Funded PhD in English Language & LiteratureUNIBE logo

University of Bern, Switzerland

Starting 1 June 2020 (negotiable)

Gross Annual Starting Salary: CHF 47,040

Prof. Dr. Mary Flannery aims to select a doctoral student (with an MA or equivalent degree) interested in pursuing a PhD in English Literature under her supervision in the Department of English at the University of Bern, Switzerland. The successful candidate will be attached to Prof. Dr. Flannery’s Swiss National Science Foundation project on ‘Canonicity, Obscenity, and the Making of Modern Chaucer (COMMode): An Investigation of the Transmission and Audiences of The Canterbury Tales from 1700 to 2020’ (information about the aims and parameters of the project may be found here). Working alongside Prof. Dr. Flannery and postdoctoral researcher Dr Amy Brown, the successful candidate will be the third team member attached to the COMMode project.

The doctoral student will pursue a thesis project focusing on the reception of the Wife of Bath’s Prologue as an obscene text, or on the Wife of Bath herself as an obscene figure within the English literary canon. The relish with which Alison describes both her enjoyment of sex and her domination of (most of) her husbands may be one reason why she is among the most memorable of Chaucer’s pilgrims, and has been alternately downplayed or celebrated by different versions of The Canterbury Tales over the past three centuries. This branch of Prof. Dr. Flannery’s project will uncover the relationship between the censorship (or celebration) of the Wife of Bath’s sexual enjoyment and the transmission and reception of Chaucer’s text over the past three hundred years.

Candidates might wish to consider the following as potential springboards for developing their proposals:

▪     the impact of shifting gender expectations on interpretations of The Canterbury Tales as an occasionally obscene text;

▪     how the publication of editions and adaptations of The Canterbury Tales for new audiences (e. g. children) affected how the Wife of Bath and her prologue and tale were presented;

▪     the relationship between representations of the Wife of Bath in print and in performance;

▪     the reception of the Wife of Bath in colonial anglophone contexts.


▪     PhD assistantship starting 1 June 2020 (though a slightly later start date can be negotiated) and lasting for a total of 4 years.

▪     While a minimum of 60% of working hours will be devoted to research and writing connected with the doctoral project, the duties of the PhD assistant are also expected to include:

  • presenting the results of his or her ongoing research independently or alongside other team members at conferences, workshops and seminars;
  • assisting with the organization of a series of conference sessions on ‘Chaucerian Obscenity’, and with the compilation of a special journal issue on the subject;
  • contributing to the project blog and Twitter feed;
  • assisting with administrative and research tasks linked to the team project;
  • modest administrative/service duties for the department and section.


Doctoral research in Switzerland – as in much of Europe – is thesis‐driven and relies on students being mature, self-reliant, motivated, and well organized. You work under the supervision of a dedicated faculty advisor/mentor and are expected to participate in the research culture of your home department and our allied research centres (e.g. Faculty’s Graduate School). By the same token, you will find yourself with a lot of freedom, independence and collegiality, quickly becoming a valuable member of the department’s academic faculty/staff.

For more information about life (including cost of living) in Bern, see here.

For more information about the Department of English, see here.


 ▪    The University of Bern strives to become an equal opportunities employer.

▪    You must hold an MA (or equivalent) in English Literature, Medieval English Literature, or Medieval Studies.

▪    You will need to demonstrate a track record of successful academic study.

▪    You should already have a reasonably well‐developed research proposal.

▪    You should have an outstanding command of written and spoken English (your PhD thesis will be written in English).

▪    While the administrative (and teaching) language of the Department of English is English, the administrative language of the Faculty and the rest of the University is German, and Bern is a (Swiss-)German-speaking city. You should either already have some competence in German, or actively commit to learning German when you arrive. The University of Bern provides courses for learners of German.

▪    To be eligible for a doctoral assistantship, you must meet the University of Bern’s basic admission criteria for doctoral study.

▪    Non-Swiss candidates will be responsible for applying for relevant work permits/visas.


To apply for this post, please submit by 31 January 2020,the following materials as a single PDF:

▪     a cover letter, outlining your motivation in applying for the position (addressed to Prof. Dr. Mary Flannery)

▪     a full Curriculum Vitae

▪     the names and email addresses of two academic referees (no letters are needed at this point)

▪     a research proposal (1000-1500 words)

In addition, please send a representative sample of your academic writing in English (e.g. your MA thesis or a substantial stand‐alone paper/essay of 5000-7000 words). If your writing sample is part of a larger piece of writing, please briefly situate it within the context of that larger word.

In your cover letter, please explain what your writing sample is and why you have chosen to submit it. Please also explain who your referees are and why you have chosen to ask them for a possible recommendation. Please clearly indicate your citizenship and whether you will be able to begin the assistantship in June 2020. Your materials should be emailed to mary.flannery [at] Please feel free to contact Prof. Dr. Flannery in advance of the deadline if you have any questions about this position.