So, what should you look for when applying for PhD studentship? And how can you boost your success? Here are my tips:
1. Check the details of the studentship
Some projects are partially funded and amounts can vary. Although any financial support is always positive, make sure that you have enough funding to support yourself throughout the project.
2. Be aware of any additional duties or obligations during your PhD
As you are being funded, there are likely to be more rigid requirements placed on you in terms of attendance at the university, teaching seminars/ lectures and participating in conferences.
Whilst all of these things will add value to your research and CV, make sure you are happy to carry out any expected duties.
3. Understand the specific application requirements
Universities / subjects all have different requirements concerning studentship applications (i.e. the length, content, format, etc.); make sure you’ve carefully read through what is expected.
4. Survey your field
I found making a mind map of all of the individual topics within the field really helpful when deciding what the exact focus should be. It helped me see what was being heavily written about, and which areas had been left unexplored.
This was also invaluable in preparing for the PhD interview, as I had a one page overview of the whole field that I could discuss.
5. Make contact with supervisors
Contact the supervisor(s) before submitting an application outlining your interest and your proposed research question. They will probably be happy to provide you with guidance as to whether your proposed research question ‘fits’ with their current research in the area.
That is not to say you should always avoid submitting proposal that differs from their focus if you have researched the field and believe there is a genuine gap in the literature, but be wary of submitting an application that the supervisor did not think was suitable.
6. Consider the time and resources your application will need
This is a tricky subject: how will you carry out the research for the literature review/ background of the proposal?
As I was no longer in full-time education when I submitted my proposal, I did not have access to the large library and online journal databases that I wanted to use. I was therefore reliant on Google Books, journal articles with open access and journals that academics had linked onto their university staff profiles.
Working in this way is still possible, but you’ll need to give yourself more time to write the proposal: it took me a while to find the resources I required.
7. Make your proposal specific – and structure it accordingly
I cannot stress this enough. Your application needs to realistically address the aims (and limitations) of your research and contain a clear, logical methodology.
Break your research question down into several mini research questions This shows that you know what’s involved in your project – and that you’ve thought about how to approach it, practically.
8. Sell yourself as a candidate
In some ways a PhD studentship is a bit like a job: you apply, you interview and – if successful - you do specified work and (hopefully) receive a stipend in return.
So, make sure your application shows you’re the best person for the job:
Clearly state any practical or voluntary experience you have in the field/ any high level research that you have conducted in the area in the proposal.