The Pros and Cons of Doctoral Training Programmes
If you’re wondering whether a doctoral training programme is for you, fear not! In this blog I’ll take you through some of the things I’ve found good (and not so good) about doing a PhD on a doctoral training programme (DTP).
Wait. What’s a DTP? DTPs are funded PhD programmes, generally four years long, with the first year dedicated to training. Exactly what the training year entails differs between DTPs and subject areas, but tends to be focused on development of skills to help your research and improve employability.
There are many other advantages to DTPs than I’ve listed here, but these are some of the reasons why I chose to do a PhD on a DTP.
Pretty much all DTPs are fully funded by research councils, meaning all course fees are paid directly to the university and you’ll receive a tax-free stipend each month. No headaches over complicated funding. Depending on the DTP and your subject area, your university might also receive a consumables budget to be spent on your books or lab equipment. Some DTPs even provide students with laptops, though it’s best not to choose a DTP just for a new laptop!
Opportunity to learn new skills
During the first year of a DTP, you’ll take part in various training activities. These might involve modules, mini projects, placements in industry or all of the above – as my DTP does. As a scientist, my training year began with a series of modules in skills relevant to my area including statistics and programming. All the modules were topics I certainly wouldn’t have spent the time to learn otherwise, but are transferable and useful to my research now I understand them!
As part of my DTP, I had the opportunity to do a three-month mini project at another university. This was a fantastic opportunity to meet academics from other institutions and to see first-hand how other research groups work, while working on a small project in an area totally unrelated to my main PhD project! I really enjoyed the freedom of working in another area also of interest to me because who doesn’t have multiple research interests?!
Many DTPs also provide you with the opportunity to take part in work placements to give a taste of the working environment and help you develop a set of skills directly related to the workplace. All good experiences to mention on your CV for future job applications.
Okay, so I know no one really likes group work but hear me out. DTPs take on many students per year who go through the training year together and continue to meet over the course of the four years at annual symposiums and conferences. Being part of a cohort means you’ll really get to know others in similar fields, even across universities if the DTP covers several institutions. This is great for future collaborations and it’s nice to have people to chat with about your research struggles!
While there are many great reasons to choose a DTP, there are some things to consider that might put some people off DTPs.
Another year of study
Honestly, I can understand why doing a four-year PhD rather than the normal three years is a deal breaker. After studying for at least five years through A-levels, a Bachelors degree and possibly a Masters degree, that extra year may seem not worthwhile. If you’ve got a Masters degree you might cover content during the training year that you already studied in your Masters. For some, covering some of this content again is a nice refresher but for others they may feel ready to dive straight into their PhD project without any more training.
Less freedom in project choice
DTPs tend to have advertised projects that you apply for, with less opportunity to propose your own research. This being said, it is well known that no PhD project ends up exactly like the initial proposal. If there is a project similar to your interest advertised, chat with the supervisor, you may be able to sculpt it more towards your interests. If you want to propose your own project but are also interested in a DTP, contact the specific DTPs you’re interested in as some may be open to proposals.
As you know, DTPs have some great advantages and naturally, are popular and very competitive. The application process is basically identical to standard PhD applications, beginning with a copy of your CV and a completed application form. If this is successful there is an interview, usually with a panel, and depending on the DTP this may include some tests.
For my DTP, I had 15 minutes to complete a maths test before the interview! If you’re interested in doing a DTP don’t be put off by competition or scary interviews. Spend some time improving your CV and preparing your application. It’s well worth reading our comprehensive guide to PhD applications if you’re unsure how to start the process!
In conclusion, DTPs can be a great way to develop valuable skills through various events in the training year and prepare you for your PhD project. However, DTPs aren’t for everyone. For some, the additional year of study may feel less useful. Choosing the right PhD for you is a difficult and monumental decision, but hopefully this has helped you to consider whether a DTP would be useful for you!
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