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CAHR PhD students discussing



Doctoral studies at CAHR

After studying the MA in Applied Human Rights, I was keen to continue in the Centre's PhD programme. The fieldwork experience I gained during the MA visit to Cape Town inspired my PhD's exploration of transitional justice, masculinities and male victimisation. Additionally, it gave me a head-start on the PhD by facilitating links with a network of practitioners.

Lucy Harding, MA Student 2009/10; PhD awarded 2015

The Centre has an active research agenda and a growing number of PhD students. We are happy to entertain applications for doctoral studies on a wide range of topics in human rights, particularly on:

  • human rights defenders
  • human rights practice 
  • human rights and development
  • legal empowerment
  • refugee law and policy
  • responsibility to protect
  • transitional justice

We particularly encourage applications from individuals with practical experience relating to the topic of their research. In keeping with the international nature of the Centre and its staff, we welcome applications from individuals from around the world. For current supervised topics, please see current PhD student profiles.

Research environment

The Centre, both independently and through its affiliations with the Department of Politics and the York Law School, has an active programme of research and seeks to develop research communities on the topics noted above, including for example the inter-departmental Development and Conflict Working Group and York Law School’s Socio-Legal Research group. We regularly programme lectures, workshops and conferences on various human rights issues; we also host the Journal of Human Rights Practice (published by OUP). We view our doctoral students as key participants in the research activities of the Centre and the wider university and practitioner communities in which the Centre locates itself, including the Centre’s visiting human rights defenders. We would expect all of our doctoral students to actively contribute to the research environment of the Centre.


For an indication of the range of potential areas of doctoral supervision available please see the research and staff pages of the Centre. For specific advice on applying and the possibility of supervision please contact the member of academic staff by which you would like to be supervised. Co-supervision is also available with academic staff in other departments and at other research centres.


Programme of study

Having decided to write my MA dissertation on land reform and the right to housing, I chose to pursue my research further by undertaking PhD study, with the rights of landless people in South Africa as the main case study. My supervisor has been very supportive in focusing my topic and in giving advice on the research process.

Matthew Evans, MA Student 2009/10; PhD awarded 2013

In their first year of study, doctoral students will receive formal training in research methods conducted in conjunction with the Department of Politics and the the York Law School. The training includes regular sessions during term on theory, ethics and methodology. In addition, doctoral students are invited to attend faculty research seminars and other academic events on campus.

The PhD programme does not include any formal course-work. Doctoral students are eligible to audit (or to formally enrol in) any of the postgraduate courses offered by the Centre as part of its MA in Applied Human Rights or its LLM in International Human Rights Law and Practice. Arrangements can also be made with other departments to audit (or enrol in) additional courses.

Progress, Dissertation and Examination

All PhD students are subject to formal reviews of progress. These formal reviews of progress take place at the end of the first year and at the end of the second year (or part-time equivalent). 

Students meet regularly with their supervisor and attend a Thesis Advisory Panel twice a year. The purpose of these meetings is to discuss the student's progress, in particular with a view to ensuring that the student's thesis is completed on time.

After completing and submitting their thesis, the student must attend an oral examination. There are usually two examiners, at least one external to the University (in most cases a member of the academic staff of another higher education institution in the UK). If there is an internal examiner, he or she is normally a member of the academic staff of the University other than the candidate’s supervisor.

Full-time PhD students are expected to have completed and submitted their dissertation within 3 years of commencing studies. This deadline is extended to 6 years in the case of part-time students.



The Centre’s staff has consistently made time to talk with me about my work -- as well as any other concerns that arise. My supervisor has been fantastic. He helped me secure full funding for my PhD. He has also provided both academic opportunities and the chance to engage with, and contribute to, human rights practice.

Lucy Harding, MA Student 2009/10; PhD awarded 2015

Only students who have applied to and have been accepted into the programme are eligible for consideration for financial assistance. Financial assistance is available both from the university and from external funders. Some opportunities for part-time employment as tutors or lecturers may also be available. We are happy to discuss potential scholarships and other assistance with individuals after an offer of admission has been made. Please be mindful that many scholarships have early application deadlines.

In recent years, the Centre has successfully nominated and advocated on behalf of prospective students for competitively awarded university and ESRC scholarship funding. This funding, in the case of UK students, can cover tuition and provide a basic stipend. Funding for international students through these routes is more limited and generally only covers a relatively small portion of their expenses (usually some of the tuition). In all cases, students seeking funding should apply early in the academic year. Most university and ESRC funding decisions are made by April so in order to be considered a complete application is recommended by the end of January. We are happy to support applications for external funding by prospective students, for example by providing letters of support for this purpose.

WRoCAH studentships 

The White Rose College of the Arts & Humanities (WRoCAH) is a Doctoral Training Partnership of the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York. It is responsible for the distribution of AHRC-funded studentships for these universities and for the coordination of a doctoral training programme.  WRoCAH is able to offer over 50 AHRC studentships per year to candidates with a place for doctoral study at the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield or York.

Applicants for an AHRC studentship must have applied for a place of study in an eligible School, Department or Centre and may only apply for funding at one of Leeds, Sheffield or York. The studentship application form and details of how to apply are only available from the WRoCAH website.


Applications and Further Information

The University has an online application process for PhD applications. Applications can be made either via the online option for the "PhD in Politics" or the "PhD in Law" depending on the student's disciplinary preference. In either case please identify the Centre (or particular staff members of the Centre) as potentially providing supervision. We strongly encourage you to discuss your interest in doctoral studies and to submit a Draft dissertation proposal (PDF , 153kb) to us before formally submitting an application.

We are happy to discuss your interest in doctoral studies with you. Please feel free to contact any of the staff of the Centre, particularly the person(s) who you would be interested in as a supervisor. 

Find out more

After having worked for several years in the protection of refugees and migrants with both NGOs and the UN, I had a desire to reflect and look more deeply into some of the issues encountered on the ground. The CAHR offered me the opportunity to conduct innovative and ethical academic research that considers above all the practical outcome for the people it aims to reach.

I am particularly grateful for the support I receive from my supervisors regarding my interdisciplinary approach and the choice to apply a drama-based methodology in working with unaccompanied migrant children in South Africa.

Lena Opfermann, PhD student