General university information about postgraduate study at the University of Otago

Find information about postgraduate qualifications, support and scholarships.

Why should I come to Otago?


We have an outstanding reputation for research both nationally and internationally. The Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies provides an opportunity to study the literature, history, politics and culture of Ireland and Scotland – and of the Irish and Scottish diasporas – over the past three hundred years.

Expert supervision

We provide expert supervision across a wide range of themes, time periods, and locations for postgraduate students. Examples of supervision themes are listed below; these are not exclusive and we welcome enquiries on other related topics.

Supervision themes

  • Scottish and Irish literature
  • Scottish and Irish culture
  • Histories of gender and sexuality in Ireland
  • The poetry and international reception of Robert Burns
  • Scottish diaspora writing
  • Irish women writers from the 1900s
  • The Scottish novel
  • Labour and social reform movements in Ireland
  • Scottish crime fiction
  • Creative writing, with particular reference to crime fiction
  • History of Crime and punishment
  • Scottish and Irish history

Postgraduate research culture

We are committed to fostering an energetic postgraduate community.

The Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies mounts an extensive annual programme of seminars, symposia, workshops and public lectures by invited local and international speakers. Students are encouraged to attend such events. Please see our news and events section for details of past and current events.

Financial grants are available to assist students undertaking archival research and from the Division of Humanities to enable students to attend conferences.

We provide internet access and study space for postgraduate students.


The University of Otago offers a number of postgraduate scholarships.

See the University website for a full list of scholarships offered.

Irish and Scottish Studies postgraduate scholarships

There are several university scholarships specifically aimed at or open to Irish and Scottish Studies postgraduates, including:

Grants are available to assist students to travel for research and to attend academic conferences.

Choosing a research area

In choosing a topic, you should keep in mind the research interests and expertise of the staff. Wherever possible we try to accommodate your interests, so long as these are consistent with available staff expertise. Feel free to discuss your proposal topic with a potential supervisor.

You should also bear in mind the location of major source materials for a proposed thesis. The Hocken Collections provides Otago students with an excellent range of New Zealand and Pacific sources but it does not cover all areas. Some source material may be located outside Dunedin.

Finally, define a topic which can be completed realistically within the time appropriate for the chosen degree. Students often conceive of a topic which is too broad in scope and needs to be whittled down. This should be done in close consultation with the supervisor.

Research by our current and previous postgraduate students

View information about our current and previous postgraduate students and their research.

Supervision arrangements

Initially, students' ideas for a topic should be discussed informally with any staff member competent to advise, but ultimately they must be written in the form of a proposal and submitted to the Postgraduate Studies Committee. Based on this proposal, the Postgraduate Studies Committee will suggest appropriate supervisors. One will be your primary supervisor who is a specialist in the field of your research. A secondary supervisor will usually be from a complementary area, although not necessarily a specialist in the field. Their expertise may instead be thematic, methodological, geographic, or temporal. The default division of labour for the supervisors is a 70%–30% split. This split recognises that one supervisor has primary responsibility for supervision of your thesis.

Students may have supervisors in mind from the start, but must be aware that in the interest of workload and leave plans that final matching is undertaken with the mutual consent of both the supervisors and the student.

In considering accepting a student, a potential supervisor assesses the following:

  • Student's background and level of performance
  • Student's motivation
  • Appropriateness of the topic
  • Available resources for the topic
  • Level of commitment the supervisor can make, e.g.: Do leave plans interfere? What are the supervisor's existing supervisory commitments?

In considering accepting a particular supervisor, a student should:

  • Seek information from other research students and the proposed supervisor about the expectations of the supervisor and support given
  • Ask the proposed supervisor about financial and other resources required and about anything which might affect continuity of supervision until completion of the project
  • Discuss the relationship between the student's and the supervisor's research interests in order to assess if the topic is appropriate to the supervisor's areas of research

Which degree shall I do?

What distinguishes the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from the Master of Arts? The simple answer is that a PhD is a much longer and more demanding exercise, usually taking three years of full-time study to complete. A PhD topic is larger in conception and is expected to make an original contribution to scholarship.

An MA, which is expected to be completed in one year of full-time study, is a more limited exercise and does not require the same degree of originality.

If in doubt discuss the matter with a staff member.

Entry requirements

Master of Arts (MA)

A Master of Arts (MA) student should have graduated with a four-year Arts degree with history, english or politics as a major, and have achieved at least a B average (or equivalent) overall for their degree. Otago students will normally have completed either the Honours course or the Post Graduate Diploma in Arts with a B average or better and at least a B+ for their long research essay. Students who have taken their first degree outside New Zealand will have their cases scrutinised individually by the Postgraduate Studies Committee. Acceptance as a candidate for the degree depends upon the University being able to provide adequate expert supervision in the intended area of research.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

A prospective PhD student should have graduated with a four-year Arts degree, earning at least an upper second class of honours, or Master of Arts degree. Otago students will normally have completed either the Honours course or the Post Graduate Diploma in Arts. All candidates are provisional for the first year. Depending on progress, confirmation is possible thereafter. Students who have been provisionally enrolled for the PhD, but who do not give satisfactory evidence of research and writing ability will be required to re-enrol for an MA if they wish to continue.

The abilities needed to complete a PhD successfully do not always depend on good results at the undergraduate level. The Postgraduate Studies Committee will also need to be convinced that the student has the time available for the greater commitment, the necessary financial support, and the all-important qualities of diligence, persistence and endurance.

How do I apply?

Prospective Master of Arts (MA) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) students should contact a potential supervisor in the programme and develop a detailed proposal which should be submitted to the Postgraduate Studies Committee. The proposal should be double spaced in Times New Roman, 12 point, and comprise 2–4 pages in length for an MA, and 6–8 pages in length for a PhD. Given the multi and interdisciplinary nature of our research, the proposal should demonstrate disciplinary understanding but also be written in broadly intelligible and accessible language. It must include:

  • Working title
  • Outline of project including research questions (why is it important?)
  • Understanding of the literature relating to the topic (e.g. historiography. What does the extant work reveal? How will your research be new?)
  • Possible sources (including any ethical and/or access issues)
  • Possible methodology (how will you analyse your sources?)
  • Mention of staff consultation

An up-to-date academic curriculum vitae, including the student's academic record and a list of 3-4 referees (including relationship and contact emails) should accompany the proposal, along with a one paragraph summary of your topic. You should also include a sample chapter from your most recent thesis. PhD students should also provide a resources and proposed research costing outline which they may require during their course of study.

The proposal will be considered by the Co-Directors of the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies. They will critically assess the proposal and provide relevant feedback if required. They will also assign a primary and secondary supervisor. Once your proposal has been approved in principal you can formally apply to the University.

Formally apply to the University


Find information about University fees

Contact information

Professor Sonja Tiernan is Éamon Cleary Chair of Irish Studies and Professor Liam McIlvanney is Stuart Chair of Scottish Studies.

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