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Entry Requirements & How to Apply

Before You Apply

You are encouraged to read carefully the wide range of information about pursuing a higher degree by research at Trinity College Dublin provided by the Graduate Studies Office. We also recommend that you familiarize yourself with the specific regulations relating to higher degrees by research set out in the Trinity College Calendar Part III.


It is important to be aware that preference is generally given to students who want to work in areas of research in which a potential supervisor has an existing research interest. Please review the information below on finding a supervisor, and study carefully the research interests and track records of our supervising school members. Before proceeding to apply, it makes sense to approach the supervisor(s) that you believe would be suited to supervising your work. The first approach should consist of an email to the School Director of Postgraduate Teaching and Learning, Dr Erna O'Connor, Email:, that outlines your background and interests, indicates who your preferred supervisor(s) are, and contains two attachments: your CV and a draft research proposal (approximately 2 pages of A4).

When to Apply

The School of Social Work and Social Policy has a dual intake of new students pursuing higher degrees by research, in March and September each year. The closing date for receipt of completed applications to join the Doctoral Programme for March intake is 31st August, and for the September intake the deadline is 28th February. Applicants are advised to apply as early as possible.

Entry Requirements

Applicants must normally have an excellent primary degree, and / or professional qualification, in a relevant discipline, from a reputable institution. In addition, PhD applicants should normally have an excellent Masters degree from a reputable institution, although this requirement may be waived in the case of exceptional candidates who can demonstrate firm grasp of the research methods they plan to apply in conducting their PhD research. All applicants must have a fluent command of the English language. Since the demand for places is extremely high, these minimum requirements do not guarantee admission. Preference is given to the academically strongest applicants.

How to Apply

Applications are completed electronically. Please find below our application link, and the required documentation to submit when applying.:

  • Research proposal (see below for further information on how to complete this)
  • 2 Reference Letters - applicants are not required to get two hard copy references. You must list two referee contact details on the online application form. An automated email will be sent to both referees asking them to complete a template and send it back. (It is preferable that references are academic)
  • Official Transcripts - a transcript is a breakdown of the modules you have completed and the grades you obtained in your academic degree(s). Please contact your University to request a transcript as soon as possible as some Universities can take up to 21 days to process transcripts. (This includes undergraduate transcripts and graduate transcripts if applicable)
  • A certified certificate of English Language Competency if English is not your first language (e.g. TOEFL or IELTS)

Applicants who have already been successful during a research grant interview or screening process (e.g. Irish Research Council, Funded Research Positions, etc.) should provide relevant details as part of the application process. The online application process is mandatory even if your funding has been secured.

There is an online application fee of €35.

If you encounter difficulties in filing the relevant documentation you should direct your query to the Research Admissions Office. Please note that applications that are deemed incomplete due to the absence of key supporting documents will not proceed to the Doctoral Programme Committee for review.

Once you have submitted an online application you will be sent an acknowledgement email to the email address you provided when setting up your user account on the application system. The applicant portal will allow you to send and receive communications in respect of your application to Trinity College Dublin. You will be able to track the progress of your application at every stage of the admissions process, update your personal information, view decisions made on your application(s) and accept any offers you receive. For further information see 'Applying for a Postgraduate Course' page.

Preparing a Proposal

All applications to join the Research Degree Programme must be accompanied by a high-quality research proposal. The proposal must provide evidence of an applicant’s ability to plan and organize independent research whilst also demonstrating the relevance of the proposed research topic to the interest and expertise of a potential academic supervisor within the School of Social Work & Social Policy.

All research proposals must adhere to the specific guidelines outlined below. Failure to adhere to these guidelines may result in an application being rejected by the Research Degree Programme Committee.

Specific Guidelines

There is no expectation that an applicant should be in a position to write a perfect proposal at this preliminary stage in the application process. Neither is there an expectation that an applicant will adhere closely to his or her initial proposal as their plans will almost certainly evolve once the programme of studies gets underway.

Notwithstanding the caveats noted above, an applicant is expected to produce a research proposal organized under the following key headings:

  • Title – outline the title of the proposed study.
  • Research topic / question – outline the boundaries of the proposed research topic and more specifically elaborate on the importance of the central research question(s) around which the study is organized.
  • Research contribution – outline how the study builds on existing research and clarify the unique contribution envisaged. Also, clarify the unique contribution to policy and/or practice where such a contribution is envisaged.
  • Research context and background – drawing on existing literature, outline the context and background to the proposed study.
  • Succinct overview of consulted and reviewed literature – focusing on the central research question(s), outline the various strands of literature that have been consulted and / or reviewed for this study. Indicate how such literature will be used as the study unfolds.
  • Research model / hypotheses – outline the key features of the research framework that will be used to guide the design and collection of relevant research data.
  • Research methodology – outline the key elements of the proposed research strategy (e.g. interviewing, case study, grounded theory, action research, process study, longitudinal study).
  • Research plan and timeline – outline the major activities and milestones envisaged throughout the research journey.
  • References and bibliography – include all references throughout the text and / or the wider bibliography used to inform the proposed study.
  • Prospective supervisor(s) – identify one or more academic supervisors who have an interest in the proposed research.

The research proposal should be limited to approximately 2,500 words excluding Appendices, References, and Bibliography.

Learning from Experience

The submission of a high-quality proposal from a well-qualified applicant does not automatically guarantee acceptance on the Research Degree Programme. From past experience, it is clear that proposals from well-qualified candidates fail to be accepted when:

  • The research proposal is not structured in accordance with the specific guidelines noted above.
  • The research topic and question(s) are poorly specified. Questions must be precisely defined and all elements of the research proposal must be congruent with the study as envisaged.
  • The proposal identifies a practical problem without any reference to academic underpinnings of the problem domain. A good proposal must engage with the academic literature and demonstrate critical insight in one or more academic disciplines to succeed.
  • The focus of the proposed research does not fit with the competencies of potential supervisors within the School of Social Work & Social Policy.

Proposal Review

While an applicant is encouraged to engage with a potential supervisor to discuss and explore further his or her research interests, he or she should not expect a potential supervisor to formally review any proposal in the absence of a completed online application with all the relevant supporting documentation.

The Research Degree Programme Committee will only consider completed online applications with all supporting documentation, including a well-developed research proposal.  

The closing date for receipt of completed applications to join the Research Degree Programme is as follows:

  • 31st August for March Entry.
  • 28th February for September Entry.

Finding a Supervisor

Potential Supervisors

The School of Social Work & Social Policy includes world-leading experts from many fields including ageing and human development across the life course, bereavement, child and youth welfare, homelessness and housing exclusion, gender studies, social theory, crime and penal regimes, immigration and integration, intellectual disability, mental health, and social security, among other topic areas. Members of the School are research-driven and the majority supervise graduate research students of interest to their specialist academic domain. A list of potential supervisors and their research interests is available here (PDF, 275 KB).

Contacting Supervisors

Applicants are strongly advised to contact potential supervisors to discuss and explore further their research interests. Applicants do not need to have secured a potential supervisor’s commitment to supervision before applying, but it will help an application if a potential supervisor has already indicated interest in the proposed programme of research.

Additional Note

Applicants should note that potential supervisors will not undertake detailed reviews of CVs and research proposals in isolation. Applicants must submit a formal online application, with the required supporting documentation, before a potential supervisor can make a full assessment in relation to the applicant and his or her proposed programme of research.

If an applicant is unable to make contact with an academic in the school, he / she can still apply for entrance. The Research Degree Programme Committee will endeavour to align the research interests of the applicant with a potential academic supervisor.

Nomination of Supervisors

A principal academic supervisor will be nominated when an applicant is offered a place on the Research Degree Programme. A second academic supervisor may be nominated if there is a requirement to provide additional knowledge, skill and expertise beyond that of the principal academic supervisor. Academic supervisors, once nominated, oversee all aspects of the research journey and monitor progress on an ongoing basis.