I got an email from a student who wanted guidance about how to approach some one within a department for a Phd placement under him/her. As I had studied previously at the same university, I felt obliged to send a detailed reply.
The following are some of the generalized points which I have summarized:
- Each supervisor has his own way of doing things so there is no set method.
- Some supervisors have funding for a well-defined project and they require some one who will fit in with that project.
- Other supervisor mights show more flexibility and let students find their feet (and interests).
- A sensible way is to define a narrow enough area where a research proposal will have some meaning but broad enough to give some flexibility.
- Some previous research experience in the proposed area of research is very helpful for the applicant. The ideal thing would be to do an MSc research project in which research of the proposed PhD supervisor is cited or directly related.
- The research proposal should demonstrate that you already have knowledge of the literature. Try to cite some key classic and latest publications for your proposed research area.
- It is worth browsing the website of the research group one is interested in and checking which faculty members are more likely to take you (there is less chance of joining some one who is going on sabattical or is on a long visit to another country etc.)
- Make sure your email and proposal use impeccable English.
- Strong references from people in the same research area will be helpful.
- Have a chat with the person you want to work with. This is the best way to check how both you and the supervisor see things.