Whether you have dreamed of doing a PhD for a long time or are new to the idea, you may be wondering where to start. The good news is, it is never too early to begin researching the things to consider when applying for a PhD. This post will give you some basic hints and tips to manage your time effectively for the initial hunt for opportunities.
The PhD application process can take a while, especially if you are creating your own project and applying for funding. Very often, by the time people begin to research openings, it can be a very quick turnaround. It is good to give yourself enough time to plan applications. In terms of where you are in your studies, here are a few suggestions to prevent being completely overwhelmed with the process:
Full and part-time undergraduate
Have a think throughout your degree and jot down any notes and ideas to develop. This may be helpful to do during any gaps between exam periods and semesters or during the time after you graduate if you take a break from studying.
Postgraduate taught and research
In terms of wellbeing, unless you do want to study full time on a PG course, I would personally recommend studying on a part-time master’s course and start to investigate anything PhD-related in your first year of study. Use the summer to draft any ideas, then in your final year, apply for opportunities should you wish to continue the process then.
For both, make a note of any areas of interest, theories and gaps in research you come across during your UG or PG studies. You could also take a year or two out after UG or PGT/PGR to gain some experience and build ideas for a project. In this time, you might even find that you can apply for a 1+3 programme (see details under the structures below). Though please be reassured that this does not take away the fact that PhD application processes are not always very accessible and there needs some action around this too for sure. I have personally experienced this in various ways myself.
Place of study
Looking at where you want to study is always an important step in researching PhD opportunities. This is to find out the feasibility of study, particularly regarding facilities (i.e. if you want to study a laboratory-based PhD that requires specialist equipment) and the subject
area you are intending on studying. Usually, you will study via a PhD course pathway either full time (around 3-4 years) or part time (around 5-7 years), which is most relevant to the project you are investigating. You may want to study within a subject familiar to you, or you may want to contribute your ideas to a subject area new to you. It entirely depends on where there is a gap for the research. You will usually have the option to apply for pre-determined projects as well as creating your own project. Pre-determined projects can be a great way of getting a PhD opportunity if you are able to be flexible with the specific topic you’d like to study and if you think it would be too much to create your own project.
Researching appropriate supervisors for your project is a key part of the process. Have a look at your intended supervisors’ work, any current projects they have running and their potential networks, then get in touch with them. You may feel a bit awkward about doing this at first – and some can be more receptive than others – but generally speaking, academics love to hear from potential PhD students. You are likely to get some great tips on your application too!
Whilst you can self-fund a PhD (including getting support from places such as Student Finance England), you may be aware that you can also apply for funding, like having a salaried job. This can be through government funding (for example, through a public body such as UKRI) or other public, NGOs and private organisations. Here are a few things to think about:
- What impact will you aim to have with your research?
- Who will benefit from your research?
- What challenges might this have?
The funding source
- What other projects are funded by the organisation?
- What are the funding board research themes?
- Where are there gaps in the currently-funded research?
It is important to speak to someone at your intended place of study for any advice they can provide for the internal funding opportunities you may have access as this is a common way to apply for funding. For those at an UG level (or PG graduates looking for additional training) 1+3 options can be available. This is where you get paid to complete an accredited (usually research methods-based) master’s, then proceed to the PhD. A bonus year of pay to study!
It is always good to speak to your current lecturers or supervisor in your UG or PGT studies to see if they can provide specific advice for you. However, this blog is a good starting point for things you are likely to need to think about before applying. And if you have had experience in applying for jobs, it’s not totally dissimilar to CV and cover letter preparation too. All the best with your searching!