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Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) (PhD)

n/a (full-time) / n/a (part-time) / 6 years part-time / distance-learning only (distance / e-Learning)

Delegates from the March 2016 PhD Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) annual conference, run by Cardiff University, and held at St Michael’s College, Cardiff.

The PhD programme in Applied Linguistics at Cardiff is designed to meet the needs of part-time, distance-learning students who work in the broad areas of lexical research and lexical perspectives on language issues. Specific research areas might include vocabulary processing, assessment of vocabulary knowledge, second language acquisition, lexical acquisition and attrition in L1 or L2, lexical features of communication disorders, corpus linguistics, formulaic language, and lexical perspectives on other areas of language-related research.

The programme is embedded in a wider, virtual research network, consisting not only of current students, but also of former students, post doctoral researchers and scholars with an established reputation in vocabulary studies. Addressing the particular challenges of distance-learning, students work to a structured framework, with regular newsletters and set tasks to be completed on a monthly/yearly basis.

Programme Aims

To develop expertise in researching applied linguistics from a lexical perspective, and to conduct original research in that field

Who is this Programme for?

Students on this programme live away from Cardiff, and most live and work overseas. Typically they are employed in an educational context, and have practical experience relating to language teaching, learning and assessment.

Special Features

Programme Description

During the programme students will formulate a set of research questions, and conduct a series of empirical studies to address these. Students will be trained in the critical reading and analysis of published work, so that they can review relevant literature with insight and precision. The first piece of empirical work will typically be a replication study; after this students design their own original studies, in consultation with supervisors. Empirical work will entail close attention to ethical practice, methodological detail, data management and appropriate analyses. Students are encouraged to relate their empirical work to theoretical models of lexical processing and performance.

Programme Structure

The structure of the PhD Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) programme incorporates four strands of work: an empirical strand, a critical strand, a presentational strand and a general skills strand. During each year of the programme, specific tasks are set relating to each strand. The empirical strand allows students to build their thesis incrementally, by completing experimental studies each year, and through the other strands of the programme they build critical reading skills, and develop their expertise in research design and dissemination.

Every year students will be expected to conduct a piece of empirical research, to present their current research at a conference or workshop, and in the first two years, to write a book review. Every month they will be set a research skills task (usually a critical reading task). Students are strongly encouraged to attend the annual Lexical Studies conference, which is usually held in the UK in spring time. Formal progress reviews are conducted annually.

Students will undergo a Viva examination as part of their formal assessment. By the end of the programme, students are expected to have completed a Thesus of 80,000 words.

For more information about the PhD in Applied Linguistics, or to discuss potential research projects, please contact Tess Fitzpatrick on

Research Environment

The PhD Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) operates out of the Centre for Language and Communication Research in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy.

‘Positioned at the interface of different traditions, methodologies, theoretical approaches, disciplines and practices, our pioneering research engenders challenging and fascinating questions for our staff and, through our PhD supervision and research-led teaching also for our students are all levels.’ Professor Alison Wray, Director of Research in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy

The School’s research is recognised internationally for its excellence and was ranked in the top ten for the quality of its English Language and Literature research, including Creative Writing, in the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF2014).
Cardiff University has recently joined the world's top 100 universities for the study of English Language & Literature in the 2016 QS World University Rankings. Read in full here.


Skills Acquired

The programme will include training in how to do research, how to plan experiments, how to analyse the data they produce, how to write up your experiments in an appropriate form, how to approach literature critically, how to present your work in public, and how to write up your work for publication.

Career Prospects

Graduates from the programme typically work in education and research, following career tracks in university contexts. They often continue to actively research and publish in areas of applied linguistics, and enhance their career progression further by contributing to the lexical studies network through collaborative work and attendance at the annual conference.

Student Views

'My supervisors are very supportive and responsive, taking the time to give suggestions and feedback whenever I need it and frequently offering real insight on my fledgling ideas.'

Stephen Cutler, Second Year PhD Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) student.

Read Stephen's full testimonial

"I am in my second year of the Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) PhD and my research area is in memorisation and the use of formulaic language by L2 speakers of English. As I am currently living and working in Japan, a part-time distance learning programme was essential. I chose the Cardiff Lexical Studies programme in particular because of the opportunity to work directly with some of the leading thinkers in my particular field of interest, and because the programme itself seemed well structured for the needs of the distance learner. My experience so far has borne this out.

My supervisors are very supportive and responsive, taking the time to give suggestions and feedback whenever I need it and frequently offering real insight on my fledgling ideas. At the same time I have been able to follow my own thoughts and direction. The programme itself is structured to help you maintain progress but is not overly prescriptive. For example, there are monthly training tasks - usually critically reviewing a paper or study in the field and then being given feedback on this. These tasks have helped me broaden the links of my research to other areas, provided important practice in the skills of writing succinctly, and (in some cases) will provide direct input for my thesis. Along with annual progress reports and the updating of work and thesis plans, this degree of structure helps me stay on track and keeps the progress going through less productive times. This is important for me because there are times when my actual work (as a free-lance business trainer) gets very busy and I cannot devote much time to studying. The flexibility of the programme allows me to plan study and work time to suit my changing circumstances. So far at least, this has worked well and I have not found it too onerous.

Another part of the programme which I have found really useful is the annual conferences in Cardiff. A distance learning course could potentially be quite isolating, so it is nice to have the opportunity to meet the faculty and fellow PhD students to swap ideas and experiences. In the conferences I have attended there have also been guest plenary speakers from related fields. As well as sharing innovative research and surprising links to my own work, they also join the conference for friendly chatting and the opportunity to discuss their research further. The conferences have also given me the chance to present my work regularly to peers, faculty and guests. This is I think a fairly unique opportunity to get feedback and suggestions from a broad range of interested, knowledgeable people. The conference then is all about making good connections - with both people and ideas.

Overall, I would recommend the programme for people who have a strong interest in the lexical area of linguistics (in its broadest sense). For me, the real strength of the programme is the passion and intellect of the supervisors and faculty, who genuinely seem to care about the programme itself and your progress and development within it. At the same time, as for any distance learning programme, you definitely need to be able to work independently and to have a good sense of the direction you want to follow."

'The community aspect, comprising current students at various stages in the programme, the supervisors, graduates of the programme and others, is a definite plus.'

Dale Brown, PhD Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) student.

Read Dale's full testimonial

"I came to the PhD in Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) through what I believe is a fairly typical route. I had been in ELT for a number of years, working both as a teacher and in materials development, and had completed an MA a few years previously. As I gradually shifted my focus towards research, a PhD was the logical next step, and with a strong interest in vocabulary, this programme was the logical choice.

Organised specifically for distance learning, the programme has a more supportive and structured approach than a traditional British PhD, but also avoids the US-style coursework approach. The community aspect, comprising current students at various stages in the programme, the supervisors, graduates of the programme and others, is a definite plus. The annual conference is stimulating and supportive. And perhaps most importantly I have been very pleased with the quality of the supervision: interaction is frequent and helpful and there is a sense of collegiality. I therefore do not hesitate to recommend the programme."

'I am a full time teacher, and working while studying has been a challenge, but there is a great sense of accomplishment for getting this far.'

Mark Maby, Final Year PhD Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) student.

Read Mark's full testimonial

"I am in the last year of the PhD program in Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies). At this point, I am busy preparing my research for final submission. The journey of getting to this stage has been marked by very different experiences. When I began the PhD, I knew what I was interested in, but I didn't have a specific research question. The focus at the start of the program was to read published research critically, and most importantly, to do a replication study. I was surprised to find that the results of my replication were quite different from the original study. From this finding, I was able to form a research question and enter into the second stage of the program. At this point, I carried out a number of studies, each one based on the successes and limitations of the previous ones. Eventually, I found that I had gathered together quite a substantial amount of work. Now in the final stage, I am organising my research into a coherent narrative. This involves showing how my research integrates into the wider body of literature, as well as presenting my work to a reader who might know little about my specific interest.

I am a full time teacher, and working while studying has been a challenge, but there is a great sense of accomplishment for getting this far. Teaching and research go hand in hand in academia, so I like to think that the program has also helped to prepare me to be a working researcher. "

Entry Requirements

A First or Upper Second class UK degree, or equivalent is required.

Successful applicants to the programme will also have demonstrated a strong performance at Master’s level in a subject related to Applied Linguistics, will have completed a course in research methods, and will have some experience of conducting empirical research (possibly as part of the Master’s degree).

Applicants are advised to discuss potential research projects with the Programme Director, Professor Tess Fitzpatrick prior to making an application. Please email

For non-native speakers of English, an IELTS overall score of 7.5 with at least 7.0 in each sub score is essential.

How To Apply

Applications can be submitted through the University's Online Application System.

Applications must include a Research Proposal and Personal Statement. In the research proposal (around 1,000 words, 3-4 pages) please outline your rationale, proposed methodology, and research objectives, including a short bibliography. This should be uploaded to the applicant portal via the direct application service.

In your personal statement, we would like you to tell us about why you are applying for a PhD – what your current situation is, whether you need a PhD for your own personal development, or for professional reasons, what your experience has been to date as a student/researcher/teacher in the area of Applied Linguistics, and why you have chosen Cardiff as an appropriate research environment for your particular area of interest.

In addition to the research proposal and personal statement you will need to provide two academic references and copies of degree certificates and transcripts.

The deadline for application is 1 July 2016.

Additional Information

The PhD Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) blog is a staff and student run blog that contains a great deal of information that may be useful to prospective applicants.

The Centre for Language and Communication Research holds numerous activities and events and have many ways you can keep up to date with our work. We run a series of seminars, have a Twitter page and run a research page.

We also lead a collaborative project CorCenCC (Corpws Cenedlaethol Cymraeg Cyfoes (The National Corpus of Contemporary Welsh): A community driven approach to linguistic corpus construction is an interdisciplinary, collaborative project led by the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University. You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook and for further information please click here.

Another project being run by The Centre for Language and Communication is the research undertaken by the Cardiff Law and Language group. Information regarding this can be found on their blog here.

The PhD Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) Conference abstracts and programme from the academic year 2015 can be downloaded here and here as PDF files. The abstracts and programme from 2016 can be found here and here.

The February 2016 PhD Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) Newsletter can be downloaded here as a PDF.

Next intake: October each year

School Contact

Name: ENCAP Postgraduate Admissions  

Telephone: +44 (0)29 2087 0322 



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