The new MSc in Public Policy: tips for submitting your short research proposal

The new MSc in Public Policy Research requires applicants to submit a short research proposal. Hear from MSc Course Director, Professor Peter Kemp, about how to tackle the challenge.

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In the admissions team, when we speak to potential applicants to the MSc in Public Policy Research, we tend to get asked about the short research proposal. We decided to put the most frequently asked questions to our MSc Course Director, Professor Peter Kemp, who offers his advice for making a powerful impression.

Peter, can you tell us what the short research proposal requirements are?

As part of your application, you will submit a short research proposal (maximum 1,500 words).

The topic could be the one that you anticipate investigating for the research thesis or another topic in which you are especially interested.

The proposal should (1) briefly describe the policy problem to be researched; (2) outline a research question to be investigated: and (3) propose the methods that would be employed to answer the research question.

For example, the methods section should explain the types of data you want to use, how will you collect it, and how you envisage analysing it.

And how will the research proposal be assessed?

Before starting your proposal, it’s important to bear in mind the criteria we will use to assess – for admissions purposes – your short research proposal.

You may find it helpful to use this as a checklist for mapping out your proposal. Assessors will be looking closely at:

  1. The overall coherence of your proposal
  2. Evidence of your motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  3. Your ability to present a reasoned case in proficient English
  4. Commitment to subject beyond the requirements of the degree course
  5. Ability to undertake applied research projects
  6. Your capacity for sustained independent work
  7. Reasoning ability

Do you have any ‘Dos and don’ts’? What makes an outstanding research proposal and what should applicants avoid?

An outstanding research proposal is one that exhibits all of the attributes (1) to (7) listed above.

Things to avoid include having: an unclear research question; a research question that is actually two or more questions; methods that will not provide answers to the research question; overly ambitious or complex methods or methods that cannot be completed within the time available for the thesis.

Does the proposal need to be inter-disciplinary?

A key feature of the MSc thesis is that students are required to research a public policy problem. Policy problems and the policies aimed at tackling them are rarely the province of one academic discipline. For example, policymakers rarely consider just the economics of a policy problem or policy: they also have to take into account the political and legal aspects too. Hence, our expectation is that the proposal and the thesis will be inter-disciplinary.

The admissions team often get asked about pitching a research proposal towards a specific supervisor working at the School. Would you advise doing this and could you tell us more about how the supervisor allocation process works at the School?

The research proposal that you submit as part of the admissions process will be one of the elements that the MSc Admissions Committee will use to assess your application. It is the Committee, therefore, that is the target audience for the short research proposal. It won’t necessarily be seen by the person who you are allocated as your academic supervisor.

Academic supervisor allocations will be based primarily on the topic that you decide to research for your thesis. They will be either a member of the School’s academic faculty or (with their agreement) an academic working on that topic in a research centre or programme elsewhere in Oxford.

Is there scope to change the focus of the research question at a later stage in the course, should the applicant be successful in their MSc application?

Yes. While you can stick with the topic about which you wrote your short research proposal as part of the admissions assessment process, you are free to change topic once accepted onto the course.

Please note that, if your MSc or 1+1 application is successful, you will receive training in how to write a research proposal as part of the Research Design module. You will also receive feedback and advice on the new draft that you produce after having completed that module.

When it comes to word counts, is the bibliography included?

The short research proposal must not under any circumstances exceed the 1,500 word count. Bibliographic references are not included in the word count. Please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.

And if the person is applying for the Public Policy 1+1, do they need to submit two research proposals?

The research proposal is only required as part of the application for the MSc in Public Policy Research.

Please check the entry requirements and supporting documents on the Master of Public Policy (MPP) and the MSc in Public Policy Research webpages.

Remember to state clearly that you wish to be considered for the Public Policy 1+1 programme in your personal statement.

Thank you for your time, Peter and for helping us answer these common queries. Do you have any last words of wisdom for applicants?

Write in clear and concise language. Ensure that every sentence is essential; and that every word in every sentence is essential. Eliminating redundant words invariably improves the readability of a sentence. When drafting your proposal, keep in mind what the Admissions Committee needs to know in order to understand what it is you want to research and how you propose to research it.

Start your application

You can find everything you need to make your MSc in Public Policy Research application to Oxford on the University’s website, from entry requirements and supporting documents.

The deadline for applications is 7 January 2022, but we encourage you to apply as early as possible to allow time for references to be submitted, and questions to be asked, should we have any.

We wish you all the best with your application! We look forward to reading it.

If you have any questions relating to your MSc in Public Policy Research application, please contact our admissions team admissions@bsg.ox.ac.uk.