General Competition – How to Apply 

The 2024 WGSSS General Competition is now closed.

The Welsh Graduate School for the Social Sciences is delighted to announce the launch of the 2024 WGSSS General Competition. Prospective students looking to apply for ESRC studentship funding to undertake a PhD research project of their own design (starting in the academic year 2023/24) are invited to submit an application by the deadline of 12 January 2024. Please note: institutions may have earlier deadlines, these will be detailed in the individual WGSSS General Competition adverts.  

As part of the assessment of applicants, WGSSS are very interested in you as a whole person. What this means is that rather than solely looking at your academic achievements (for example, it is not necessary to have a first-class degree to be assessed as an excellent PhD student and to receive funding), we will consider what you can bring to a PhD through your work and diverse life experiences, as well as the challenges that you have faced (which should be detailed in your application in your cover letter and CV).  

The General Competition is applicant-generated; you must propose your own PhD project. This differs from the Collaborative Competition. The Collaborative Competition is supervisor generated; you choose from an existing catalogue of projects. 

General Competition Timeline

Oct 2023   General Competition Applications Open   
12/01/2024  Application deadline for students 
Following the deadline; applications are assessed by schools and pathways. Shortlisted applicants are invited to interview shortly after the deadline. If successful at interview, the Initial Development Needs Analysis is completed by supervisors. 
28/02/2024 Shortlisted applications are sent to WGSSS 
Applications are reviewed by the WGSSS Management Board Sub-group. 
12/03/2024  Awards agreed 
Applicants will be contacted by WGSSS to provide them with an Award in Principle. Applicants may be placed on the reserve list at this stage if they have not met the cut off for an automatic award. 
April 2024 Full DNA Completed 
WGSSS will arrange a meeting with WGSSS Training Lead to process a Full Development Needs Analysis (DNA).
This will determine the training required within the studentship and the length of study, matching it to available provision. 
May 2024 Formal offers processed 
May 2024 Formal funding letter issued 

Application process

Step 1 – Choosing a Pathway 

The first step is to find out which universities within WGSSS offer research training and supervision in the field you want to work in. There are 15 training pathways across 7 universities in the WGSSS consortium. Not all pathways are available at all universities. Our pathway pages detail the topics covered within each pathway. If you are not sure which training pathway your proposed research project fits into, please contact the named Pathway Convenor for advice.  

Step 2 – Matching with a supervisor 

You should develop a general sense of the research project you want to pursue in your PhD, and then approach an academic at one of WGSSS partner institutions in a pathway that is suited to your project. The lead supervisor must be based in one of the accredited departments/schools. The academic staff pages on WGSSS partner institution websites are a great place to start, most of the academic staff pages will have a biography detailing their subject area of interest.  

Alternatively, you can approach a WGSSS Pathway Convenor, who will help you to locate a suitable supervisor.  

We recognize that students have diverse experience of formulating research plans. As part of our commitment to widening participation, all WGSSS supervisors are encouraged to support applicants in developing proposals, building on their specific strengths and experience.   

Step 3 – Apply to your institution of choice  

Once you have selected your pathway and institution. Please make a formal application via the relevant university pages. Please ensure that you include all the required information and documents in your application. All documents must be sent by the application deadline, incomplete applications will not be accepted. 

Step 4 – Application is reviewed 

Your application is reviewed by the department/university where your potential supervisor is located. This is to allow them to decide on offering you a PhD place.  

Step 5 – Interview and nomination 

If you are successful and are shortlisted, you will be invited to an interview by a pathway panel. If your interview is successful, your application will be nominated by the Pathway Lead to the WGSSS Management Board for review. Your potential supervisor will also complete an Initial DNA to assess your training experience and to assess your requirements. You will then be contacted by WGSSS to confirm receipt of your application.  

Step 6 – Outcome 

Following review by a special competition sub-group of the Management Board, WGSSS will then provide an outcome to all nominated candidates. If you are successful, you will be sent a confirmation of funding letter which you will need to accept or decline within 2 weeks. Once you have accepted the offer, you will then be asked to attend a meeting with the WGSSS Training Lead to complete your Full DNA. 

Step 7 – Full DNA 

Successful applicants will meet with the WGSSS Training Lead who will use the Initial DNA to help review their training experience and needs in depth, matching this to training provision in WGSSS. This will allow completion of a Full DNA, specifying required training and establishing the length of award.  

Step 8 – Formal offer 

Once the length of award has been confirmed, you will then be sent your formal award letter and funding letter by the institution you have applied to.  

Documents required for an application

All applicants are required to provide the following documents to support their application. These documents are required by the application deadline on the 12 January 2024. Please note: institutions may have earlier application deadlines, these will be detailed in the individual WGSSS General Competition adverts. If your application is missing any document, it will be considered incomplete and will not be progressed for shortlisting. 

1Cover letter 

Two pages maximum

The cover letter must include the following bullet points as subheadings: 

  • Set out your reasons and motivation for applying to study at XXXX University, and the XXXX pathway.  
  • Please detail your understanding, and expectations of doctoral study. 
  • Provide detail of your academic interests generally, and particularly of those relating to your proposed research. 
  • Drawing on your own background (including your life experiences, journey to/through university, work experiences or volunteering) please provide a summary of why you are ready to undertake a PhD now and how you will flourish as a result of PhD funding. You might include, for example, personal challenges that you have overcome or achievements that you are proud of in your work, study or life experiences and how these map onto the skills required to flourish in a PhD programme and make a positive contribution to WGSSS. Challenges could include, but are not limited to, protected characteristics, socio-economic status and of being a prospective first-generation student or care- experienced. 
  • Reflecting on your own background and/or proposed approach to PhD study and the opportunities which it will present, how will you support diversity and inclusion in the PhD community? 
2 Academic CV

Two pages maximum 

3 Research proposal  

The proposal should be up to a maximum of 1000 words, not including bibliographic references. We suggest that you use the following five headings in your research proposal:  

  • Title, aims and purpose of the research;  
  • Brief overview of the academic literature relevant to your field;  
  • Proposed design/methods;   
  • Academic contributions of your research.  
  • Bibliographic References  
4 Two academic or professional references 

Candidates must approach referees themselves and include references with their application. The reference must detail the applicant’s research strengths.  

5 Degree certificates and Transcripts

Including translations if applicable.

6 If relevant, proof of English Language Competency

See Institutional requirements for entry