[skip to content]

Department of the Languages and Cultures of South East Asia

Research Degrees (MPhil/PhD) in South East Asian Studies


The research interests of the Department’s members include: classical Malay literature; modern literature in Malay, Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese; Islam in South East Asia; language pedagogy; phonetics; gender studies; oral literature and folklore; cinema in South East Asia; and translation. These interests are increasingly reflected in the kind of work that is undertaken by the Department’s research students.

The research training offered by the Department has been enhanced in recent years by the introduction of interdepartmental research seminars organised by the School’s language and culture departments.

These degrees require students to conduct supervised research. The Department provides supervision for both full-time and part-time students for research in a wide range of South East Asian languages and literatures. Theses completed in recent years have included topics in traditional Lao literature, contemporary Thai fiction, the syntax of spoken Mon, the shadow play in Bali, Malay oral literature, schoolbooks in colonial Burma, pre-Angkor Cambodia, political literature in Vietnam, etc.

Under the regulations of the University of London all research students register initially for an MPhil: they may transfer to PhD after completing one year, if they wish and subject to approval by the School, which requires evidence that the student's work is achieving the standard required.

The minimum duration for full-time students is two years for the MPhil and three years for the PhD. Part-time students normally take twice as long to complete their studies. When their research is completed, students submit a thesis to the examiners, and then attend a viva voce examination.

Applicants for postgraduate degrees must have a good command of the language of their field of study, and should normally have a good first degree in the appropriate subject, but students with other qualifications and experience may also be eligible, and mature students are particularly welcome. If necessary for the development of their chosen subject, students will be expected to have or acquire an adequate reading knowledge of Dutch and/or French. All potential applicants are strongly advised to consult the Department before they apply.

Some Recent Research Theses

  • Ida Bahar - The Paradigm of Malayness in Literature and Malaysian Scholarship
  • Janit Feangfu-(Ir)resistibly modern : the construction of modern Thai identities in Thai literature during the Cold War era, 1958-1976
  • Nicole Caroline Garsten -A political reading of home and family in English language Singaporean
    novels (1972-2002) 
  • Sarah Hicks – Syair Selindung Delima: a literary and philological study
  • Atit Pongpanit-The bitter–sweet portrayals of expressing and maintaining “non-normative” genders and sexualities in Thai mainstream cinema from1980 to 2010 
  • Montira Rato – Peasants and the countryside in post–1974 Vietnamese literature
  • Soison Sakolrak – Thai literary transformation: an analytical study of the modernisation of Lilit Phra Lor

Academic Staff and Their Research Areas

Dr Rachel Harrison BA PHD(LONDON)
Head of Department
Modern literary, cultural, film and gender studies with reference to Thailand; literary criticism and South East Asian Literatures in a comparative context; Western cinema set in South East Asia

Dr Dana Healy PHD(PRAGUE)
Admissions Tutor
Vietnamese language and literature, language teaching; folk literature, modern poetry, theatre, art

Traditional Malay and modern Indonesian literature; history of Indonesia; film in Indonesia and Malaysia; gender and sexuality in Indonesia

Dr David A Smyth BA PHD(LONDON)
The Thai novel; Thai literary historiography; Thai language; modern Thai history; language teaching

Dr Justin Watkins BA(LEEDS) MA PHD(LONDON)
Burmese language and literature; Khmer language; Mon-khmer and Tibeto-Burman languages; phonetics; computer lexicography.


All students register in year 1 of the programme as MPhil students. The upgrade from MPhil to PhD takes place at the end of the first academic session for full time students (or at the end of the second academic session for part time students).

All new MPhil/PhD students are provided with a supervisory committee of three members, comprising a main or primary supervisor, and a second and third supervisor. The split in time commitment across the supervisory committee is 60:25:15. In the first year students are expected to meet their main supervisor on a bi-weekly basis for a period of at least one hour.

The student’s primary supervisor is always a member of the Department in which the student is registered. The second and third supervisors, who act in a supplementary advisory capacity, may be from the same Department, or other Departments/Centres in the Faculty of Languages and Cultures or in Departments/Centres in the other Faculties of the School.

Depending on the nature of the research, joint supervision is sometimes recommended, under the direction of two primary supervisors. In such cases the student has only one further supervisor on their committee.

The student’s progress is further overseen by a Departmental Research Tutor.

In the first year, students prepare for research by following a research training seminar series (RTS) convened at the Faculty level by the Associate Dean for Research and supported by the generic training on offer in the Academic Development Directorate (ADD). See http://www.soas.ac.uk/add/

Students working in the fields of literature and cultural studies are also invited to participate in the additional training offered in the Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS).
See http://www.soas.ac.uk/cclps/degrees/phd/

Students may also be encouraged by supervisors to attend additional taught courses relevant to their research and to their training needs. These may include specialist disciplinary, language or regional culture courses or research training in other Departments outside the Faculty.

Year 1 full time students (year 2 for part time students)  are required to submit a core chapter and research proposal (of about 10,000 words) by Friday 6th May 2016, typically including the following elements:

1. Research rationale and context of proposed research
2. Main research questions
3. Literature review
4. Theoretical and methodological framework and considerations
5. Proposed research methods
6. Ethical issues (where applicable)
7. Outlining structure of PhD dissertation
8. Schedule of research and writing
9. Bibliography.

Adjustments to one or more of these sections, including additions or deletions where appropriate, are possible by prior arrangement between the students and lead supervisors.

The upgrade process from MPhil to PhD status is based upon an assessment of the core chapter by the student’s research committee, and upon on a 20-30 minute oral presentation, followed by a discussion. The oral presentation is given to Departmental staff and research students as well as to the three members of the student’s supervisory committee who subsequently meet with the student privately for a mini viva of 30-40 minutes drilling down into the detail of the upgrade chapter. On successful completion of the extended proposal, students are formally upgraded to PhD and proceed to the second year. (If the assessors consider there to be shortcomings in the upgrade proposal, students will be asked to revise it to their satisfaction before the upgrade to PhD status can be confirmed.) Students are not normally permitted to proceed to the second year until the upgrade process has been completed.

The second year (or part time equivalent) is normally spent engaged in research. This may be by any combination of fieldwork and research in libraries and material collection as agreed between the student and the supervisor(s).

The third year (or part time equivalent) is devoted to writing up research for the PhD thesis. During this time, students will normally give a presentation in a research seminar organised by the Departmental Research Tutor, comprising a select number of staff members with special expertise in the topic and other research students. During the third year (or part time equivalent) students will present draft chapters to their main supervisor for comment, before completing a final draft of the thesis. Once a full draft is complete, the work is assessed by all members of the supervisory committee and the student can either submit the thesis or move on to Continuation Status to be given a further 12 months to complete the thesis and submit for examination. The thesis must be completed within 48 months from the time of registration (or part time equivalent).

The thesis – not to exceed 100,000 words in length - is examined by two leading authorities in the field, one of whom is internal to the University of London and one of whom is external to the University.

PhD Degrees are awarded by SOAS from registration in 2013 and are subject to SOAS regulations.


A Student's Perspective

The South East Asia (SEA) Department therefore becomes an ideal place to explore this particular topic as the department provides interesting courses in Thai cinema conducted by internationally prominent lecturers.

Atit Pongpanit