Is a PhD right for me? A free online course

Sabrina Bowen, CHASE EDI Ambassador

Deciding whether to pursue a PhD is a big deal that involves carefully considering your academic and personal goals, while also weighing the challenges and benefits that come with doctoral study. The ‘Is a PhD right for me?‘ course by the Bloomsbury Learning Exchange, available on the FutureLearn platform, is a three-week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) designed to provide prospective PhD students with the insights needed to make informed decisions about applying to a PhD program.

This course is a great resource for anyone thinking about doctoral study, especially because exploring a PhD can be an overwhelming and isolating experience, considering that many peers, family members, and friends may not have undergone this type of academic journey. ‘Is a PhD right for me?’ offers a supportive community where you can actively engage in discussions with fellow course members through comments. This platform allows you to share ideas, ask questions, and connect with like-minded individuals who are navigating the same decisions as you.

Among the course’s numerous benefits, a standout feature is its in-depth coverage of essential topics. The ‘Finance and Funding’ section, for instance, breaks down the costs associated with pursuing a PhD and explores potential funding options available to cover these expenses. The course addresses questions that you might hesitate to ask potential supervisors or the university you are applying to such as what a potential supervisor is looking for in a supervisee and what daily life looks like as a PhD student. In addition, you have the opportunity to hear from current PhD students studying a range of different subjects who share their thoughts, advice and lessons learned from their own application experience. Giving you first-hand knowledge that can be difficult to get elsewhere.

What sets this course apart is its multifaceted approach. It incorporates a variety of learning materials, including videos featuring current and prospective PhD students from a range of diverse backgrounds, articles, and reflection tasks. This diverse format caters to different learning styles, ensuring that the course remains engaging and informative throughout. ‘Is a PhD right for me?’ not only equips you with practical knowledge but also provides a platform to connect with a supportive community as you navigate the significant decision of whether a PhD is the right path for you.

Bloomsbury Learning Exchange’s ‘Is a PhD right for me?’ course is an excellent resource if you are considering pursuing a PhD in the UK. It provides you with a clearer understanding of the doctoral landscape and equips you with the foundational knowledge and confidence needed to embark on the path towards a successful and fulfilling doctoral experience in the UK.

Course Timeline

Week 1

  • Introduction to the course
  • The Basics: who does a PhD, what is a PhD and why does anyone do one?
  • Practical Matters: A focus on special preparation and goals relevant to individual circumstances
  • Finance and Funding

Week 2

  • Research: your research idea, ethics and proposals
  • Supervisors: how to find and contact a potential supervisor
  • Applications: how to prepare and submit various types of applications

Week 3

  • Managing work-life balance
  • Supervisors and support: a look at the various support in place for PhD students
  • Wellbeing and mental health
  • Life after PhD

CHASE EDI Ambassador

Sabrina Bowen

As part of their Diversity Action plan the AHRC CHASE DTP has provided funding to appoint a part time CHASE EDI Ambassador who will provide support for activities at Birkbeck aiming to:

  • Improve the pipeline of students from minority ethnic underrepresented backgrounds from undergraduate and taught postgraduate to arts and humanities doctoral research at Birkbeck
  • Ensure that arts and humanities doctoral researchers from underrepresented minority ethnic backgrounds are better supported at Birkbeck

This role aims to help to organise and run online events and in person activities aimed at:

  • Promoting doctoral study
  • De-mystifying the doctoral application processes and explaining the experience of being an arts and humanities doctoral researcher.
  • Identifying ways in which current arts and humanities doctoral researchers from under-represented minority ethnic groups can be effectively supported through the PhD at Birkbeck.

The post was advertised to all doctoral researchers at Birbeck and we were fortunate to have some extremely strong applications for the role. Following interviews last month we are pleased to appoint Sabrina Bowen as the CHASE EDI Ambassador at Birkbeck.

Sabrina Bowen

Sabrina is a 2nd year PhD Student within the School of Social Sciences, her research explores the intergenerational roles of the UK-based Caribbean diaspora in the development of their homeland.

Sabrina will work within the Birkbeck Graduate Research School team in collaboration with colleagues who are working on aspects of under-representation at doctoral level including:

  • Dr William Ackah, Senior Lecturer within the School of Social Sciences.
  • Caroline McDonald, Director of Access & Engagement – Access & Engagement at Birkbeck.

Is a PhD Right for Me?

Birkbeck has been a partner in development of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) which provides a comprehensive approach to considering, applying for, or beginning doctoral study in the UK.

This three-week course from Bloomsbury Learning Exchange is designed to provide information and advice for anyone deciding whether doctoral study in the UK is the right path for them.

Swapping myths and misconceptions for useful tips and resources, this course will help you prepare for PhD applications and beyond.

You can view a video trailer here:

Information about the course development on the BLE website:

Week 1

Aimed at helping you work out whether to pursue a PhD. You’ll be given a basic overview of essential aspects of the decision, including personal, practical, and financial considerations.

Week 2

Week 2 of the course will provide guidance on making a PhD application. You’ll learn how to seek out opportunities, put together a research proposal, find the right supervisor and apply to an institution or research project.

Week 3

In the final week of the course, you’ll get ready to take on day-to-day life as a doctoral candidate.

Fully funded AHRC CHASE studentships available for 2024/25 entry

The competition for AHRC CHASE studentships beginning in Autumn 2024 is now open.

As a research intensive university Birkbeck is part of the Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts South-east England (CHASE) Doctoral Training Programme. The consortium is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and offers offers fully funded doctoral research studentships across the entire range of Birkbeck’s arts and humanities research.

Highlighted features

In addition to a maintenance stipend and tuition fees CHASE studentships provide access to opportunities for placements, fieldwork and extensive access to arts and humanities training. CHASE students join an active community of arts and humanities doctoral researchers within Birkbeck and across the CHASE consortium.

CHASE is is working in partnership with the Stuart Hall Foundation (SHF) to support at least two studentships a year for Home candidates from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic to undertake doctoral research in arts and humanities. Applicants with an interest in the work and legacy of Stuart Hall are particularly encouraged. All applicants will also be entered into the general studentship competition.

How to apply

For details of how to apply, and how applications will be considered please visit Birkbeck’s AHRC CHASE landing page.

Important: We strongly encourage you to submit a programme application as soon as you can. The earlier you receive an offer of a place on your chosen PhD programme, the earlier you can begin to prepare your application for CHASE funding.

Important dates

Friday 5 January 2024: Deadline to submit an application for entry to an MPhil/PhD programme here at Birkbeck.

Midday 26 January 2024: Deadline to submit an online CHASE application form to be considered by our Birkbeck CHASE recruitment and selection process.

BGRS Poster Competition 2023

Thursday 25 May 2023

Birkbeck Graduate Research School (BGRS) invites you to enter a Postgraduate Research Student Poster Competition, which will be held on campus alongside the 3 Minute Thesis Competition on Thursday 25 May from 6pm.

This Poster Competition is open to all doctoral researchers at Birkbeck and provides an excellent opportunity for you to present your research, practice your communication skills, to network with other doctoral researchers and to celebrate your work.


  • The winner of the first prize will receive £150 and a certificate
  • Two runners up will be awarded certificates and £75 each

Poster requirements

  • You should create a research poster that explains complex research to a mixed audience of non-subject specialists.
  • Your poster should be formatted for printing as A0 in size and in portrait orientation.

What is involved?

  • Your poster will be displayed on a poster board, with an in-person judging session during a reception after the 3 Minute Thesis Competition.
  • You will be invited to attend your poster during the judging session and so that attendees can speak with you about your research.

How to enter

Training available

For all those taking part in the competition we are organising a workshop to help you produce your poster.

Regardless of whether you are planning to enter the 3 Minute Thesis Competition or enter this BGRS Poster Competition please do mark 6pm Thursday 25 May in your diaries for these exciting events.

2022 Gwynne-Vaughan Medal winners announced

Photo: 2022 Gwynne-Vaughan medal winners at the end of the BGRS Winter Party. From left to right: Dr Gurbachan Singh Jandu, Kate Errington, Dr Linda Miller. Dr Melissa Buron was unable to attend but provided a statement of thanks that was read out on her behalf.

Monday 19 December 2022

On Monday 19 December we welcomed doctoral researchers to the BGRS Winter Party. The event was a chance to enjoy some festive celebration and also to announce the winners of the 2022 Gwynne-Vaughan Medal competition. The medal is named after Birkbeck’s first female Professor, Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, and is awarded to Birkbeck Doctoral students able to demonstrate the most notable contribution to their field while undertaking their research degree.

This year the medal was awarded in two categories: Current Research Students; and Doctoral Alumni. In both categories the achievements were completed while enrolled as a doctoral student.

Professor Julian Swann (Pro Vice Chancellor of Research and Director of the Birkbeck Graduate Research School) welcomed all those present and announced the following winners for the competition this year:

Current Student category

  • Winner: Dr Linda Miller (Department of English, Theatre and Creative Writing, School of Arts)
  • Highly commended: Kate Errington (Department of English, Theatre and Creative Writing, School of Arts)

Doctoral Alumni category

  • Winner: Dr Melissa Buron (Department of History of Art, School of Arts)
  • Highly commended: Dr Gurbachan Singh Jandu (Department of Politics, SSHP)

All are awarded a certificate and the winners in each category will be sent a medal and a £250 prize.

Congratulations to the winners this year and many thanks for all those who entered the competition. We look forward to opening a call for entries to the 2023 Gwynne-Vaughan competition next year.

Birkbeck 3 Minute Thesis Competition 2022

Registration is now open for the 2022 Birkbeck 3 Minute Thesis Competition, which will take place on Thursday 16 June from 6pm.
You can register to attend this exciting event here

Birkbeck 3MT: Thursday 16 June 2022

Join a selection of Birkbeck PhD students as they compete to communicate their compelling thesis topics in just three minutes. This event has provided some outstanding opportunities to share and celebrate the interests and successes of PhD researchers from across the College and we will invite all current Birkbeck PhD students to take part. The winner of the Birkbeck competition will be chosen by an expert panel of judges who will award:

  • £500 to the overall winner
  • £250 to the runner up
  • The audience will also have their say by picking a people’s choice winner who’ll win a special prize.

About the competition

The Birkbeck winner will be eligible to enter the UK round of this international competition.

How to compete

You can read more about what it was like to take part in the 2018 and 2019 3MT competitions in the following BGRS blog posts: 

All potential competitors for the Birkbeck Three Minute Thesis Competition will be invited to attend training sessions which will prepare them and will provide useful skills beyond the competition.

This is an international event and the Birkbeck winner will have the opportunity to continue on to the UK semi-finals later in the year.


Registration is open in 2022 and you can find details of how to attend the competition here.

Representing hidden histories on stage and screen: Two Workshops with The CATALINA Film Team

21 & 28 September, 18.00 – 20.00

Untold Arts, in collaboration with the Centre for Iberian and Latin American Visual Studies (CILAVS), at the School of Arts at Birkbeck, University of London, would like to invite you to two workshops on interpreting diverse hidden histories for the stage and screen.

Untold Arts, founded by Actor/Producer Nadia Nadif and Historian/Writer Lauren Johnston, brings true unknown stories to life, championing global majority and female characters through the creative arts, educational resources and outreach workshops.

Workshop 1

Tuesday, 21 September 2021, 6pm-8pm, online.

The first workshop aims to provide you with insights into the process of how the Untold Arts team translates hidden histories into theatre and film and introduce you to our latest project, about an Arab woman privy to some of the Tudor royals’ greatest secrets. This will include talks and discussions with the creative team (from the UK & USA) including:

6.00pm: Introduction – Professor Luciana Martins            

6.05pm: The Catalina Project – Nadia Nadif (Actress and Producer)

6.35pm: The World of Catalina – Professor Carmen Fracchia

6.55pm: How the history has informed our process as film makers – Fawaz Al-Matrouk (Director), Leah Curtis (Music Composer)

7.45pm: Preparing Workshop 2 – Nadia Nadif    

Workshop 2

Tuesday, 28 September 2021, 6pm-8pm, venue tba  

The second workshop will involve interactive activities from guest facilitator Frances Marshall from HistoryRiot who aims to connect people with the UK’s past, to inspire audiences to feel a fresh sense of identity with the place in which they live and the historical sites they visit. These activities will allow you to explore your own diverse histories and how to present them through the creative arts.

Postgraduate students are especially welcome

Carmen Fracchia 
Professor of Hispanic Art History
Co-Director of the Centre for Iberian and Latin American Visual Studies-CILAVS
School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London

Useful Knowledge: Conference

PhD researchers at Birkbeck working on the history of the college are organising a major conference to mark the institution’s 200th anniversary.

Useful Knowledge, to be held at Birkbeck in February 2022 (ahead of the College’s bicentenary in 2023), will feature talks by leading historians and critics including Sir Richard Evans, Sally Alexander, Jerry White and Marai Larasi.

The conference, being organised by Professor Joanna Bourke’s ‘Birkbeck Knowledge‘ research group, is set to focus on the long history of the college, but also on the past, present and future of part-time and mature higher education more broadly.

Further information will be made available shortly and information about the Call for Papers is available below.

Call for papers

Birkbeck Knowledge’s PhD researchers Jonny Matfin and Ciarán O’Donohue have also launched a Call for Papers (CfP), aimed at all academics with an interest in the history of part-time and mature higher education.

“We’re aiming to include as wide a range of academics as possible, to discuss what we believe is a vitally important area of university history.”

Jonny and Ciarán

Deadline for the Call for Papers: 5pm, Thursday 30 September

The Essay Film Festival

25 March to 3 April 2021

The Essay Film Festival returns 25 March to 3 April for its 2021 edition, which this year will be held entirely online. The Essay Film Festival is supported by AHRC funded CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership.

How will the festival work online?

All the films will be free and open to anyone in the UK. To watch the films, visit our online screening room, where you will be able to view all the films at a time that suits you. The screening room does not require any sign-ups or downloads. While most of this material will be made available for the entire festival window (25 March to 3 April), one or two items will be up for a more limited period, so you should check the window of availability for each film. 

What about live events?

Our programme of live events – open to audiences globally – includes artists’ and curators’ talks, conversations with filmmakers and discussions with critics and researchers. These will take place online, via a platform called Collaborate, which is very simple to use. Book your place on our website (, and we will send you a link to join us on the day: again, you do not need to create an account or download any software.

What is in the programme this year?

For us the essay film is a critical intervention in the world, combining a passion for investigating reality and for asking tough questions about society with an open, inventive and even playful approach to film language and forms of representation.

This year’s programme reflects that dynamic ambition for the essay film, with a wide range of contemporary and archival works from different parts of the world, accompanied by live talks and conversations featuring artists and researchers.

Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich will give a talk about her forthcoming project on Suzanne Césaire, alongside a selection of her short films exploring alternative voices and narratives from African-American history.

Cauleen Smith will be joining us to discuss a programme of her experimental works reflecting her longstanding interest in Afro-futurism and jazz, especially Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra.

Two programmes of short films by Kevin Jerome Everson focus on themes of labour and place, which the artist will further develop in an illustrated talk and conversation.

From the Asian Film Archive we share Monographs, a series of video essays responding to the uncertainties of the pandemic from ten contemporary Asian artists, some of whom will be speaking at the festival with critic and essayist Kevin B. Lee.

John Gianvito will be in conversation about his latest film, Her Socialist Smile, an historical essay about Helen Keller that foregrounds her radical politics and commitment to social justice.

Nuria Giménez’s My Mexican Bretzel uses found footage and literary invention to play with the conventions of film portraiture and highlight the invisibility of women’s histories – themes that the artist will discuss in a live conversation.

An extended programme around the work of Jenny Brady features three of her own films and three films curated by the artist, alongside a talk about her current research into musical performance and the sonic practice of Alvin Lucier.

Our archival section showcases films by Med Hondo and Sidney Sokhona, both representing critically the lives of African workers in France in the 1970s; writer Assia Djebar’s filmic reinterpretation of colonial travelogues and newsreels shot in Algeria; and the collaborative films of Yugantar, India’s first feminist film collective.

This year’s programme closes with a study day devoted to Brazilian filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho, specifically his films Man Marked for Death, Last Conversations and the unfinished A Day in Life.

Come and join us!

On behalf of the Essay Film Festival: Matthew Barrington, Lauren Collee, Kieron Corless, Catherine Grant, Ricardo Matos Cabo, Janet McCabe, Raquel Morais, Laura Mulvey, Michael Temple

Full programme and practical information:

The Essay Film Festival is supported by CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership