It can be both exciting and daunting to begin thinking about embarking on Higher Degree Research.
This page is designed to help make the process of embarking on Higher Degree Research less daunting, and to give you some things to think about. We encourage you to begin thinking about the suggestions on this page sooner rather than later.
Our goal is to encourage you to think about why you are considering doing Higher Degree Research, what you want to get out of it, and what area(s) of law you are sufficiently passionate about to devote an extended period of time to researching. The information on this site is designed to help you get thinking about what research question or questions you would be keen to find the answers to.
So here are some steps in preparing to apply for Higher Degree Research at the ANU College of Law. Please read this page closely.
- Research your program options
- Ensure you meet minimum program requirements
- Ensure you meet the English language requirements
- Find out about your scholarship options
- Begin thinking about your thesis outline (or proposal)
- Consider whether we have a potential supervisor for your project
- Contact the ANU Law HDR admin team with a preliminary inquiry
- What happens next & when should I submit a formal application?
If you are interested in applying for a research program please decide on the most suitable research program for your needs: the MPhil, the SJD, and the PhD in Law. Most students express interest in a PhD, but it may be worthwhile investigating your other options.
And bear in mind that, for some students, the best fit may be another program: the ANU LLM, for example, provides a range of coursework options that allow for some element of independent research. Or you may also wish to explore a research program elsewhere at the ANU (as one example, the Crawford School of Public Policy’s PhD program).
For the PhD, SJD, and MPhil, at the ANU College of Law we require a bachelor's degree with first or upper second class honours, usually in law, from an Australian university; a Masters in Law (LLM) with a distinction average (70+%); or a qualification equivalent or superior to these as determined by the Director of Higher Degree Research.
You must demonstrate an adequate standard of English before you can be accepted for admission. Applicants should look at the ANU policies setting out the English Language Admission Requirements for Students: look closely at the Accepted English Language Tests for the scores required for Graduate Law programs (there is a helpful table).
The ANU policy website is your authoritative guide to a range of relevant language tests, but to give you some indication, we will be looking for:
- Academic IELTS: An overall score of 7 with at least 7 in writing and at least 6 each other component
- TOEFL paper-based test: A score or 650 with a TWE of 5.0
- TOEFL internet test: A score of 110, with a minimum of 26 in writing and at least 22 in all other sections
ANU funds and administers a range of scholarships for graduate research degree programs for international and domestic students. You may also wish to explore other scholarship options.
Drafting your thesis outline is an important part of preparing your HDR application. Naturally the outline will help us assess your application, but many HDR applicants also find it an incredibly useful and clarifying exercise for their own purposes. Indeed, putting your ideas into outline or proposal form will often help you clarify those ideas and think about the extent to which they can form the basis of an extended research project.
Sometimes people say ‘I want to do a PhD’ before they decide what research question they wish to explore. This is fine, but when you reach the stage of considering actually applying for HDR programs, you will need to develop a reasonably clear sense of what it is that you wish to research, and what the contours of that field are. Many applicants may discover that this means they need to do preliminary reading and research on the topic in order to prepare their outline/proposal. This sort of preliminary reading and research will often strengthen an outline/proposal.
Part of preparing a thesis outline or thesis proposal involves identifying your proposed research question. So what should a good research question look like? Well, ideally a research question for a HDR project will explore a reasonably narrow or focused issue within a broader area of law (so, for example, rather than proposing to write a thesis on ‘The Law of Contract in New Zealand’, we encourage you to identify a particular question or small set of questions that arise within the much broader body of New Zealand contract law; for another example, rather than proposing to write a thesis ‘on social media in the law’, we would encourage you to identify and explore a particular social or legal problem associated with the use of social media). Two hints that people often find useful: first, can you phrase your research question as a question that ends with a question mark? If not, it might be worth thinking about it a little more. Of course, how your research question is framed will reflect the methodology or methodologies you intend to use. And second, is there an existing book or journal article that answers your proposed question? If so, what will your HDR project do differently that will make it interesting to scholars in your field?
And so, the detailed thesis outline will usually be a document that:
- states the central research question that the proposed research project will seek to answer;
- clearly explains the proposed topic and its boundaries: in answering your central research question, what do you propose to cover and what do you propose not to cover;
- includes a preliminary review of the literature. The preliminary review of the literature will differ from topic to topic but it generally should identify the strengths and weaknesses of the existing literature, explain what that literature has focused on/omitted/avoided, and explain relevant arguments or theoretical frameworks used in the literature;
- explains how the research will contribute to the legal literature or legal scholarship, linking back to your preliminary review of the literature;
- describes the research strategy and methods that you propose to adopt for the research project;
- provides a draft outline of the chapters of the thesis;
- proposes a draft timetable for researching and writing the thesis, and indicates whether you propose to study full-time or part-time; and
- includes a bibliography reflecting the sources drawn on in preparing the thesis outline.
If you need a starting point, try to prepare a document that addresses each of these dot-points in turn. The thesis outline should be approximately 4-6 pages in length. It must be such as to convince our HDR administrators – or ultimately potential supervisors – that the topic is sufficiently developed and refined, and that the thesis can be successfully completed.
A thesis outline does not need to be as detailed as a final thesis (of course!) and we won’t necessarily hold you to every fine detail set out in the outline. But it is, nonetheless, an unavoidably important way of establishing for yourself, and ultimately for potential supervisors, where your research interest lays and the viability of your project. It is also a great opportunity for you to demonstrate to our HDR administrators, and to potential supervisors, that you are dedicated to conducting an extended research project, and that you are serious about that task.
More than any other academic program, Higher Degree Research depends on a working relationship between you and your supervisor(s) and other members of your panel. It’s important to begin thinking about potential supervisors early on in the process of formulating your application.
The HDR Program Director and/or Deputy Director are able to discuss potential supervisors with you (see below for more on this). But as a first step, please review the ANU College of Law’s list of academic staff (where you can search for an academic by research interest) and/or the ANU Researchers website, to identify the names of one or more academics who you think may be suitable and available to supervise you in your area of research. In doing so, recognise that we may not have supervisory capacity for every topic.
One good way of figuring out whether an academic would be a good supervisor for your HDR project is to look at the academic’s own publications and research. Is their research similar to the sorts of research you would like to do, or similar in subject matter, theory, or methodology? Please note, again, that we generally encourage you to make contact with the HDR Program Director and/or Deputy Director before you begin extensive discussions with potential supervisors directly.
Why is this? Well, the HDR Program Director will be able to offer advice on potential supervisors in consultation with colleagues at the ANU College of Law, in order to provide you with the best possible combination of supervisors, taking into account a broad range of considerations. This may include suggesting additional or different supervisors to those you have identified in your initial search on this website and the central ANU websites.
So the next step is to contact the HDR program. See below for how best to go about that.
Once you’ve worked through these steps, you are then welcome to contact the ANU College of Law HDR program. The best step is to send an email to our terrific ANU Law HDR admin team (email link) and include with your email:
- a statement (in the text of the email or as an attachment) that identifies
- your preferred research program (eg, PhD or MPhil)
- how you meet the minimum program requirements
- how you meet the English language requirements if relevant
- a short CV (usually no more than 2 pages)
- a copy of all your academic transcripts/records from past study
- your draft thesis outline (prepared on the basis of the guidance on this page)
- an indication of who you think might be potential supervisors for your project (based on the guidance on this page).
Our administrators will regularly update the HDR Director and HDR Deputy Director on recently-received inquiries. Once we’ve had a chance to review your email and attachments, we’ll be back in touch with you soon to discuss possible next steps. We may ask you for more information, we may ask you to refine your draft thesis outline, and/or we may suggest some potential supervisors to you. If all goes well, we’ll then encourage you to make a formal application to be considered for admission to our HDR program (more on this below).
Once we’ve given you the go-ahead, we encourage you to submit a formal online application. The mechanics of this are handled by the ANU Admissions Office, rather than by us at the ANU College of Law. The ANU Admissions Office can help you with what documentation is required and what forms you’ll need to fill in. Once your formal application has been received and processed by the ANU Admissions Office, we’ll then receive your application, and if there is anything missing from the application you may be contacted by our ANU Law HDR admin team.
Once we receive your application, we will send you an email acknowledging receipt and letting you know when it will be considered by the Law HDR admissions group. Your application will then be kept on file and considered at the next meeting of the HDR admissions group. Generally, these meetings will be held three times a year: in September to consider international applicants, in November to consider domestic applicants, and in April/May to consider both domestic and international applicants.
While there are no deadlines for applications as such, you should be aware that applications are considered in groups at our admissions meetings (explained above) and you should also carefully note the ANU’s central deadlines for applying for ANU scholarships. Information about these deadlines can be found at the ANU Admissions Office. In all of this, international applicants may also wish to remember that, unlike the northern hemisphere, in Australia the academic year runs from February to November.
So if you are considering applying for HDR study it is important to think a little bit ahead, to plan when you wish to apply.