Research Degrees in Media Studies
Media and Film Studies at SOAS has an expanding programme of doctoral research with some thirty research students currently enrolled. Our research students work on an exceptionally wide range of topics, both theoretical and empirical, with about half coming from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, and half from Europe and North America.
The Centre puts emphasis on the acquisition of critical theoretical skills and in-depth regional, linguistic and cultural knowledge of media and film forms and practices.
The PhD in Media and Film Studies is a research degree, involving original research on some aspect of contemporary theoretical and global issues in media and film. Our approach to media and film studies involves a developed critique of Eurocentrism. Our specialty is the analysis of the film and media industries, their contents and their audiences in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and their diasporas, an approach equally well-suited to research on Latin American, East European and mainstream ‘Western' media.
In 2007 we opened a PhD stream designed to integrate and interrogate the relationships between theory and practice. The submitted work comprises 60,000 words of written work and up to one hour of audio-visual materials.
A research degree in media and film normally takes three years, or up to a maximum of four years should extensive periods of fieldwork be required. Part-time registration is also possible.
The Centre stresses interdisciplinarity and draws upon expertise right across the School. So the PhD Programme is equally suited to researchers who wish to engage in detailed study of media and film in Asia or Africa and to those who wish to combine media and film studies with other disciplines, ranging from the study of language and culture through the humanities to the social sciences.
We consider research students to be one of our main research strengths and advise them to develop a portfolio of projects, whether individual or collaborative, which will be relevant to their future careers. In their final year, we also encourage them to organize symposia and film festivals based on their fields of special expertise and aimed at a broader audience. For example, the student-led Sacredmediacow collective organized a conference on media in India and produced an edited book, Indian Mass Media and the Politics of Change, which was published by Routledge. Other students have become involved with the organization of the Small Media Initiative (smallmediainitiative.com) events every autumn. Many students also give papers at national and international conferences and some publish in academic journals.
The research degree has two paths. The first is the standard research route comprising a thesis of 100,000 words. The second is a research stream with a practical component designed for film and media professionals who wish to combine PhD research with practical production. The research will consist of a thesis of 60,000 words with an hour of film/video production (subject to approval).
You will be registered as a research student in the Centre for Media and Film Studies, which is an autonomous entity within the School. Degrees are awarded by the University of London.
Your research will be guided throughout by a research committee of three staff members, consisting of two supervisors and ahead of the committee, who is normally the Postgraduate Tutor. Depending on the nature of your research, there are two possible kinds of supervision.
- You may either have a primary supervisor, who will be the main person responsible for guiding your research and a second supervisor with a lesser role, who will provide additional expertise.
- Alternatively, it may prove more appropriate for you to have co-supervision, commonly one supervisor being a media or film specialist, the other being a specialist in the area you are researching or the discipline that you are linking to media or film.
In the first year, you prepare for research by following an MPhil training programme. The aim of the training programme is to give you a thorough grounding in theory, methods, regional, cultural, linguistic and any special disciplinary expertise you may require for your research.
The required courses are:
- MPhil Training Seminar – a weekly course of seminars especially for first-year research students, the syllabus being determined by the interests and requirements of the students in that particular year
- CMFS Research Seminar – a weekly seminar attended by the entire academic staff and student body of the Centre at which contemporary issues in media research and practice are presented by leading scholars in media and film studies, independent film directors and NGO and media activists.
- Research Methods Course – a weekly course over one term, designed to provide a solid grounding in methods required for different kinds of research. It includes the emphasis on discourse and interpretive analysis.
Other elements will be agreed between you, the Postgraduate Tutor and your supervisor(s). These might include:
- Media or Film Theory – you will probably be asked to take the first term of one or more media or film theory courses, depending on what theoretical background you already have. The aim is to provide you with a range of theoretical approaches necessary for your research.
Current courses include:
- Theoretical and Contemporary Issues in Media and Cultural Studies
- Theoretical and Contemporary Issues in Global Media and Post-national Communication
- Theoretical and Contemporary Issues in Media, Communication Technologies, and Development
Further optional elements may consist of specialist disciplinary, language or regional culture courses, which you and the Centre staff agree are useful to your research.
Multimedia and video production – The Centre is firmly committed to the link between theory and practice, especially in the digital era. We have a well-equipped multimedia unit and training is available to meet a range of multimedia needs
Apart from your formal doctoral research, we encourage you to develop a portfolio, which includes downloaded and scanned materials, smaller projects (individual or collaborative), that may well be important for your future career.
Also, London is one of the media and film capitals of the world. So we encourage you to make full use of what is available. Apart from the British Film Institute, we have formal institutional collaboration with the main colleges in the University teaching media and film, including Birkbeck, Goldsmiths, Kings and Queen Mary. We are a member of the Screen Studies Group, comprising the main film and media departments at the University of London, which runs its own research training event and conference series.
In May of the first year, you submit an Upgrade Research Report of 15,000 words, outlining your proposed research questions, empirical background and the theoretical framework that you propose to use. This is assessed by two academics, usually your second supervisor and someone outside the Centre who are specialists on the topic. On successful completion of the Upgrade Report, you are formally upgraded to PhD and proceed to the research phase, which conventionally lasts up to a year. If the assessors consider there to be shortcomings in the Report, you will be asked to revise it to their satisfaction before you can proceed to research.
The second year is normally spent engaged in research. This may be by any combination of fieldwork, research in libraries, film and media archives, international film or media festivals as agreed with your supervisor(s).
The third year is devoted to writing up your research for your PhD thesis. During this time, you will normally give a presentation to the Postgraduate Research Seminar which comprises both staff members and other research students. During this time you will present draft chapters to your supervisor(s) for comment, before writing the final draft for examination. Your thesis will be examined by two leading authorities on media or film studies. One will be Internal to the University of London. The external examiner is always a scholar from outside the University of London.
If you are studying part-time, you take the required theory courses in your first year and attend the MPhil training seminar and write your Research Report in the second year. The length of time for field or other research, and writing up, is adjusted accordingly.