I was at a conference in Bristol lately and couldn’t help over hearing two distinguished professors complaining about how many of the PhD applications get dumped in the dustbin simply because they are written on the lines of ‘I have a plus 200 IQ level and can do any kind of research’ or ‘…I wanted to research in your university since the day I was born…’.
The point was that PhD studentships are not awarded simply on the basis of ability and keenness. It will only help applicants if they do some background research about the department, get a better idea of what the research would entail and identify the researcher whose interests matches theirs. I’ve realised in the last few years that networking is not just a buzz word you learn in a business school. It can sometimes help you a great deal if instead of sending a generic application to the university, you directly contact the professor you want to work with and show a clear vision of your research plan. Well established professors have their own research grants which they may utilise in getting PhD students. Background homework is essential. I remember when my friend found out that in his PhD interview, that his prospective supervisor expected him to remember results from his all important 1982 paper! Established professors can get extremely offended if the applicant has not read at least their latest papers.
The question arises, that what is the best way to get to know the perfect supervisor in the department? I feel that the easiest way to get to know him or her is in informal settings such as summer workshops or weekly research seminars. Conferences and learned society meetings are more formal but yet another way to get a feel of the research area and possibly meet the person who funds your next three years!