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Centre of Latin American Studies


Writing a PhD research proposal

Your proposal should persuade your readers of the significance and feasibility of your project, and of your suitability to carry it out. Any research project will naturally change shape as you begin work on it, and you are free to alter your approach later, in agreement with your supervisor. But, at this point, your proposal should give the most accurate picture possible of the research you wish to undertake for the PhD. Be as specific as you can about the material/subject you wish to research, your methods, and your hypotheses.

You are strongly advised to contact a prospective PhD supervisor well in advance of the application deadline, to check if they are willing and able to supervise you. They may also be able to give you feedback on the design and scope of your proposed project before you submit your application.

How will my research proposal be evaluated?

Your proposal will be assessed against a range of criteria. These are likely to include:

  • the significance of the research project
  • the quality and originality of your ideas
  • the feasibility of your project: does it look likely that it will be completed within 3-4 years? Are your methods appropriately chosen? Has any planned fieldwork been carefully thought through and it is likely to yield useful results?
  • how well you are able to situate your ideas within broader debates
  • your knowledge of the subject and existing literature relevant to your project
  • evidence of critical thinking
  • the degree to which your previous studies have adequately equipped you for this project
  • whether there is a good “fit” with the proposed supervisor
  • the precision, accuracy and fluency of your written style, and your ability to formulate and structure ideas effectively

What should I include in my research proposal?

A research proposal should identify a problem, justify its importance, and propose a feasible and effective way of addressing it. You must therefore contextualize your research questions in the relevant literature, argue convincingly that these questions should be studied, and show that you are capable of answering them in the course of a PhD programme. You should draft a clear, concise, and coherent research proposal of 500-1000 words (excluding references), ensuring that you cover all the points below.

  • Define your research questions clearly and succinctly, and explain why they are important.
  • Indicate what has already been published on the subject and how your research will extend or challenge that work, or how it will fill a gap in scholarship. A proposal for a degree in Latin American studies can focus on a single country or sub-national space, but it should normally make reference to relevant literature on Latin America more broadly.
  • Outline the intervention(s) you intend to make within broader debates and the original contribution(s) you expect to make to existing knowledge and/or conceptual frameworks.
  • Explain the methods you will use in your research and justify them as appropriate.
  • Give details of any fieldwork you intend to carry out: when, where, why, how. Mention specific people, organizations or archives, as appropriate.
  • Outline the skills and experience you bring to the project, and how your previous studies have prepared you to carry it through to successful completion.

In addition, you should make sure that you include clear information on the following points, either in the research proposal itself, or elsewhere (prominently) in your application.

  • Note any additional training you would need for the project.
  • Name the supervisor you intend to work with and explain briefly why they would be a good supervisor for your project.
  • Give reasons for wishing to undertake the PhD in this Centre and/or in Cambridge generally.
  • Indicate how a PhD will fit into your current career plan.