Hi, my name is Emma and I am a soon-to-be PhD student at Keele University Law School. I thought I would begin my blog series by discussing one of the first questions that I faced after deciding that I wanted to do a PhD – where to apply? What follows is a list of possible factors to take into account:
Perhaps the first and foremost consideration when deciding where to pursue a PhD is which universities have academics whose areas of expertise align with your interests. Some institutions encourage what is known as an ‘initial opinion’ application. This is an application that allows prospective students to find out whether the department to which they are seeking entry can offer supervision for their proposed research before submitting a full application. If available, it’s worth utilising.
Another important consideration is research performance. You want to apply to a university with a thriving research community. In the UK, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing the quality of research in higher education institutions. If you’re considering studying for your PhD abroad, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings provide evidence of research performance globally.
A third consideration is finance. While some students are in a position to be able to self-fund their PhD, many will need to check the studentships offered by the university to which they are applying or other funding bodies, such as the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). It’s best to ensure that you have adequate funding in place before you start your studies because it can be hard to sort later. This isn’t to say that it’s impossible. For instance, the AHRC provides support for up to two years of study for those already registered on the first year of a full-time PhD but this is a high-risk strategy.
A fourth and final point that I wanted to make is the importance of choosing a university where you believe you will be happy. You’re going to be spending at least the next three years there so you want to make sure that it’s somewhere you want to be! In my experience, this isn’t given as much attention as some of the other factors mentioned above. It’s nevertheless something that I feel should be taken into account.
Hopefully, this shows that there are a number of things to think about when deciding where to study for a PhD. While some are non-negotiable (i.e. choosing a university with the expertise to supervise your proposed research), others may be more flexible. The important point to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to go about everything – it’s very much a matter of personal preference and what seems best to you. Happy PhD hunting!