen’s module.

Key findings

The Project has developed a series of 15 seminars which make up a not-for-credit module offered across the three or four years of a PhD. The module is intended as training in career development, which has as its specific remit the preparation of doctoral candidates for the job market – both within and without English studies. Seminar coverage includes: patterns of employment, funding opportunities, presentation skills, the conference culture, the research culture, publication, teaching and learning development, jobsearch and interview techniques.

Learning outcomes

The response from students and staff to the module which emerged from the project was overwhelmingly positive and the School of English is committed to sustaining the programme in the future. It is clear that the sessions are of greatest benefit to doctoral students of English if they are facilitated by academics in their subject area. The project affirms the potential for properly conceived professional training in a job market where the acquisition of relevant skills advantages the individual in both the hiring process and his or her ability to contribute to their chosen pursuit.


Project Leader

Dr Leon Litvack
School of English 
Queen’s University Belfast

Research period

December 2003 to July 2004


Completed July 2004