Research Scholarships

Linguistics: ESRC Wales Doctoral Training Partnership PhD Collaborative Studentship with Oxford University Press and Grange Junior School

Closing date: 1 February 2019

Key Information

ESRC Wales DTP logo Oxford University Press logo Grange Primary School logo

This scholarship is funded by the ESRC Wales Doctoral Training Partnership, Oxford University Press and Grange Junior School.

Swansea University, supported by the ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership for Wales (Wales DTP), invites applications for funded PhD study, available to start in October 2019. The following collaborative studentship is available in the Linguistics pathway of the Wales DTP: 

Defining and measuring the vocabulary gap in school-age speakers of English’ (working title) in collaboration with Oxford University Press and Grange Junior School.

Project description:

Research suggests that vocabulary deficits in the language of young children play a significant role in limiting their education success. Research in Oxford also suggests this problem is getting worse (see report available at, but our understanding of the subject is limited by an issue of linguistics. We have little good data on the vocabulary growth of these young learners and little, therefore, by way of real-world evidence or well-founded language learning theory to guide any intervention that might hope to address this problem. Children in Wales struggle particularly in achieving educational success and therefore we have particular motivation in understanding and attempting to address this problem.

This project will answer the following research questions:

  1. How much vocabulary and which vocabulary is learned each year from three years’ old up to the age of eleven?
  2. Is there evidence from OUP’s Learner Corpus, which contains data over 20 years, that vocabulary knowledge is diminishing?
  3. How is the lexical acquisition observed in this project best explained through theories and models of lexical acquisition in young learners?

Method and Timescale

  • Phase 1 – Background reading and the adaptation of testing tools for vocabulary size testing in primary schools from age 3 to 11. Piloting of testing materials.
  • Phase 2 – Data collection in Grange and cluster schools to establish figures for annual knowledge and growth, and for variation in the scores. Identifying lexical items that distinguish educationally high performing learners from low performing learners.
  • Phase 3 – Training in use of OUP’s Learner Corpus and interrogation of the corpus to investigate changes (if any) in lexical sophistication, the number and range of words used by children, especially infrequent words, over time.
  • Phase 4 – Write up.


Both strands of research will allow the identification of the number of words, and which words, that form this vocabulary deficiency in learners who perform poorly in educational assessments. This will lead to well-researched materials to bolster and ameliorate the vocabulary knowledge of lexically disadvantaged children.

The research will add significantly to the linguistic and theoretical underpinning of the Word Gap hypothesis and explanations for educational underachievement. It will provide the educational community with normative figures for vocabulary growth in the school years; an explanation of which words are learned, a theory of learning and the link with low performing learners; and an empirically-based assessment of whether the vocabulary knowledge of children is diminishing over time.

We welcome applications for both full and part-time study, and studentships are available as either ‘1+3’ (i.e. one full time year of research training Masters followed by three years of full-time doctoral study, or the part-time equivalent), or ‘+3’ (i.e. three years of full-time doctoral study or its part-time equivalent), depending on the needs of the applicant. Swansea University values diversity and equality at all levels and encourages applications from all sections of the community.

Research is at the core of Swansea University’s vision. We aim to foster research excellence across a broad range of subject areas, with internationally leading research staff informing all our teaching. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions, showed that Swansea is now a top 30 research university, soaring up the leagues table to 26th in the UK from 52nd position in 2008.


This studentship is a ‘collaborative’ award. Applicants should take careful consideration of the working title and description of the project, and may wish to contact the named supervisor and / or the Swansea pathway contact for a discussion prior to applying. They are: 


Residential eligibility:

Full awards (fees plus maintenance stipend) are open to UK Nationals and EU students who can satisfy UK residency requirements. You must:

• be ordinarily resident in the UK, meaning there are no restrictions on how long you can stay, and

• have been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for at least three years prior to the start of the studentship grant. This means you must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences), and

• not have been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK nationals and EU nationals who were ordinarily resident in the EU immediately before the period of full-time education).

Due to funding restrictions, these scholarships are not open to international candidates.

Academic eligibility:

ESRC studentships are highly competitive. Candidates should have an excellent background in the social sciences or in a relevant area such as psychology, computer science (with a demonstrable focus on HCI) or Design, and also hold a 1st or upper 2nd class degree. Applications from those also holding a relevant research training Master's degree (or an equivalent background in research training) will be considered for a ‘+3’ award. 


Full-time ESRC studentship award holders cannot hold either a full-time job, or a permanent part-time job, during the period of their award. Part-time ESRC studentship award holders cannot hold a full-time job.

Other Information:

Ideally, the successful candidate will have some background in the study of vocabulary knowledge and testing.

You will be required to apply for a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Clearance check, and the result of this check will be required prior to enrolment. For more information please see our website here:

EU Candidates:  You are required to provide us with a Police Check prior to enrolment.   In many countries this document is called “A Certificate of No Criminal Conviction”, “ A Certificate of Good Conduct” or “A Police Clearance Certificate”.  For more information please see our website here:


The studentship provides the full cost of UK/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend. There will be additional funds available for research expenses.

Studentship awards commence in October 2019 and will cover your tuition fees as well as a maintenance grant (currently £14,777 per annum for 2018/19 for full-time students, updated each year) and includes access to an additional Research Training Support Grant (RTSG). There are other opportunities and benefits available to studentship holders, including an overseas fieldwork allowance (if applicable), internship opportunities, oversea institutional visits and other small grants.

A ‘1+3’ studentship provides funding for four years (or part-time equivalent), completing a research training Masters in the 1st year, followed by 3 years research funding for a PhD. A ‘+3’ studentship provides funding for the three years PhD research study only (or part-time equivalent).

How to Apply

The application must contain the following documents and be submitted to

  1. Covering letter: Please address to Professor Nuria Lorenzo-Dus. The covering letter must set out your reasons and motivation for applying to study at Swansea University, and the chosen pathway; your understanding, and expectations of doctoral study; your academic interests generally, and particularly how these relate to the description of the project supplied. The covering letter should be no more than two pages. Please specify whether you wish to apply on a ‘+3’ or ‘1+3’ basis. Remember also to specify that your application concerns ESRC Wales DTP collaborative studentships and include in your application the title of the project to which you are applying.
  2. Academic / professional qualifications: Please provide copies of certificates and transcripts. Where appropriate, this should also include proof of English Language Competency (7.0 IELTS minimum).
  3. References: All applications require two academic references to be submitted in support. Candidates must approach referees themselves, and submit the references with their application.
  4. Curriculum Vitae: It should be no longer than two pages.
  5. Research Proposal: For collaborative studentships, the proposal should build directly on the outline description that has been supplied. 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: 
    • Your reflections on the title, aims and purpose of the research;
    • An overview of some key research literature relevant to the study;
    • Your proposals for developing the design and methods of the study;
    • A description of potential outcomes of the project for understanding, knowledge, policy and practice (as appropriate to the topic);
    • Bibliographic references.

Please note that incomplete applications or applications received after the specified time will not be accepted. 

The deadline for applications is 12 noon on Friday 1 February 2019.

Short-listed applicants will be invited to interview; interviews are expected to take place in March 2019. After interview, a final shortlist of applicants will be put forward to a Panel convened by the ESRC Wales DTP Management Group at which final decisions with regard to studentship awards will be made. In most cases, successful applicants can expect to hear by mid-April 2019.

Informal enquiries about these studentships are welcome, and should be directed to Professor Nuria Lorenzo-Dus (