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Centre for Music and Science


We welcome applications for PhD studentships at the Centre for Music and Science. A PhD will typically provide three or four years of focused study on a particular research topic, culminating in the submission and examination of a substantial research thesis. It provides a very special opportunity to immerse oneself in a particular research field, to design and conduct a series of empirical studies, and submit one more or research articles for publication.

PhD students at the CMS are generally supervised by the CMS Director, Peter Harrison. As part of the application process students are asked to write a short research proposal; students are encouraged to think carefully about how the proposed project relates to the research topics, methodologies, and philosophies outlined on Peter's webpage, as well as considering potential connections to the research interests of other Faculty members (e.g. Bettina Varwig, David Trippett, John Rink).


Why should I do a PhD? 

A Music & Science PhD provides an excellent opportunity to develop research skills (e.g. designing surveys, conducting interviews, applying statistical methods) that are highly valued both in academia and in many parts of industry (e.g. market research, audio branding). It simultaneously allows you to immerse yourself for several years in a particular research topic of your choosing, which can itself be a highly enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Why Cambridge?

The choice of where to do your PhD should be determined in large part by your choice of supervisor. It's important to feel some meaningful synergy with their research expertise and interests; it's also important to see whether they cultivate the kind of work and social environment that you'd like to be a part of. For the former question, it's worth spending some time perusing Peter's webpage; for the latter question, it's worth look for opportunities to meet with (former) colleagues and students to get their informal impressions.

The funding question is also important. Universities vary in their access to PhD funding schemes; in Cambridge, PhD funding is relatively strong, with the PhD application process integrating with a variety of funding schemes from the University and from various UK research councils. Of course, the process is highly competitive, but good applications have a decent chance of success. 

Lastly, it's also worth considering the geographical location. Cambridge is a beautiful historic town, with many green spaces and impressive buildings. At the same time, it is very well-connected to London by train, which provides a exciting and contrasting metropolitan environment.

Do I need an MPhil before going to the PhD?

It's important to have graduate-level research experience before embarking on a PhD in the Centre for Music and Science. This generally means (i) being well-educated in empirical methods, and (ii) having conducted a substantial empirical study, ideally either published or of publishable quality. An MPhil is a good way to get this experience, but not the only way; it's also possible to get equivalent experience through research internships.

How do I apply?

Prospective Music and Science PhD students should apply for the PhD in Music, and state their intention to work with Peter Harrison at the Centre for Music and Science as part of their application. See How to Apply for details on the application process and required materials.

How do I get funding?

PhD funding is available but competitive. Most applications are made through a central University scheme; see Funding Postgraduate Study for details. In order to be eligible for funding one must typically apply fairly far in advance, not much less than a year before your proposed start date. Please see the official guidance for up-to-date information on these deadlines.

What should I write for my research proposal?

Ideally you will have already spent some time reading broadly around the field of music and science, and music psychology in particular. There are some good generalist books out there covering a wide variety of topics, for example:

  • Deutsch, Diana. Psychology of Music. London, UK: Elsevier, 2013.
  • Hallam, Susan, Ian Cross, and Michael Thaut. The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017.
  • Thompson, William Forde, and Kirk N. Olsen. The Science and Psychology of Music: From Beethoven at the Office to Beyoncé at the Gym. Westwood, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group Inc, 2021.

In this process, you want to be working out what topics particularly interest you, which papers you think are the most relevant, what you like most about these papers, and how you think they could be improved or extended. At the same time, you should spend some time thinking about how your developing research interests could align with the research topics, methodologies, and philosophies outlined on the CMS project page as well as Peter's webpage.

Once you've developed some clarity about research topics, your task is to distill them into one or more well-defined research questions, which should concern an unsolved issue in the existing literature that you think you can address within the scope of a PhD project. This research question (or research questions) then form the basis of your research proposal.

For the PhD application, the research proposal should be approximately 750 words in length, not including the bibliography. You should structure it as continuous prose, using headings if you wish. You should cover the following items:

  • Background. Introduce the general field within which your work will be situated, and describe some existing work/findings in this area. Finish by noting relevant lacunae or problems with existing research that can be used to motivate your own work.
  • Aims. Summarise the aims of the present work. Your aim would usually be to answer one or more specific research questions, which you should state explicitly in your proposal. Your aims might also include creating some kind of tool or research material (e.g. a corpus). These aims should be clearly linked to the lacunae/problems identified in the Background section.
  • Methodology. Summarise the methods you would employ to accomplish these aims.
  • Significance. Summarise the significance of your proposed research in terms of addressing lacunae/problems in the field.
  • Skills. Explain how the proposed project relates to the skills you currently have and the skills you wish to acquire.
  • Timescale. Suggest a tentative timeline for the research, bearing in mind that the PhD lasts 3 years (typically beginning in October).
  • Logistics. Comment on any materials/equipment you need for the research. Note that the CMS does not currently have facilities for neuroimaging (e.g. EEG, fMRI), and most experiments should focus instead on behavioural experiments. It may however be possible to use heart-rate monitors and eye-tracking equipment.
  • Bibliography. Provide bibliographic details for articles/book chapters that you have cited in your proposal. You are encouraged to use APA formatting. Note that the bibliography does not contribute towards the word count.

It's important to note that the research proposal is not a final commitment. We would expect to workshop these plans substantially during the early parts of the PhD. The main importance of the submitted research proposal is to demonstrate your familiarity with the relevant literature, your ability to understand and critique its limitations, and your ability to conceive of a practical research plan.

Should I get in touch before applying?

It's highly recommend to contact Peter in advance of applying; he will be happy to advise regarding potential project proposals.

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