Research degreesGuidance on references

We need two academic references as part of your application for a postgraduate research degree.

When choosing your referees, make sure they're able to comment on your potential to conduct academic research and that you've made them aware of your research proposal.

It's best to choose one referee who can comment on your performance at undergraduate level, if you graduated recently. If you wrote an undergraduate dissertation, your dissertation supervisor is likely to be a good choice.

Your other referee could be the Director of your Masters programme, your Masters dissertation supervisor, or another member of the teaching staff who knows you well.

If you've been out of higher education for five years or more, one reference can be provided by a current or former employer.


Please ask your referees to follow these guidelines: 

  • provide the reference in either word document or PDF format
  • display the letter-head of the referee's organisation
  • clearly state the name and position of the referee
  • contain, as a subject line, the name of the applicant the reference concerns (eg John Smith), the academic discipline (ie Economics), and the institution the applicant is applying to (ie University of Strathclyde)
  • don't exceed two sides of A4

Content guide

References should cover as many of the points below as possible:

  • a statement of how long, and in what capacity, you've known the applicant
  • an assessment of the applicant's academic potential, with specific reference to the proposed research project
  • an assessment of the applicant's previous training, qualifications, and experience that is of relevance to the proposed research project
  • if appropriate, comment on the potential impact of the research and its significance to the academic discipline/s concerned
  • an assessment of the applicant's ability to successfully complete the programme of study within the prescribed period

For non-academic references:

  • an assessment of the applicant's professional performance compared to peers at the same career stage
  • an assessment, if relevant, of the applicant's organisational and time management skills, and any project management or research experience
  • comment on the applicant's capacity for innovation and original thought

For academic references:

  • if the applicant has not completed their current degree programme, indicate the expected result
  • an assessment of the applicant's ranking compared to other students on the same course or compared to other students you have taught (eg 5th in a class of 80, in the top 5% of students)

Closing date

There's no formal closing date for research applications.

Study normally commences either at the start of the academic year, in late September, or at the start of the calendar year in January.

While we can accept applications at any time in the year, there are strict deadlines to adhere to when applying to funding bodies.