Having discussed in my first post where to study for your PhD, I thought I would consider in this entry how to go about applying to your shortlisted universities. The PhD application process has recently been discussed by another Real Life PhD Student blogger (see here). Some fantastic advice has therefore already been offered on this topic. I hope simply to provide some further guidance. Speaking from my experience, there are a number of points to bear in mind when applying for a PhD:
Know your Topic
It’s really important that you have a good grounding in your proposed area of research. By definition, a PhD involves making an original contribution to knowledge. While you won’t be required to specify exactly what your contribution will be at the application stage, you must be able to show that you know enough to have begun on this path. Some universities will specify the number of sources they expect to see in a PhD proposal to know that a prospective student is familiar with the literature relevant to their topic. This should be used as a minimum.
Pay Attention to Detail
Take note of PhD application guidelines, especially for PhD proposals. Each university will tend to have slightly different requirements regarding what to include, word limit, etc. If you need to reduce your word count from one application to another, try to re-word things and edit generally rather than making block deletions from your work.
Choose your References Carefully
The majority of PhD applications will require you to name at least two referees. Choose people that can speak to your future potential. If you haven’t had a vast amount of direct contact with them, or even if you have, it might be worth arranging a meeting to have quick chat – people are generally much more willing to help someone that they can see is enthusiastic and motivated and I personally think that you can convey this more effectively in person than via email, etc. You should also remember to thank your referees for their help (and follow-up with them to let them know the outcome of your application).
Watch the Deadlines
Keep a careful eye on PhD application deadlines. If you’re looking to secure funding, you must generally have applied by the end of the January in the year you’re seeking entry. I would advise having everything ready to go at least a few days in advance, even if you don’t physically send anything until the day of the deadline. Don’t allow yourself to be the person that falls at the final hurdle by missing the cut-off point.
Hopefully, this has given an insight into the kind of things to consider when applying for a PhD. It’s not an easy process but getting accepted makes all the hard work worthwhile. Good luck with any applications you may make!