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Preparing a PhD Project

When applying for admission to a PhD degree programme at the Faculty of Arts, you need to write a project description. You must also meet certain formal requirements.

The most important part of the application for admission to a PhD degree programme at the Faculty of Arts is your own project description. The project description explains the research project you propose to conduct as a PhD student in some detail, and it outlines the research plan.

On this page you can read more about presenting your idea for a PhD project and about expanding and using your network in the application process to get valuable feedback on early drafts of the application.

Graduate School of Arts

Before you start working up your application, we advise that you keep yourself informed about the PhD degree via the Graduate School of Arts (GSA) website: http://phd.arts.au.dk/The GSA has their own step-by-step guide to new applicants and have administrators who can help you with all your questions and who will guide you through the application process in relation to all the formal requirements.

As a rule of thumb, the go-to person for applicants should be the Team Leader of the PhD Section. You can find the list of who to contact here: http://phd.arts.au.dk/about-us/contact/

Requirements and programmes

The Graduate School of Arts offers two degree programmes, the 5+3 and the 4+4 programmes. One of the programmes is aimed at students who have not yet completed a Master’s degree (the 4+4 programme), while the other aims at applicants who have completed their Master’s degree (the 5+3 programme).

In the video below, an international PhD student explains why she thinks it is so important to be informed about the faculty’s PhD degree structure before applying.

Further, you may apply through the Industrial PhD programme, if you consider to do your PhD as part of a collaboration with the industry. To read more about the Industrial PhD programme, please access this link: http://phd.arts.au.dk/applicants/industrial-phd-programme/

The content of this page was written by Charlotte Albrechtsen, Tine Wirenfeldt Jensen and Søren Smedegaard Bengtsen from Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media, Arts, Aarhus University.

Presenting your idea for a PhD project

The project description is the main part of the application. This is where you present your own idea for the PhD project you propose to undertake.

The requirements for the content of the project description may vary. Read the call for applications carefully to find out if any special requirements for the project description are mentioned.

Most project descriptions, however, should meet a number of general requirements or guidelines, which are described at the GSA website here: http://phd.arts.au.dk/applicants/how-to-apply/


The core of the project description

The core of the project description is your own idea for a PhD dissertation. In the video below, two international PhD students express their views on the importance of having a great idea. The idea must of course be closely related to previous research in the field.

Where there was a stronger tradition earlier on for individually conceived PhD projects, there is today a stronger focus on calls for more defined PhD projects within certain fields and topics. If you are in doubt whether as to formulate your own project from scratch, or to align more closely with a declared interest from a specific PhD programme or Department, you can always contact one of the PhD Programme Directors at Arts, who can help and guide you with your decision (see the section ‘The importance of networking and feedback’ below). To read more about the differences between open and specific calls for PhD projects, please access this link:


The project description must be easy to understand, also for non-specialists, as the application is likely to be evaluated by committee members from a variety of subject areas.

The typical content of a PhD project description within the humanities at Danish universities is presented in the slides below.


To help you write your description you can use one of AU Studypedia’s writing tools on the page Writing your academic paper. Here you'll find tools to:

  • Kick-start your writing by using the Free Writing exercise.
  • Explore different perspectives of your idea with the Cubing technique.
  • Integrate your thoughts about the research question with theory, method and sources by using the tool Scribo.


Meeting the requirements

A starting point for assessing a PhD proposal is the assessment procedure in the application guidelines. Be sure to meet the requirements stated and read the application guidelines carefully. The content varies somewhat depending on which kind of general programme you apply for. Also, please note that the project description should not exceed a certain number of characters.

If your application fails to meet the formal requirements, it will not be accepted. In the video below, an international PhD student shares his experience of the formal requirements for PhD applications.


Different types of dissertations to consider

When working out your application, and especially your research timeline, you should consider if you conceive your PhD dissertation to be written and submitted as a monograph or as an article-based dissertation. Read more about the difference at Copenhagen University’s website: https://www.sociology.ku.dk/phd-studies/phd-thesis/.  Different disciplines and research fields may have certain expectations and preferences in relation to choice of dissertation type and in some research fields it’s up to the individual. For more advice, contact the PhD Programme Director from the PhD programme you apply within (see below).

The content of this page was written by Charlotte Albrechtsen, Tine Wirenfeldt Jensen and Søren Smedegaard Bengtsen from Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media, Arts, Aarhus University.

The importance of networking and feedback

Use – and expand – your network before applying for the PhD to get valuable feedback on early drafts of the application.

One of the most important steps you can take when applying for a PhD at the Faculty of Arts is to reach out to potential supervisors before you hand in your application. This will serve two purposes: you will expand your international network in the field you wish to do research in, and, perhaps most importantly, you may obtain invaluable feedback on a draft of your project description.
Getting feedback from a local academic within your field should be viewed as a key step in the application process, and will provide you with knowledge of what is expected in your discipline that you cannot obtain in any other way.

This form of feedback may also come from current PhD-students, or junior researchers (postdocs or assistant professors), who have themselves been through the process recently, and have come out successfully.

Initial contact

There are 8 PhD Programmes at Arts that cover all the disciplines and departments. Your initial contact should be to one of these. Your application will be assessed by the most relevant of the 8 PhD programmes and your application should therefore fit into one of the programmes You can read more about the different PhD Programmes here:

Some PhD Programmes arrange events for students and candidates who consider applying for a PhD. At these events the potential applicants have the opportunity to speak to the PhD Programmes Director, current PhD students within the programme, and administrators from the Graduate School of Arts. Contact the relevant PhD Programme Director to learn more about upcoming events.

Further, you might take a look at the university’s website to find professors or associate professors who work in your field. Then contact them with a brief initial description of your project and ask them if they can provide feedback or possibly refer you to one of their colleagues.
Make sure to do this early on in the process as most professors are very busy and cannot be expected to respond at short notice. Also, as providing feedback on PhD applications is usually not a part of the work tasks of academic staff, you should expect that some will not have time and opportunity to provide the requested feedback.

Each PhD Programme has its own Director, who is the one responsible for the programme. The PhD Programme Director will be able to guide you through your application process and to provide you with suggestions and advice about whether to respond to an open or a specific call for PhD projects. The list of PhD Programme Directors for all programmes are accessible through this link: http://phd.arts.au.dk/about-us/contact/

"Become a part of the community"

It’s important to network and getting feedback on your research idea and early drafts of your application before applying.

If you want to apply for a PhD scholarship at Aarhus University it’s a good idea to be enrolled in one of the PhD Programmes at Arts and become a part of the local academic community. While you expand your network you will get an impression of what is going on in the field and who is who.

If you are unable to come here and study before applying for a PhD, contact the PhD Programme – preferably a potential main supervisor. In any case, you should try talking to a researcher in your area and ask for feedback on your drafts for the project description.
Contacting the PhD PRogramme in question before applying helps clarify whether the project you are proposing is in line with the research carried out there.

From a student's perspective

In the video below, an international student at the Faculty of Arts talks about his own experience of the importance of contacting the relevant PhD Programme, and even department, in advance.

Feedback from your fellow students and peers who are not specialists in the subject area may also be valuable – for instance, to ensure the clarity of your proposal. AU Studypedia has a guide for giving and receiving feedback on the page Group Work & Feedback.


The content of this page was written by Charlotte Albrechtsen, Tine Wirenfeldt Jensen and Søren Smedegaard Bengtsen from Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media, Arts, Aarhus University.

Further considerations

When applying for a PhD, you may consider certain other issues besides the formal requirements of the application itself. It would be a good idea to become informed about employment conditions and expectations. For example, typically it would be expected for the PhD student to spend a semester at a foreign university. For some students, this means bringing their own family with them - with all the practicalities of finding accommodation, child care opportunities, schools, etc.

Should you wish to know more about these or related issues, you can always contact the GSA for more information and guidance: http://phd.arts.au.dk/about-us/contact/

Also, some PhD-students become pregnant and start their own family during the PhD, which also may affect the process and work conditions. And even for some PhD students coming from a professional context or the industry to do a PhD, the PhD salary (or funding more generally) may be relevant to know more about as well.


The content of this page was written by Søren Smedegaard Bengtsen from Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media, Arts, Aarhus University.

Useful links:

Relevant handbooks about the PhD Education

The following handbooks provide a thorough, helpful, and realistic perspective on the PhD experience and generic challenges and opportunities in relation to undertake a PhD:

In English:

Cryer, P. (2006). The Research Student’s Guide to Success. Berkshire: McGraw-Hill, Open University Press

Petre, M. & Rugg, G. (2010). The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research. Berkshire: McGraw-Hill, Open University Press

Philips, E.M. & Pugh, D.S. (2012). How to get a PhD. A handbook for students and their supervisors. Berkshire: McGraw-Hill, Open University Press

The Craft of Research. Booth, Wayne C.; Colomb, Gregory G. and Joseph M. Williams, University of Chicago Press, 2nd edition, 2003.

And in Danish:

Andersson, J.E. & Hein, H.H. (2002). Ph.d.-processen. Kom godt i gang. Frederiksberg: Samfundslitteratur

From, U. & Kristensen, N.N. (2005). Proces og struktur i ph.d.-forløbet. Om at leve og overleve. Frederiksberg: Samfundslitteratur

The content of this page was written by Charlotte Albrechtsen, Tine Wirenfeldt Jensen and Søren Smedegaard Bengtsen from Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media, Arts, Aarhus University.