School of Social and Political Science

SPARK project PhD Scholarship: Patterns, Practices and Interpretations of Knowledge Use in Parliaments


Applications for this scholarship closed at 23:59 (BST) on Thursday, 6th June 2024. Late applications cannot be accepted.

SPARK is a five-year, £1.2 million research project spanning seven case study parliaments. Originally awarded by the European Research Council (ERC), it is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Horizon Guarantee Scheme. This PhD scholarship is situated within the wider SPARK project.

SPARK project overview

How is knowledge used in parliaments? What are the values that underpin knowledge use in those institutions? And what are the effects of knowledge production, acceptance and contestation on democratic governance? These are pivotal questions at a time when democratic decision-making has never been more scrutinised and contested. And while there have been many longstanding debates across philosophy, humanities and social sciences about the role of knowledge in decision-making, we still know comparatively little about the role of parliaments, and their impact on democratic governance, within such debates.

In this five-year project, the team undertakes the first systematic and comparative study of parliaments – and the representatives and officials therein – as consumers, producers and mediators of knowledge. In doing so, SPARK transforms how we understand these democratic institutions as knowledge institutions. This is a necessary intervention to inform wider debates about the health of democracies given that knowledge and information have become ever more accessible and yet more contested for politicians and the public to navigate and use effectively. The project adopts an ambitious research design, focusing on seven European parliaments (the UK, German and Spanish national parliaments; the Scottish, Bavarian and Catalonian subnational parliaments; and the European Parliament) and three policy areas (health, environment, and welfare), and an innovative mix of methods to: interrogate how knowledge is gathered, circulated and exchanged; examine values and motivations underpinning the use of knowledge; and explore the impact of parliaments’ knowledge use on democratic governance.

SPARK pushes the boundaries of political science by drawing on STS, sociology and social anthropology to offer new answers to essential questions about representation, law-making and accountability. In rethinking parliaments as knowledge institutions, SPARK will have a deep impact on how we conceive of these democratic institutions and address urgent social problems and challenges including environmental degradation, healthcare crises and continuing social inequalities.

Project Team

The PhD student will be situated in the wider SPARK project team. It includes

  • The Principal Investigator (PI) for SPARK is Dr Marc Geddes, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh; and,
  • Two post-doctoral research fellows (PDRFs), who will contribute to SPARK by leading on some of the case study parliaments for this project.

The SPARK project will also work closely with other colleagues based at the University of Edinburgh and internationally, including practitioners at the case study parliaments, through (for example) research centres and networks.

For further information about the project, please visit:

PhD scholarship overview

The University of Edinburgh is offering a three-year funded scholarship to pursue a PhD. This UKRI-funded scholarship sits within the 2024-29 research project, Studying Parliaments and the Role of Knowledge (SPARK). SPARK is a five-year research project with three overarching objectives:

  1. To examine and compare patterns of knowledge use in and by parliaments. In this objective, the project team will identify what kinds of knowledges (e.g. expert, experiential, legal) are used, by whom, and under what circumstances;
  2. To understand how parliaments and parliamentary actors interpret the role of knowledge. In this objective, the project team will focus on MPs, officials, and stakeholders, and how their interpret different kinds of knowledges and their authority; and,
  3. To evaluate the impact of knowledge use on parliamentary democracies. In this objective, the project team will examine how parliamentary functions are affected by different kinds of knowledges.

To undertake this wider project, SPARK will make use of seven case study parliaments (German, UK and Spanish national parliaments; Bavarian, Scottish and Catalan sub-national parliaments; and the European Parliament) and three case study policy areas (environment, healthcare and welfare). SPARK is informed by an interpretive approach to social science research and will adopt a mixed-methods design of qualitative and quantitative research techniques.

 This PhD scholarship is situated within the wider SPARK project. Applicants should choose one (or more) of the following case study parliament(s) to pursue a research project that contributes to the overall SPARK aims: (i) the German national parliament, (ii) the Bavarian state parliament, and/or (iii) the European Parliament. Applicants may also suggest a combination of further cases from across SPARK for a comparative project. It is expected that the PhD student will focus on at least one of the three case study policy areas (healthcare, environment, welfare) as part of their project. The successful applicant will have the freedom to shape their PhD project, including data-gathering, analysis and write-up, within the broader objectives of SPARK. That is to say, the project should examine patterns of knowledge use in parliaments, understand how parliamentary actors interpret different kinds of knowledge, and the impact of knowledge use on parliamentary democracies. It will be expected that PhD data will be shared and inform the wider SPARK project; likewise, the successful applicant will also have an opportunity to make use of wider SPARK project data for their PhD.

Beyond the confines of the PhD project, the successful applicant will be expected to undertake relevant social science research methods training, work closely with the SPARK team to deliver the three overarching objectives, and participate in intellectual and research life at the University of Edinburgh. 

Award value

This scholarship is for three years (full-time PhD only), to commence on 1 September 2024. It provides:

  • Stipend at the UKRI rate for three years, currently £19,237 in 2024-25
  • Tuition fees for either Home/UK fees or International fees at the full-time rate for three years 
  • Coverage for relevant expenses incurred as part of SPARK project tasks (to be agreed with PI)

You may have access to additional funding for research training support costs, e.g. training, fieldwork, travel, etc. from the SPS Postgraduate Research Training Support Grant. This potential additional funding is yet to be confirmed for this award.


We welcome applications from those with either a social science undergraduate or postgraduate degree, and candidates from other disciplines that can demonstrate relevant research interests and background knowledge, commitment and skills to undertaking a PhD in Politics.

In addition to standard requirements for the full-time University of Edinburgh PhD Politics programme (with the exception of a Master’s degree requirement, as this scholarship project also accepts applicants with no Master’s qualification), applicants must meet the following additional eligibility criteria for this award:

  • Relevant demonstrable background knowledge of the politics of the case study (or case studies) chosen for this PhD studentship, as identified in your application;
  • Relevant language skills for the chosen case study settings (i.e. English, German or Spanish, as appropriate) to conduct research (note the PhD thesis will be written in English);
  • Commitment to anti-foundationalist social science research philosophies, and to disciplinary and methodological pluralism;
  • Enthusiasm about undertaking (where appropriate and relevant) qualitative and/or quantitative methods training to an advanced level;
  • Willingness to share, and to contribute to, data collection and analysis across all SPARK case studies, as relevant and appropriate;
  • Willingness to co-author academic and non-academic outputs with the project team on relevant SPARK-related outputs;
  • Commitment to, and willingness to learn skills for, impactful research and undertaking relevant training for knowledge exchange and impact (KEI);
  • Willingness to contribute to wider SPARK project tasks, such as dissemination of research via social media, updating the project website and supporting SPARK-sponsored events, etc.;
  • Commitment to take part in intellectual and research life at the University of Edinburgh through physical attendance for 2-3 days a week on campus, and attendance at seminars and events; and,
  • Accept that the intellectual property of data gathered and analysed for this PhD would be held by the SPARK research project.
Application process

Applicants must apply for the PhD Politics full-time programme at the same time as submitting their PDF scholarship application (below). Both applications must be submitted by the scholarship closing date.

Applicants should combine the following documents into a single PDF document and send it to

  1. A full university transcript, showing the courses/modules taken and marks for individual courses and for a dissertation (if marks are affected by previous industrial action by UCU or by Covid-19, please note this in your personal statement).
  2. A CV of no more than two pages.
  3. Two references from academic staff who have direct experience of your work, including (if possible) your dissertation supervisor.
  4. A personal statement of up to two pages that addresses the following questions and issues (in any format or order)
  • Why do you wish to study for a PhD? And, more specifically, why do you want to study at the University of Edinburgh?
  • What is it about the SPARK research project that particularly interests you?
  • Why would you be a good member of the SPARK research team? What would you bring to the team?
  • In 2-3 paragraphs, identify the case study (or case studies) you would pursue, suggest potential research questions that you would like to focus on, and set out how you might develop a research design.
  • In what ways does your undergraduate and/or postgraduate study make you suitable for this PhD project?
  • What are your (i) academic and (ii) personal strengths and weaknesses?

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to an interview stage in due course. 

Selection, assessment and results process

The selection process will be completed in two stages.

Stage 1: The online PhD application must be submitted and the completed PDF scholarship application must be sent to PI (Marc Geddes) by 6th June (23.59 BST). Applications will be reviewed (using the assessment criteria below) by an internal panel from the School of Social and Political Science within two weeks of the deadline.

Stage 2: Shortlisted candidates will be invited to interview (likely to take place by the end of June). Candidates will be asked to submit a two-page proposal and a previous university assignment of which they are particularly proud. These materials will be discussed as part of a presentation and an interview about their suitability for this scholarship.

Application documents and interviews will be assessed based on the following criteria:

  • Applicant capabilities: academic achievements but also resourcefulness and resilience as demonstrated by wider professional/life experiences, their preparedness and potential to undertake and complete a PhD, and their contribution to a positive PhD community and SPARK team.
  • Topic fit and research proposal: in terms of (i) how your proposed PhD matches with the SPARK’s research objectives, case studies, theoretical and methodological approaches, etc., and (ii) the strength of the research idea’s coherence, originality, conceptual framing and methods.
Contact details

For queries about the project and scholarship, please contact the principal investigator, Dr Marc Geddes ( 

For application process queries, please contact Toni Jenkins (  

Politics and International Relations in the School of Social and Political Science

Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh is one of seven academic subject areas in the School of Social and Political Science (SPS), and among the largest units within the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHSS). PIR research was rated within the top ten universities in the UK (REF 2021), with a wide range of expertise including constitutional and territorial politics, UK and Scottish politics, EU politics, foreign and domestic policy, gender, international political economic, security studies, and political theory and ethics. In 2022-23, PIR comprised of approximately 65 academic staff (one-fifth of SPS) and 1,000 students on PIR-enrolled programmes across undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate (PG) study. This PhD studentship sits within a PIR postgraduate research (PGR) community that includes 40 PhD/MSc by Research students (within funded duration of studies).

PIR is at the forefront of conducting leading research relating to political institutions and parliaments, and relating to the study of science, knowledge and policy-making. Aside from a range of internationally leading experts, PIR is additionally home to the Centre on Constitutional Change, which has conducted significant and policy-relevant research on political institutions in Scotland and beyond. More widely, PIR sits within the School of Social and Political Science (SPS), which is home to seven subject areas and several inter-disciplinary research centres, including the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Policy (SKAPE) that will be particularly relevant to this PhD studentship. In 2022-23, SPS comprised of approximately 290 academic colleagues, 110 professional services colleagues, and more than 3,000 students across UG and PG programmes. The wider PGR community in SPS includes over 250 students (within the funded duration of studies).

Student category