Information about graduate admissions and funding

This is how the graduate admissions process works at Lancaster. It is similar in other UK universities.


To do a PhD here (or an MSc by Research), you need two things: an offer of study and funding.

  • The offer of study is a promise that the University will admit you as a PhD student (but will charge you tuition fees).
  • Funding is a promise that your fees and living expenses will be covered for the duration of the course, which is usually 3.5 years. In 2022, PhD fees were £4,600 per year for residents of the UK and Ireland, and £23,360 per year for everyone else. Living expenses are about £15,000 per year. In some situations, the University will cover these costs from research grants or other sources, meaning that it pays your tuition fees to itself and pays your living costs to you. Unfortunately grant rules are quite restrictive, which means that although I usually have plenty of research funding, I often can’t use it to pay for students.

Here is a guide for how to get these two things. I am happy to help you navigate the process – please get in touch.

For residents of the UK or Ireland

  1. Read our Research and  PhD projects pages to find out about what we are doing.
  2. If you are interested in doing a PhD here, send me a CV and a brief statement of your research interests. We can then have a chat about your plans and upcoming opportunities.
  3. If you decide to apply, consult the University’s admissions website for general admissions information and instructions about how to submit your application. You can do this at any time of year, but it is best to do it before 31 January in order to have the best chance of getting funding (unless you are applying to the Bell Burnell fund, in which case you should begin the process in December.) See information below on how to write a PhD application.
  4. Send me an email so I know to look out for your application.
  5. You should hear within three weeks whether you are shortlisted. If so, I will invite you to interview.
  6. If you are successful at interview, I will ask the University to make you an Offer of Study.
  7. You now need to get funding. There are four ways to do this, and most qualifying students succeed in one of them.
    1. If I have allocated funding for a PhD studentship and you are my top candidate, I will offer it to you.
    2. If I do not have allocated funding, I will request that the Physics Department offers you funding from a pool. This is usually decided by May.
    3. If you decide to apply for external funding, we will discuss how I can support you.
    4. If you choose to self-fund (which is rare), you can accept the Offer of Study and commit to paying the tuition fee.

For non-residents (“overseas candidates”)

The threshold to receive an Offer of Study is the same for overseas candidates as for everybody else, but funding is considerably more difficult (this is determined by Government policy, not by me or the University). I welcome overseas candidates, and have successfully funded several, but if you are one of them I recommend you get in touch with me as early as possible – preferably by November for entry the following year.

  1. Steps 1-6 are the same as above.
  2. To get funding, you have two main routes:
    1. You may be able to secure funding before you apply, in which case your problem is solved. This applies mainly to Saudi students sponsored by their government.
    2. More commonly, you will need to apply to an external organisation such as the China Scholarship Council or your national equivalent. Usually only the very strongest candidates succeed, but I can help you prepare a proposal. I am am happy to offer you informal guidance before you decide to apply for entry to the University.

What you need for a good PhD application

Experimental physics is among the most demanding of all human activities, and I accept only students who I expect to be very good at it. This doesn’t mean that you need to have done an experimental project already, but you need to convince me that you will be able to. This is what a good application should include:

  1. Your transcript: Very strong undergraduate grades are a definite advantage, but not essential.
  2. Your CV: This helps me see what you have achieved in your career so far.
  3. Your personal statement: This is the most important document in your application. It needs to answer three questions: Why do you want to do a PhD in physics? Why have you chosen this project? Why would you be good at it? You should highlight any research experience you have, such as an internship or MPhys project, and focus particularly on the scientific problems you solved to make this work. Avoid generic statements and demonstrate that you can write clearly and accurately.
  4. References: If at all possible, get a reference from a project supervisor who can say specifically what you achieved. It’s also useful if one of your referees is someone I have heard of, because it helps me calibrate between different places.

I am perfectly happy to consider applicants who have applied to several different supervisors, so long as you say why you included me.

Edward Laird