Applying for a PhD

The Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering is world leading in the quality and impact of its research. Key to this success is the department’s community of PhD and postdoctoral researchers. We are looking to recruit highly motivated and talented PhD students with the potential to become world leading researchers.

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Funding Information

If you wish to apply for a PhD Scholarship, details of the University Scholarships competition can be found here. This competition only runs once a year and the deadline for applications is normally late January/early February. Please note that your PhD application will not be entered automatically into consideration for a Scholarship. Applicants must submit both an application for PhD and a separate Scholarship application.

Funding is highly competitive and only applications with an offer of study and a strong supporting case from prospective Supervisor(s) will be considered by a departmental panel. Candidates should also note that an offer of a PhD does not mean that the project will be funded.

Other opportunities are available throughout the year, usually to work on a specific project. Details of these opportunities are posted here.

You must provide information about how you intend to fund your studies within your PhD application as we cannot proceed without this guidance.

How to apply

Step 1: Read the PhD Projects page

PhD Projects page

Step 2: Identify your preferred Supervisors (Please Rank in Order of Preference)

Choose a maximum of THREE supervisors that you would like to work with and enter this information onto your application in order of preference. You should only submit one application form - you should NOT submit one application form for each proposed supervisor.

We strongly recommend that you provide three supervisors as we cannot guarantee that your first and second choice supervisors will be able to offer you a project.

A list of Departmental supervisors is available here.

Step 3: Draft your PhD research project proposal

A crucial part of the PhD application is the research proposal. It is one of the key criteria the Department uses to differentiate between different applicants and make decisions on whether to make you an offer. Your proposal should include information about:

  • The questions or hypotheses to be addressed
  • The research methods to be used
  • A brief timetable covering the period of study
  • How you expect the research to be useful and to whom
  • Why you wish to pursue this area of research

Your proposal should be no more than 1500 words in length.

Your proposal needs to highlight your potential and demonstrate general knowledge and understanding of the field in general. You need to provide information about your broad interests so that prospective supervisors can see if you are a natural fit for them. This is not necessarily in terms of a specific project but in terms of the broad area of interest. As your preferred supervisor(s) may not be able to offer you a project based on the research proposal you submit, please state at the end of your proposal the generic research areas you might be interested in, to enable us to approach other academic staff with your application.

You are going to be investing a minimum of three years of your life working hard on your PhD so please spend sufficient time researching and writing a thorough research proposal and choose something you are interested in and passionate about. Your proposal does not need to be perfect - it is not a contract and you will spend part of your first year of your study refining your proposal. The ideal proposal should leave the reader feeling in no doubt that you have done some preliminary research about your subject and that you are knowledgeable and ready to tackle the challenges of the PhD.

Please enter this document into the application form section, ‘Supporting Statement and Research Proposal.

Step 4: Supporting documents

You must attach electronic copies of the required supporting documents to your online application. Without them, the Department cannot process your application.

a) Proof of ALL previous academic qualifications.
Please note that if you have recently completed a Masters qualification, we require details of both your Masters and also your first degree to be entered into the application. To do this, please press the 'Add New Education Details' button.

b) Academic references (two)
You must attach electronic copies of the required supporting documents to your online application. Without them, the Department cannot process your application.

If you attended a different Higher Educational Institution for your first and second degree, we expect you to provide one reference from each institution (and if this is not possible, then both references from the institution last attended).

c) English language certificate (EU and Overseas applicants)
The Department requires at least an overall score of 6.5 in the IELTS test (with a score of at least 6 in each component) or a score of at least 88 in TOEFL (with a minimum score of 19 Listening, 19 Writing, 20 Reading and 22 Speaking). Full details of English Language requirements can be found here.

Pre-sessional English Language courses are available. Details can be found here.

d) A supporting statement
The supporting statement should not be a repeat of your research proposal. It is your opportunity to sell yourself to us. You can highlight your skills, academic ability and enthusiasm and demonstrate to us that we will benefit from your attendance as much as you will benefit from studying with us.

The statement should be no more than one side of A4 and therefore about 300-500 words.

Please enter this document into the application form section, ‘Course Supporting Documents’.

e) Your CV
You must attach your CV to your application. Please list your publications within your CV and attach no more than two examples of your papers to your application.

f) PhD research proposal (please see step 3 above for guidance)
Further information and help is available here: how to apply for a research degree and more help here: online postgraduate application form introduction. You can also find more ACSE related information via this link.

If your application is successful and you have supplied electronic or photocopied copies of your documents, please be aware that you will need to supply the original documents before being allowed to register.

Step 5: Complete and submit your Postgraduate Online Application Form

Please note that the University's postgraduate online form is used for postgraduate courses as well as for PhD research applications. Don't be put off by the word "courses".

The form is split into two parts. The first part covers personal information, contact details and so on. The second part is where you provide reference information, supporting documents for your PhD choices, etc.

Phd Form image

Start your online form application here (please only submit one application):

Online Postgraduate Application Form Login

Further information and help with the form is available here: online postgraduate application form introduction.

Step 6: The Interview

The Department will carry out an interview with all candidates to whom an offer may be made. These interviews will be either face-to-face, via telephone or Skype. Your prospective supervisor will be in touch with you to organise the interview and we expect interviews to last a maximum of 30 minutes. Two members of staff will participate in the interview.

The interview will look for evidence of personal effectiveness, good communication skills and evidence of knowledge and intellectual ability.

Entry requirements

We generally require:

  • applicants to have a minimum undergraduate Honours degree (UK 2:1 or better) or MSc (Merit or Distinction) in a relevant Science or Engineering subject from a reputable institution.
  • Guidance is available for overseas candidates about equivalent qualifications provided by the University International Office.
  • Applicants with other qualifications or experience should contact the Department’s Research Support Officer so that we can check on your eligibility.
  • An approved English Language qualification such as IELTS (a minimum overall score of 6.5 (with 6 in each component) is required) or TOEFL (a minimum overall score of 88 is required with at least 19 in Listening, 19 in Writing, 20 in Reading and 22 in Speaking). Full information about what we accept can be found here.
  • Evidence of your potential to carry out a research study successfully. This may come from any of the following:
    - Your research proposal
    - Excellent marks in a substantial research project/dissertation undertaken as part of your undergraduate or masters course (including detail of any awards and/or prizes)
    - Academic references which clearly demonstrate your strengths as an independent research
    - Authorship of academic papers in internationally recognised journals or conferences

Please note that meeting the minimum requirements for admissions does not guarantee that you will be offered a place for study. There are several other factors that the Department has to take into account such as:

  • Whether a supervisor with relevant expertise and supervisory capacity is available
  • Whether the necessary infrastructure (eg lab space and support) is available
  • Whether the proposed work fits in with the supervisor’s and the Department’s strategic research objectives.

Cohort start dates

The Department offers an enhanced induction programme for its new PhD students and we therefore strongly encourage candidates to begin at the start of each semester (either late September or early February). This will enable you to share experiences and provide mutual support as a group.

Forthcoming entry dates are:

  • 30 September 2019 (Semester 1, 2019/20 academic year)
  • 10 February 2020 (Semester 2, 2019/20 academic year)

If the fixed dates are not convenient for you, an alternative starting date is possible although this will require the approval of our PhD Admissions Tutor.

Your application

The average length of time for an application to be processed is 2 to 4 weeks. Some applications may take longer, depending on receipt of references, certificates and transcripts from other institutions as well as discussions between applicant and prospective supervisor(s).

Apply now

Research Admissions Tutor

Research Support Officer - Mrs Frances Bright
Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering
The University of Sheffield
Mappin Street
Sheffield, S1 3JD, UK

Tel: (0114) 222 5248
Email :