If you’re right at the start of your PhD application journey, you might have noticed that doctoral programmes largely fall into two categories: advertised PhD projects and positions where you must make your own research proposal.
Unsurprisingly, these two kinds of PhD will have different application processes – and it pays to know what kinds of skills and experience you’ll need to show for each one.
Advertised PhD projects
For an advertised PhD project, you should make sure that you have an excellent knowledge and understanding of the topic you’ll be researching. You’ll usually need to write a motivation letter or personal statement explaining why you have the ideal skillset for this particular project, which is the perfect opportunity to talk about any relevant experience.
Although you won’t have to worry about writing your own proposal, you’ll still need to work hard to illustrate that you’re an excellent candidate for the project.
Ensure that you tailor this statement to the project in question – don’t be tempted to copy and paste across several applications. After all, the people reading will probably notice that you’re using a generic template.
Applying for a set research project can also give you a chance to find out more about the academic who will be supervising the programme – their interests, specialisms and background. You may even want to get in touch with them in advance to discuss the project and make a good impression.
Making your own research proposal
If you’re an Arts, Humanities or Social Sciences (AHSS) student, it’s more likely that you’ll be writing your own research proposal rather than applying to an advertised PhD project.
This means that you’ll need to spend some time working out exactly what you want your proposal to be about and how you want to communicate its academic significance. Our guide to writing a research proposal has more detail on that side of things.
In terms of the application itself, you should be prepared to spend some time working out what universities and supervisors would work well with your proposal, investigating staff research interests and trying to find a good fit with yourself.
Once you’ve identified a potential supervisor, you should get in touch with them and introduce yourself, explaining your project and finding out if it appeals to them.