An Oxford PhD proposal sample, like Oxford personal statement examples, should give you an idea of how to structure and write your own PhD proposal, which is a key element of how to get into grad school. Should you pursue a master's or PhD, you should know that, with few exceptions, all graduate programs require that applicants submit a research proposal. It can vary in length (usually between 1,000 and 3,000 words) and must outline your main research goals and methods and demonstrate your facility with the topic. The almost 35,000 applications Oxford received in a recent year should give you some idea of how competitive getting into a master's or PhD program is.
Writing a stellar proposal is important to make your application stand out, so, to that end, this article will show you an expert-approved Oxford PhD proposal sample based on the actual requirements of an Oxford graduate program.
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Oxford PhD Proposal Sample
PhD Program: DPhil in Migrant Studies
Research Proposal Length: minimum 2000 - maximum 3000 words
To: Matthew J. Gibney, Professor of Politics and Forced Migration
Name: Adrian Toews
Title: Wired and Hungry Masses: Social Media, Migrants and Cultural Bereavement in the Digital Sphere
Proposed Research Topic: Does social media help migrants cross the cultural barriers of their adopted home and succeed in helping them preserve touchstones of their home culture?
Abstract: The ascendance of social media platforms has increased and, strangely, decreased interconnectedness among disparate groups in society. But, while social media has been implicated, rightly, as a catalyst for the rise of disinformation, hate speech, and other anti-social behaviors, I would argue that its ubiquity and prevalence provide those experiencing cultural bereavement with a more-effective coping mechanism, as social media is able to replicate, in a non-physical space, the culturally specific mechanisms they know and which, prior to digital communications, could not be replicated in new, adopted countries and cultures.
Objective: I want to present social media as an informal networking tool, expressive outlet, and cultural road map with which migrants who are experiencing cultural bereavement can engage for two specific reasons: 1) to assuage the grief that accompanies anyone who has left their homeland as a migrant or refugee, and 2) to help them assimilate into their new identity by giving them a window into the cultural norms and practices of their new country or culture.
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Background: Through my research, I also aim to better understand the concept and meaning of “cultural bereavement,” which was originally defined by Eisenbruch as “the person’s or group’s experience of losing familiar social structures, cultural values, and self-identity." While Eisenbruch was correct to create a more appropriate framework to better understand the distress of refugees, when he put forth this new paradigm of understanding the migrant and refugee experience, there was no internet, Facebook, or Instagram.
It was a time when the private and public spheres were clearly delineated, and there was no blurring of the lines as with social media, which offers an easier cross-migration between the two as users can easily engage with social media or withdraw from it. Later research on cultural bereavement by Yoon et al. sought to affirm Eisenbruch’s original premise of the distress felt by migrants and refugees as a “grief reaction” and specifically mentioned “social networks” as one of the elements that migrants lose and mourn.
Therefore, I hope to redefine "cultural bereavement," not only by applying it to another group of refugees, as Yoon et al. did with Ethiopian refugees living in South Korea, but by explaining how the act of mourning one’s culture is both complicated and alleviated by the digitized, globalized world. Eisenbruch coined the term to refer to the mental distress he saw manifest in Cambodian refugees in the US who had arrived during the era of the Vietnam War, even though Eisenbruch’s study took place decades later.
But Eisenbruch and subsequent researchers could not envision a world in which migrants would be in near-constant communication with the signifiers of their home identities. Whether it be through live video chats with family members and relatives via social media, or consuming video, audio, and print media made by other members of their cultural group, migrants today are more in touch with their home cultures than at any other time in history.
So, yet another goal of my research would be to question whether cultural bereavement is still felt by migrants who settle in new homes and countries, and whether cultural bereavement is still applicable to migrants who voluntarily migrate, rather than being forced to do so by conflict, poverty, and environmental factors. Do they experience cultural bereavement differently from those who have been uprooted forcibly?
Does social media act as a balm – either temporarily or permanently – for newcomers to relieve their grief and estrangement? Can migration still be thought of as a dichotomy between “here” and “there,” when, as Yoon et al. pointed out in their research, Ethiopian refugees found “an antidote for cultural bereavement” through “a continuation of religious practice,” “informal gatherings within the Ethiopian diaspora,” and “organized community activities"? If informal gatherings and community activities were able to provide an antidote for these refugees, is it possible that those same informal meetings and communities can exist in the digital sphere and have the same effect?
I also want to explore the coopting of a loss of culture by right-wing, xenophobic groups who also espouse the language of cultural loss to demonize migrants and migration, in general. If one group can hijack the concept of cultural bereavement to justify their hatred of migrants and newcomers, I would argue that this concept needs to be safeguarded in a way that protects it from being misappropriated, which presages that it also needs to be redefined and reconceptualized.
Research Plan: The UK has received approximately 161,000 refugees fleeing the latest conflict in Europe, and given the relative youth and social media savvy of many of those fleeing, it provides a suitable venue to conduct my research into how the refugee experience in the 21st century does not neatly conform to the concept of cultural bereavement.
I plan to work with thoroughly vetted resettlement agencies, both governmental and non-governmental, to create a sample group of about 100 volunteers between the ages of 25 and 35 who are social media literate. Given the fact that these platforms have built-in analytical tools to measure engagement via metrics like views, likes, click-through rates, and time spent on page, it will be easier to accurately measure their engagement with cultural touchstones related either to their native country or to their new one.
This kind of observation is problematic for various reasons, and it will be necessary to install safeguards governing who can access this information and where it will be stored. I propose to create a central, cloud-based server that can only be accessed by select members of my research team, who will password encrypt access to these data. Whether the data will be stored permanently or kept for further research purposes is something that will be determined at the end of the study.
There will be an interview component as well, as Eisenbruch and subsequent researchers have used a cultural bereavement interview as the primary method of data collection to verify their theoretical premises. This is another area where our study’s scope surpasses that of others, as we will collect more accurate and pointed data.
We will ask participants in their native language whether they are mourning their home cultures, whether they feel disconnected, and, if so, what they are doing to cope with this sudden change. The responses we receive will be compared and contrasted with the data gleaned from their social media activity to verify whether they are experiencing cultural bereavement and constructing new identities, or whether they are only experiencing one of the two.
Scope: Measuring social media activity through this type of engagement is one way to understand how these refugees in the UK are actively adapting to their cultures and whether their engagement with the markers of their home truly signifies grief, as presupposed by Eisenbruch and the scholarship that followed, or whether it is more complex than simple bereavement.
We cannot mourn things we have not lost, and the problem with Eisenbruch’s original conception of cultural bereavement is that it makes permanent and irreversible the severing of a migrant’s connection to their home culture, which is something I would contend rarely occurs now.
Not only is the physical space of a “home” still accessible to most, excluding those who have fled persecution, discrimination, and violence, but migration has prompted a demographic shift: when minority cultures become the majority, newcomers feel at “home,” even in new countries.
With this in mind, I also plan to observe the social media use patterns of volunteers from the same or similar ethnic groups as recently arrived refugees from the war, but who have been in the UK for up to 20 years or more. I want to contrast the social media use patterns of those who have been in the UK longer with the way newcomers engage with social media as it relates to their new and adopted culture.
Doing this will, I hope, determine whether long-time residents continue to “mourn” their previous lives and identities, have assimilated fully into their new identities, or are in the midst of an ongoing process of redefinition. I also seek to establish a timeline that can be formulated to better help clinicians understand where migrants are on this journey of forming new personalities.
Much like Kubler-Ross sought to map the stages of grief, I hope to create a more fluid framework for understanding cultural bereavement that helps clinicians and other mental health professionals view refugees and migrants’ experiences as constantly evolving, rather than being confined to only bereavement and loss.
Similar to the way in which the Kubler-Ross model has been reformulated and reinterpreted by subsequent research, I hope to bring to bear a new understanding of cultural bereavement that moves away from the distress and shock that characterized its earliest iterations by making space for other emotional possibilities like joy, creativity, curiosity, and community-building, which are all aided by access to social media.
Method: 1) Review all the relevant literature on cultural bereavement, starting with Eisenbruch, Yoon et al., and Bhurga et al., and moving on through Steiner while exploring cultural bereavement in various contexts.
2) Recruit participants and exercise full transparency by divulging our study goals and methods, which will involve installing tracking software on their smartphones that will only activate when the participant turns it on.
3) Implement a data protection plan that will safeguard all the data we collect on a private, cloud-based server with limited access.
4) Formulate a new cultural bereavement interview that engages interviewees on different levels; including questions like “tell me about yourself” and other autobiographical questions to give participants more freedom to discuss topics they want to, rather than introducing the bias that we must only talk about grief and loss.
a. What are some of the things you like about the UK?
b. Is there anything about the UK that reminds you of home?
c. What makes you think of home?
d. Have you made any new, positive memories about the UK?
e. Have you made any new friends? If yes, are they from the same country and speak the same language?
f. Do you want to make new connections here, and would you prefer they be from the same country or a different country than yours?
5) Compare and contrast the answers given by volunteers with their activity on social media and make connections wherever possible to support the premise that they are both actively in mourning and actively trying to assimilate.
6) Formulate and write a different set of questions to ask now-settled migrants and refugees about their grieving process and whether they continue to grieve or have made peace with their new circumstances.
a. Do you miss your home country/culture/language?
b. Do you regret leaving?
c. Do you feel like the UK is your home now?
d. Have you been able to recreate your home culture here? If yes, how have you done so: by socializing with fellow migrants and refugees, informal gatherings, or community activities?
e. Have you adopted aspects of UK culture?
f. How have you maintained ties to your home culture?
g. What advice would you give people from your home culture who have recently arrived in the UK?
7) Perform a qualitative and experiential analysis of long-time residents' answers and then determine whether their social media activity skews toward same-culture, other-culture, or if they are evenly split between both.
8) By combining the analysis of a) answers from the first cohort of respondents and their social media activity and b) answers from long-time residents and their social media activity, I hope to present evidence to support a new conception of cultural bereavement that separates it from its association with pain, distress, anxiety, and depression and offers another continuum for understanding how migrants can manage their bereavement in constructive ways not available to previous generations of migrants.
Study Limitations: The introduction of bias is always a problem when interviewing subjects, and I hope to remove that bias by recording verbal answers and then contrasting subject responses with data collected from their social media habits. But bias will inevitably appear since subjects will know they are being monitored and might alter their viewing and consumption habits thinking they are fulfilling the project’s requirements. This may be corrected by not divulging what content we are controlling for, namely culturally specific content in either English or the subject’s native language.
Research Significance: This research is critical, given that migration remains a controversial topic in Western countries, which are often the target destination for migrants, regardless of their motivation for migrating. But the increased interconnectivity of peoples across various geographic locations throws Eisenbruch’s original understanding of bereavement into disarray, as those cultural elements that migrants supposedly mourn when they settle in another country or culture are still accessible via digital media.
This research is also critical for understanding how to prevent the idea of cultural bereavement from being used as a cudgel to marginalize, discriminate, and demean ethnic groups. Nativist and xenophobic groups have also latched onto the term "culture loss" to explain how they feel threatened by the mass migration of non-white peoples, with whom they feel they have no cultural ties or connections.
If we are successful in widening the scope of how we understand cultural bereavement to include possibilities for celebration, connection, and hope, then it will no longer provide a haven for those groups that want to couch their racist, bigoted ideology within the framework of cultural loss.
1. Eisenbruch M. (1991). From post-traumatic stress disorder to cultural bereavement: diagnosis of Southeast Asian refugees. Social Science & Medicine (1982), 33(6), 673–680.
2. Bhugra, D., & Becker, M. A. (2005). Migration, cultural bereavement and cultural identity. World Psychiatry (WPA), 4(1), 18–24.
3. Yoon, M. S., Zhang, N., & Feyissa, I. F. (2022). Cultural bereavement and mental distress: examination of the Cultural Bereavement Framework through the case of Ethiopian refugees living in South Korea. Healthcare, 10(2), 201.
4. Corr C. A. (2020). Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and the "Five Stages" Model in a sampling of recent American textbooks. Omega, 82(2), 294–322.
5. Schrieber, S. (1995). Migration, traumatic bereavement and transcultural aspects of psychological healing: Loss and grief of a refugee woman from Begameder County in Ethiopia. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 68(2). 135–142.
An Oxford PhD proposal sample like this one is only one version of what a proposal can look like, but it should contain at least these basic elements. You should know how to choose a PhD topic at this point in your career, but if you still feel like you need help, then you can hire PhD admission consultants to help you choose your topic and research interests.
Above all, you should know why you want to do a PhD. Answering this question first will be effective in helping you ultimately decide on a program, which can then make it easier for you to write any number of different doctorate-related texts, such as a PhD motivation letter and a statement of intent.
Understanding your true motivations, passions, and research interests is doubly important when pursuing a PhD since you do not want to invest so much time and resources in a subject you are only partially interested in. If you can honestly answer why you want to pursue a PhD, you can then take concrete steps toward defining your research goals and how they can be fulfilled by the program you choose.
1. What should an Oxford PhD proposal look like?
Your Oxford PhD proposal should adhere to the requirements set forth by the program you wish to enter. Regardless of your discipline or field, almost all PhD programs at Oxford require that you submit a research proposal of between 2,000 and 3,000 words.
2. What is the difference between a PhD proposal and a statement of intent?
A statement of intent is another type of essay that applicants are often asked to submit to graduate schools. It involves talking about your past academic experiences and achievements, what you intend to do in graduate school, and why you want to go there. A PhD proposal, on the other hand, contains no personal details or experiences.
Instead, a PhD proposal should be a focused, concrete road map built around a specific research question. In your proposal, you list the theoretical approaches that you are going to use, research methods, past scholarship on the same topic, and other investigative tools to answer this question or present evidence from this research to support your argument.
3. What is the difference between a PhD proposal and a statement of purpose?
A statement of purpose is another common essay that graduate school applicants must submit. The line between a statement of purpose and a statement of intent is a fine one, but the line between a statement of purpose and a PhD proposal is much more prominent, and there is no mistaking the two. So, you should not read over graduate school statement of purpose examples to learn how to write a PhD proposal.
A statement of purpose can also be research-focused, but in an undefined way. A PhD proposal combines theory and practice and requires that you demonstrate your knowledge of proper scientific research, investigative methods, and the existing literature on your topic.
4. What should I include in my PhD research proposal?
You should include a title page where you list your name, the program you are applying to, and a title for your research project. You should address it to a specific faculty member, who can perhaps, if they agree, show you how to prepare for a thesis defense. The proposal itself should include an abstract, an overview of the existing scholarship on your topic, research questions, methods, and a bibliography listing all your sources.
5. How long should my PhD research proposal be?
The usual length of PhD proposals is between 1,000 and 3,000 words, but your program may have different requirements, which you should always follow.
6. Does Oxford have specific research proposal requirements?
There are up to 350 different graduate programs at Oxford, all with their own particular requirements, so the university does not set forth a universal set of requirements for all graduate programs. Many of these programs and their affiliated schools offer students advice on how to write a PhD proposal, but there are few, if any, stated requirements other than the implied ones, which are that you have familiarity with how to conduct graduate-level research and are knowledgeable in the field you are researching.
7. Do all PhD programs ask for a research proposal?
A majority of programs do, yes. There are always exceptions, but a fundamental part of pursuing a PhD involves research and investigation, so it is normal for any PhD program to require that applicants write a PhD proposal.
8. What if my research interests change or I am no longer interested in the subject?
It is quite possible for your research interests and direction to change during your research, but you should not be discouraged. Graduate programs understand that these things happen, but you should still do your best to reflect the current state of research on your topic and try to anticipate any changes or sudden shifts in direction while you research.
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