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Caroline Fox Betts

Thank you, Emma for posting this. It's very informative. I'm going to bookmark it and read it several times (currently on an MPhil with Glamorgan) and fantasising on one day doing a PhD. (Btw, I understand Goldsmiths now to the MPhil in CW)


Thanks for this Emma - it's very interesting. I will flag it up to my students.

Jennifer Dee

Congratulations on receiving your PhD; well deserved. I found the above post very interesting.

Emma Darwin

Thanks you for the congrats Jennifer.

Richard Georges

Thanks for this. I am about to undertake a Creative Writing PhD myself and this served as reassurance to what will surely be a daunting task.

Emma Darwin

Richard, you're welcome. Best of luck with the PhD!

Adrian Onyando

Hello, Emma! Congrats for your creative PhD! Good to know that it works. Where did you do it?

Emma Darwin

Hi Adrian. I did my PhD at Goldsmiths, which is part of the University of London. And thanks for the Congrats.

Aine Greaney

Emma,I found this post as I'm in the very beginning and tentative phase of researching Ph.D. programs in creative writing. It's very informative. Thanks for writing and congrats on your degree.

Emma Darwin

Aine, you're welcome - and thanks for the congrats. Best of luck with your researches, and with the degree if you do decide to go for it.

Emma Scattergood

Hi Emma,
I've just come to this while researching practice-led creative phds, and have found it really helpful, so thanks for that. I'm about to write a proposal to do such a phd at Bournemouth Media School (where I am a lecturer), however, as I would be the first to go down that route, I have been warned that I may well come under pressure to answer some sort of theoretical question, as you say. I'm trying to put together a strong case for NOT doing that, so can you maybe point me towards the universities that don't so I might gather some examples? I'd be really interested in seeing your abstract too, if possible?

Emma Darwin

Hi Emma - and you're welcome!

You could have a look at the Regs for the University of London, which are pretty specific about the need for the commentary to be a commentary - the aims and outcome, and so on. If it's good enough for the University of London... And the U of South Wales (was Glamorgan) and Northumbria are two which I know about, which aren't so daft as to insist on theory.

In the London regs it doesn't say anything anywhere about a theoretical question, although of course answering one could always be your aim. But it would be perfectly legitimate for the aim to be - as it was in my case - something very practical, e.g. "To write a novel from the PoV of Elizabeth and Anthony Woodville"... You can argue that the theoretical element comes in when you analyse, retrospectively, in CW Theory terms, what happened in the actual business of writing the novel.

My abstract and commentary are on the BL's EThOS system here:

In theory you can search EThos for PhDs, but it's a bit tricky with Creative Writing, if you don't know a specific writer, because often it's not listed as a subject...

Another bit of ammunition might be the NAWE Benchmark Statement on research in Creative Writing (should come up with googling), which defines CW Research very much as being creative-practice led, not theory-led.

Good luck!

Kim Hutson

Thank you so much for this very helpful article. I'm just thinking about writing my PhD proposal and found this all very useful and am currently having a look at your commentary which it really helping me visualise how it all works.
I'm a bit concerned about actually writing the proposal at the moment and making my application. I'm not entirely sure how that's supposed to be presented... I feel quite a lot like I'm swimming in the dark but I'm sure it will all become clear eventually!
Many thanks for your informative article - it's being bookmarked!

Emma Darwin

Kim, you're welcome! I do agree that it's all rather baffling, but in my experience it does all come right, if you keep going. Best of luck with the application!

Ruth Pickvance

This is SUCH a useful piece Emma - many of the questions answered that I needed answers to in such a thoughtful way. Thank you for putting this together and posting it. Your site is superb!

Emma Darwin

So glad it's useful, Ruth - best of luck if you do decide to go for it!


Emma thank you so much for this piece; I am thinking about doing a PhD in CW, this was helpful in many ways.

Emma Darwin

You're welcome, Rita. Good luck for the decision!


Not often, because I'm sure you're happier where you are, but occasionally, I think it's academia's great loss that you aren't a CW professor. No one writes more lucidly,. No one bridges the gap between creative and academic writing with such elan as you. Your style is pitch-perfect. Makes me weep, actually.

Emma Darwin

*passes hankie* ...

Aw, thank you Cherys! I do wonder sometimes whether I should have gone down that route. But you're right, I think I'm happier, if poorer and more insecure (and that's not to say that academics are rich or very secure, goodness knows), than if I had followed that road.

Patrick Doherty

A very interesting article.


Very good reflections from someone who has just completed the PhD in CW. I want to thank you Emma, because now I know for sure the CW PhD is not for me!
" could say it's unnatural..." And so it is!

Emma Darwin

Gary, you're welcome - and always glad to be useful in helping people steer themselves away from something, as well as towards it!


This is a fascinating insight into the process of actually doing a CW doctorate. You mention the camaraderie of the Masters process, Emma, and I was struck by how much of the process you talk about finds an echo in the MSc in creative writing for therapeutic purposes (CWTP) which, through using ethnographic and autoethnographic approaches, for example, is also about 'using the act of writing creatively as a research process, as well as studying the process and product of that writing.'
For some people who feel that the CW PhD is not for them, the MSc in CWTP can offer an experience and a challenge that is satisfying in its own right, as well as adaptable to social and healthcare settings.
If anyone here would like to know more, do check out

Josie Campbell

What a great piece! I’m about to apply for a CW MA .. need to paddle in the shallows first before I think about swimming out to PHD island. This has really inspired me. Thank you! X

Emma Darwin

You're welcome, Josie - so glad it's been helpful! Good luck with the next stage.

Emma Darwin

Emery, I think the whole business of writing for therapeutic purposes sheds fascinating light on writing as a whole. I don't know huge amounts about it (not even for myself - so not a journal-keeper). But I was fascinated by a writer friend who runs courses in it explaining that a lot of the therapeutic value doesn't come - as I'd assumed - from the cathartic splurge onto paper, but from the editing: the revisiting and reconsidering, the thinking about other ways to say things, the framing and cutting-down-to-size. Which makes sense - and is useful to think of when a writer's feeling that editing is dry and uncreative compared to that initial splurge. As Auden said, good writing originates in the gut but only flowers in the head...

Tara East

Hi Emma,
I see you posted this blog 10 years ago and yet, I have found it's contents very comforting. I am currently six weeks into my PhD (in Australia) and I've already found myself feeling a little...bored. It was a comfort to hear that the scholarly research that (obviously) informs a project/investigation can often be the most difficult part for creatives because research can be so 'uncreative'. Thank you very much for sharing your reflections!

Emma Darwin

Hi Tara - gosh, was it really 10 years ago? I suppose it was! I'm so glad it's been comforting. And yes, the scholarly stuff can feel a bit dry - or, at least, the need to dot all the Is and cross the Ts of references, and hunting down authorities and stuff, can be very tedious.

I don't know if your PhD asks for a critical commentary of any kind on your own process or writing. I have blogged about that - there's a link in the Tool-Kit. One day, I'll get round to putting a link in this post, just haven't managed to do that yet.

Best of luck with the rest of the PhD!

Rebecca Reynolds

Thanks so much for this Emma. I am inching my way towards thinking about drafting a CW PhD proposal and was reassured by your comments that the accompanying critical piece can take many forms. Thanks for the very useful links as well.

Emma Darwin

Late to this, Rebecca, and now the world has rather turned upside-down. I'm so glad that it was reassuring. All best wishes for the next stage!


amazing stuff, I was so glad I found this site, any other post in other sites were either negative towards a PhD in CW or just not informative enough. I've learned so much about what to expect and how to look for an option that works better for me...esp. the part about commentary and what each university might want. this was a blind spot for me.
I'm currently studying Eng. lit MA in Tehran and wanted so bad to find a way for a PhD that aligns with my interests... one question is how is the job market after graduating or is it a different story for CW?

Emma Darwin

So glad it's useful to you, Zohre! In terms of the job market...

If you're doing a PhD as a way to get a novel published it would be a gamble: certainly feedback from your supervisor should help you to make the novel better, and the reflective side of things might also help you to develop as a writer. But there are NO guarantees: to get published, a commercial publisher has to decide that your book will make them money. And lots of what's most interesting in creative writing as a discipline in universities is not necessarily what makes a novel the most desirable to the largest number of possible readers, so the goals don't necessarily align.

If you're doing a PhD as a way to begin a career in academic creative writing, it's true that these days a doctorate is pretty much essential - though many who end up teaching in universities start from writing, and only do the PhD later. But you will also need a track record in published creative writing - not necessarily a mainstream publishing book contract, but certainly short stories, competition wins, etc., small press publication, that sort of thing. Any job vacancies would be expecting that. But there would be nothing (except time and energy) to stop you tackling that in parallel with your PhD, plus you might be able to pick up some teaching experience, which would help with applications for post-doc work.

But the academic CW world, I get the impression, is suffering from the twin curses of the general attack on Humanties as a discipline, and covid-related shrinking of departments. So it's not an easy path to follow either.

Unless you've already got a track-record of success in publication of your creative writing, you might do better not to try to go straight into a CW PhD, but to take some time to find your feet in creative writing - and then you'll be better placed to work out what you want to get out of one, and which program is mostly likely to give you that.

Good luck!


Very helpful... thank you!

Emma Darwin

You're welcome, Jade. Best of luck with it all.

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