Apply for a studentship


Design Star wants to recruit doctoral researchers with outstanding academic or professional backgrounds and research potential to commence a programme of postgraduate study in the 2018/19 academic year, starting in September/October 2018. Awards for full- and part-time study are available.

Key dates will be updated as soon as they have been approved

Applications for 2018/19 will be open soon

Application deadline: February 2018

Application outcomes: April 2018

Academic qualifications and experience

You must hold a first or a very good upper second class undergraduate degree in a relevant subject, and hold or be completing a Master’s degree, or have relevant professional experience.


You must be a United Kingdom citizen to hold a full AHRC Design Star studentship.  EU applicants who have not been resident in the UK for the three years prior to the start of their studentship are only eligible for a fees-only award; however, Design Star aims to offer EU applicants selected for awards full or part maintenance grants from our own institutional funds. We are governed by the Research Councils UK’s Conditions of Research Council Training Grants. Its residency requirements are:

43. To be eligible for a full award a student must have:

  • Settled status in the UK, meaning they have no restrictions on how long they can stay and
  • Been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the studentship. This means they must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences) and
  • Not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK or EU nationals).

44. To be eligible for a fees only award:

  • Students from EU countries other than the UK are generally eligible for a fees-only award. To be eligible for a fees-only award, a student must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU, in the same way as UK students must be ordinarily resident in the UK. Note: These eligibility criteria are based on the Education (Fees and Awards) (England) Regulations 2007 and subsequent amendments.

What an AHRC Design Star studentship covers

We provide our award-holders with a comprehensive and attractive package of financial support over the duration of their studies:

  • A tax-free maintenance grant set at the UK Research Council’s national postgraduate rate
  • Full payment of tuition fees during your period of supervised study
  • Financial support to attend our cohort-building events
  • Financial support to incorporate short-term placements, international study visits and specialist training events in order to develop your skills (if possible please highlight potential needs in your initial application).

Part-time award-holders receive a maintenance grant at levels that are pro-rata to their time commitment, which is usually 50%.

How to apply

Apply for a PhD place . . .

  1. Get in touch with staff at one of the Design Star universities to discuss your research area and proposed topic.
  2. Submit an online application form for a PhD place at one of the Design Star universities. This will include your research proposal and you will need to attach electronic copies of documents such as your academic transcripts. References will also be required. University of Brighton Goldsmiths Loughborough University The Open University University of Reading

… and apply for Design Star funding

  1. Apply for Design Star studentship funding by filling in the Design Star application form. Send this, and a one page CV, as a PDF to the Design Star contact in the university to which you have applied, and also to Polly Harte, the Design Star Administrator.
  2. If your application for a PhD place is accepted by the University you will told that you have been offered a place, and you will be entered for the Design Star studentship competition automatically.

How we choose Design Star students

At a special meeting, members of the Design Star consortium will consider your application for a PhD place and your Design Star studentship application against the following criteria:

  1. The originality, quality and practicality of the proposed research project, and the contribution it is likely to make to advancing the discipline (evidenced by the proposal and the references);
  2. The extent to which the project provides scope for a student to develop a range of subject specific and generic skills;
  3. The fit between the applicant, the proposal and the aims and objectives of Design Star.

The scores for each candidate will be used to form a ranked list. We will allocate studentship funding (from AHRC and university match funding) starting at the top of the list and will continue down the list until the funding runs out. A reserve list will then be made.

If you are successful in the studentship competition you will receive a formal offer of funding from the Design Star administrator.

The content and structure of the proposal will inevitably vary depending on the discipline area and the nature of the project you wish to pursue.

The general guidance, and suggested headings, provided here should help you to structure and present your ideas clearly in your proposal.

Your overall aim is to produce a research proposal that is clear and coherent in every respect. You should therefore avoid the use of overly long sentences and of technical jargon. It is important that the proposed research is realistic and feasible so that the outcomes can be achieved within the scale of a typical research degree programme, which is typically three years full-time for a PhD. Although you should write the proposal yourself, it is best if you discuss its contents with your proposed supervisor before you submit it.

Your proposal should be no longer than 2000 words.  In addition, and if relevant, you can include up to 5 pages of illustrative material, which should be captioned to indicate its relevance to your research topic.

Research context

You will need to explain the context in which you research sits, explain its significance and locate it within the relevant literature. Questions might include:

  • What is the general area in which you will be working and the specific aspect(s) of that area that will be your focus on inquiry?
  • What is the problem, shortcoming, or gap in this area that you would like to address?
  • What are the specific objectives for the proposed research that follow from this?
  • Why is the proposed research significant and why does it matter (either theoretically or practically)?
  • What are the specific objectives for the proposed research that follow from this?
  • Why is the proposed research significant and why does it matter (either theoretically or practically)?

Your research question 

For most projects there is usually one main question that you would like to address, which can sometimes be broken down into several sub-questions. You will need to state your main research question(s), explain its significance, and locate it within the relevant literature (remembering to refer only to research that is directly relevant to your proposal). You will probably need to address questions such as:

  • What is the general area in which you will be working and the specific aspect(s) of that area that will be your focus on inquiry?
  • What is the problem, shortcoming, or gap in this area that you would like to address?
  • What is the main research question or aim that you want to address?
  • What are the specific objectives for the proposed research that follow from this?

Research design 

You will need to explain how you will go about answering your question (or achieving your aim), and why you will use your intended approach to address the question/aim. Questions you might need to cover include:

  • What steps will you take and what methods will you use to address your question?
  • How will your proposed method provide a reliable answer to your question?
  • If your project involves an experimental approach, what specific hypothesis or hypotheses will you address?
  • What specific techniques will you use to test the hypothesis, such as laboratory procedures, interviews, questionnaires, modelling, simulation, text analysis, use of secondary data sources, etc.
  • What practical considerations are there; for example, what equipment, facilities, and other resources will be required?
  • What relevant skills / experience do you have with the proposed methods?
  • Are there particular ethical issues that will need to be considered (for example, all projects using human participants require ethical approval)?
  • Are there any potential problems / difficulties that you foresee (for example, delays in gaining access to special populations or materials) that might affect your rate of progress?


You will need to provide a rough time line for the completion of your research to show that the project is achievable (given the facilities and resources required) in no more than three years of full-time study (or part-time equivalent) for a PhD.

Expected outcomes

You need to say something about what the expected outcomes of your project would be.

How, for example, does it make an original contribution to knowledge, how does it advance theoretical understanding, how might it contribute to policy or practice?

List of references

You will need to provide a list of any sources, such as key articles or texts, that you have referred to in your proposal. The information provided must be complete and accurate.

Proof reading

It is important that you carefully check your proposal for typographical and spelling errors, consistency of style, and accuracy of references, before submitting it.

When you send your PhD proposal to the University you want to study with, you need to apply to Design Star for funding. You should not wait to see if your proposal has been accepted by the University that you are applying to.


Include your name and answer the following questions (max 2 sides A4):

  1. Which Design Star university have you applied to? What is the provisional title of your thesis?
  2. Who are your supervisors?
  3. Are you studying part-­time or full-­time?
  4. Why will being part of Design Star be important for you, and for your research? Design Star has a strong student voice. What do you hope to contribute?
  5. Which of our external partners is most aligned with your research topic and how might you engage with them to enhance it?
  6. What would you hope to gain from a placement with one of our external partners?

Now please send

  • your Design Star application
  • your PhD proposal (recommendation of 1,500 words, max 2,000 words)
  • a one page CV

as a PDF to the Design Star contact at the relevant Design Star university and to Polly Harte


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