At New Year people take time to reflect and start to plan for the year ahead. I imagine some people will be exploring the possibility of starting a PhD so I thought I would post a little bit about how people set out on the road to gaining a PhD.
Firstly a point to note is that the route people take to get a PhD can vary dramatically and the requirements for undertaking a PhD are not set in stone (but generally you need a first degree and then a masters degree). PhDs are awarded differently depending on the country you study in. In the UK full time PhDs take 3-4 years (you can do part time PhDs and they can take 5 years +) and involve the student writing a thesis then being examined on the thesis in a ‘viva’ exam (which is an oral exam). The examiners are usually specialists in the area of the PhD, there is usually one internal examiner (from the institution of study) and one external examiner (from another institution).
The support you get as a PhD student will vary depending on your PhD, the institution you are studying at and the funding body for your PhD. Most institutions offer courses that are free for PhD students to improve writing, presentation and teaching skills. Funding bodies can offer further support in the form of courses or networking opportunities. Do not underestimate the importance of these transferable skills, they will be important to you throughout your PhD and after completion of your PhD. Make sure you check out what is available before you commit to one institution or funding body.
There are number of routes to finding a PhD but here are a few tips that might help you out. Jobs.ac.uk advertises PhD studentships, as does http://www.findaphd.com/ . Individual institution websites also advertise studentships and awards available. If you have an idea to propose for a PhD there are several ways you could go about it. You could approach a Professor/Dr you already know that might know some sources of funding for your topic. Universities often advertise sources of funds that are available on their websites. The most important thing to do is to contact the person that will be your supervisor if that is possible, do this offline (most people’s contact details are available via university websites). Say you are interested in the PhD, ask for any papers they would recommend for reading (make an effort to have already done some background reading) and perhaps ask them a question about the subject/PhD/research. You could also ask to come and visit them and see where you would be studying (if the PhD is lab based, it would be advantageous to meet the people you will be working with for the next few years, see my post on Starting Out!)
I will share my story; I picked my institution due to the location. I applied for a PhD that was advertised on the university website; I went for an interview and met the supervisors. One of the supervisors then offered me a PhD, I came to visit the lab, the supervisor and the PhD sponsors. I knew that I would be happy here and jumped at the chance! The PhD I originally applied to was awarded to a student that had emailed the supervisor previously and been up to visit – it’s all about making personal connections.
Please share any stories/tips you have for people who may be searching for a PhD in the comments section, I know peoples experiences vary.