International Institute of Modern Letters

PhD in Creative Writing

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Introduction to the PhD

Please note: The single application deadline for our PhD programme is 1 July each year.

The PhD in Creative Writing (CREW 690) normally consists of two related parts: a creative component and a complementary critical component. The creative component is a full-length work for the page (poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction), or the text of full-length works for stage or screen. The critical component is an academic/scholarly study contextualising the creative component.

The creative component will usually form about 60% of the research for the degree; the critical component about 40%. The length of the creative component will necessarily vary, depending on the literary genre. The critical component, however, will normally be about 30,000 words.

In some cases it might be possible to take a hybrid approach so that the thesis interweaves creative and critical research.

Under normal circumstances a PhD would be expected to take three years of full-time work.

For general information or advice about this programme of study, please see the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences' PhD page. To find out more about applying to do PhD study at Victoria, contact the Faculty of Graduate Research (FGR).

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Common Questions

Who should I contact to discuss the possibility of doing a PhD in Creative Writing at Victoria?

In the first instance you should contact Damien Wilkins, Director of the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) and overall coordinator of our PhD programme. You can contact him at any time during the year. If you contact him by email, please put ‘PhD Enquiry’ in the subject line.

While we are happy to give general advice about your application, we are unable to offer detailed feedback on specific projects.

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What are the prerequisites for PhD research? Is entry to the programme automatic if I have the prerequisite qualification?

To apply to enrol for any PhD at Victoria you will need a first-class or high second-class Honours or a Master's degree. In this case relevant qualifications would include an MA in Creative Writing with Merit or Distinction or a similar qualification in English Literature.

Unfortunately prior qualifications, including publications, do not guarantee entry. Each year, all applicants will be considered alongside each other after the single application deadline of 1 July. Because of finite resources, including the availability of work-space accommodation and the broader commitments of potential supervisors, we expect to turn down more applicants than we can accept. The quality of your proposal will be very important to your success.

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What is the application deadline?

The single application deadline for our programme is 1 July each year. (Although Victoria has three annual rounds for general postgraduate applications, the IIML considers PhD applications only once each year.)

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What information is required in an application?

Full details of how to apply for admission and Victoria Doctoral Scholarships is on the FGR's How to Apply to Do a PhD page. This page takes you through the application process and includes a Guide to Application, downloadable admission forms and a link to the online application form.

Please note: there are some additional submission requirements that are specific to the PhD Creative Writing programme. See How to Apply for a Programme-specific Application Guide, which you should read before commencing your application.

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What is the value of a PhD in Creative Writing?

The PhD is the highest degree offered at university level, and these days is a prerequisite for employment in the academic world. It is not a guarantee of employment, however, and you would be unwise to enrol for a PhD in Creative Writing in the belief that it will lead automatically to a teaching appointment in a creative writing programme.

The primary value of the PhD is for those who wish to write creatively, and at the same time to think in focussed and original ways about the contexts of their writing.

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What are the differences between the MA and PhD Creative Writing programmes?

The MA is a research degree which requires only a creative dissertation. Read more about the MA.

The PhD involves a substantial piece of critical research as well as a book-length creative project. Although there are regular PhD group meetings, the programme also requires an ability to work independently. You meet at least once a month with your supervisor, and the supervisor-student relationship is crucial to the progress of your work for the PhD.

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Who will be available to supervise me, and how are supervisors selected?

PhD students will have two supervisors – a primary supervisor, and a co- or secondary supervisor. Often these two supervisors will take separate responsibility for the creative and critical elements of the overall dissertation.

Your primary supervisor will normally be a member of the permanent academic staff of the IIIML: Ken Duncum, Emily Perkins, Chris Price or Damien Wilkins.

Your co-supervisor is likely to be from an academic school or programme outside the IIIML.

There is also an administrative supervisor, who manages the paperwork required for each PhD candidate.

You should discuss the question of supervisors with Damien Wilkins, as the nature of your proposal will often determine who should be approached for supervision. Your topic may even need to be adjusted in relation to available supervision.

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What funding is available to support PhD study at Victoria?

Victoria offers a scholarship programme for PhD candidates. Prospective students must apply for a Doctoral Scholarship as part of their application for admission to the PhD programme. More information about PhD funding. All scholarship-related questions should be directed to the Victoria Scholarships Office.

Please note that the scholarship process is competitive and that acceptance to the PhD programme does not guarantee a funding package. Applicants who already have a PhD are unlikely to be eligible for a Doctoral scholarship.

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Is it possible to study for the PhD by distance?

The PhD cannot be taken as a form of distance learning. While you do not need to live in Wellington to take the PhD, you are expected to be on campus for the six-weekly meetings of the PhD group, and for regular meetings with your supervisors.

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Can I enrol part-time for the PhD?

You can enrol as a part-time student for the PhD, although we prefer full-time enrolments. If you are accepted as a part-time student, you will need to commit half your working week to PhD research.

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Can I write a memoir or biography or some other non-fiction work for the creative component of the PhD?

Yes. Acceptance will depend on the same elements – including availability of supervisors – that apply to novelists, scriptwriters and poets. If you are writing about living people, you may need to think hard about ethics issues.

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Can the critical component of the PhD be a reflection on the process of writing the creative component?

No: it must be a complementary critical study. For example, if your thesis involves a book-length collection of dramatic monologues, a study of some aspect of contemporary practice in the dramatic monologue would be appropriate. A discussion of how you chose your speakers and carried out the research for the content of your writing, or of craft problems you met along the way, would not be acceptable.

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How many students are accepted into the PhD Creative Writing programme in each round?

We aim to accept 3-4 students each year, depending on the progress of current candidates and, consequently, the availability of resources. In general, we expect to have a PhD group of 10-12 at any one time.

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Is there a possibility of teaching or supervisory work while I’m a PhD student?

Occasionally such work may be available, but it is likely to be infrequent. Recipients of Doctoral Scholarships should also be aware of the requirement to contribute 150 hours per annum to the academic life of the School and University.

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How is my progress measured during the three years of the degree? How is the PhD finally assessed?

Victoria has a system of six-monthly reports, which must be completed by the candidate and both supervisors. As well, in your first year, you are only accepted for provisional enrolment for the degree. If the University is satisfied with your progress at 12 months, you move from provisional to full registration.

When your supervisors agree that your thesis is ready for examination, usually after three years of full-time enrolment, copies are sent to three examiners. These usually consist of one internal examiner and two external examiners, who will normally be staff at other universities. An oral examination is also required.

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PhD Project Profiles

Read about our PhD students and their projects.

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How to Apply

Visit our How to Apply page for application deadlines, requirements and forms.