How to apply for HDR

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.

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. Begin thinking about what research question or questions you would be keen to find the answers to.

Here are some steps in preparing to apply for Higher Degree Research at the ANU College of Law. 


1. Research your program options

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.


2. Ensure you meet minimum program requirements

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.


3. Ensure you meet the English language requirements

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.

Minimum scores required for applicants are as follows:

  • IELTS - Overall score of 7.0 with a minimum of 7.0 in writing and 6.0 in all other components.
  • TOEFL - Paper Based Test: a TOEFL score of at least 650 and a Test of Written English of 5.0.
  • TOEFL - Computer Based Test: a TOEFL score of at least 280 and a Test of Written English of 5.0.
  • TOEFL – Internet Based Test: a score of 114 with a minimum of 22 in all four sections.

4. Find out about your scholarship options

ANU funds and administers a range of scholarships for graduate research degree programs for international and domestic students.


5. Look for a potential supervisor

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.

You should contact the HDR Program Director and/or Deputy Director to discuss supervisors and panel members. Before doing so, 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 one or more academics who you think may be suitable and available to supervise you in your area of research.

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? 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.

When you contact the HDR Program Director and/or Deputy Director, we ask that you attach a short CV (no more than 2 pages) and a copy of your academic transcript/record to your email. This helps the HDR Program Director and/or Deputy Director contextualize your application and understand your research background.


6. Write your thesis outline (or proposal)

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 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.

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 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 potential supervisors that you are dedicated to conducting an extended research project, and that you are serious about that task.

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? 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 must: 

  • state the central research question, problem or theory that the proposed research will address;
  • clearly explain the proposed topic and its boundaries;
  • explain how the research will contribute to the legal literature or legal scholarship;
  • include a preliminary review of the literature and a bibliography;
  • describe the research strategy and methods;
  • provide an outline of the chapters of the thesis; and
  • propose a timetable for writing the thesis.

The thesis outline should be approximately 5 pages in length.  It must be such as to convince a supervisor that the topic is sufficiently developed and refined, and that the thesis can be successfully completed.


7. Contact your potential supervisor

You are then welcome to contact the ANU College of Law Director of Higher Degree Research with:

  1. a statement that identifies
    1. your preferred research program
    2. how you meet the minimum program requirements
    3. how you meet the English language requirements
    4. possible supervisor/s within the ANU College of Law
  2. short CV (no more than 2 pages)
  3. a copy of your academic transcript/record
  4. your draft thesis outline

The Director of Higher Degree Research will then consult with possible supervisor/s, who will contact you to discuss your draft thesis outline.


Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team