How to Get on the PhD Course

#1

Quick question for those of you looking to study a PhD, how did you choose your subject and did you stay at the same place that you did your undergraduate degree. Increasingly I’ve seen that there is a need to do a Masters in the first year and then they decide whether or not to let you continue onto a PhD course. I’m a bit worried about that on the basis that it would potentially mean that you could do a one year of the course and then get turfed out without the chance of a PhD. I suppose if you have already done an undergraduate course at the university then you are a known quantity and more likely to make it the whole way through the course.
How many people who do a PhD are already in discussions with their tutors from undergraduate so are effectively lined up to do the post graduate course? My main problem is that I am really keen to do a PhD but not necessarily in the same place that I studied my undergraduate so does anyone have any tips of how to deal with this?
Thanks!

#2

Although I haven’t gone down the PhD route I did look into it in quite a bit of depth a few years ago so hopefully I can share at least some of my experiences. One of the main ways that I chose the potential PhD course to apply for was based on my own experiences and geographical location (this was largely down to money though as I had to be based in or around my home city to help with costs). I also considered what precise area I was passionate about and then looked to see which institutions would have individuals with the necessary expertise to help. I also went through all of the research areas within my shortlisted group so that I could hone in on one or two key individuals. Issues such as scholarships and bursaries were also relevant to me.
Hope that helps a bit!

#3

The question of how to decide on a PhD is always a vexing one as some people like to stay with their alma mater whilst others feel a fresh university may be of use. There really is no set determinant in this area. It may be that your alma mater may view you favourably, but you will still need to produce a proposal of high quality to be accepted, and that will also be determined by if there are supervisors available who have the experience and time to supervise.
The proposal should be offered to three universities and then you will have a good chance of being properly placed.
I myself am supervising a PhD student at LSE who was originally at Brunel University. The change in university has come about because the student has a particular type of autism and Brunel could not offer the support needed. The university were aware of this from the start but did not factor it in to the supervisor’s programme. The issue I am raising here is that you need to meet the supervisor(s) face to face so that you can try and asses whether they are right for you, and indeed if you are right for them. It should always be remembered that the relationship will last for more than three years in most cases and thus there must be compatibility. I myself have in the last 6 months rejected 2 proposals as I felt that the suggested topics did not have enough depth of research. A PhD is not an easy option and thus it is preferred that a masters has been undertaken as this provides an indication that the student can undertake a research based degree. Whilst a person may believe that they are PhD material sometimes the answer must be no as the supervisor will not see the ability to complete what is an arduous degree.

#4

That’s interesting, and really good to hear about it from the perspective of the supervisor. I hadn’t really thought about the importance of compatibility and other issues such as whether or not learning issues can be supported and actually on thinking about it I do think this is considerably more important than we give it credit for.
There is no denying that a PhD is an academic pursuit and finding a supervisor / university that are able to facilitate this high level of study in the specific area is likely to be paramount, the secondary issues that you have listed on actual relevant than perhaps we give them credit for. Clearly a supervisor will often play devils advocate, but if there is a complete clash in thoughts or worse still, a personality clash the relationship will soon break down and it is unlikely that the Ph.D. will be successful.
Perhaps this is the reason that many students choose to continue their Ph.D. in the place that they did their undergraduate degree as the relationship with the particular tutor has already proven?
This raises the interesting point that students need to pay much more attention to the individual tutors than necessary the reputation of the Department or the University when applying for Ph.Ds.

N

#5

Stella. There is a vast amount of truth in what you say. The reputation of a university faculty must of course be considered, but the faculty is made up of people and as we all know people are individual and thus relationships matter. I as a supervisor insist that we have a trial run so to speak, so I normally ask a candidate to submit their proposal and if it is agreeable, with other members of the faculty I will accept the candidate on what is effectively a three month trial. In that period I will attempt to spend 15-20 hours with the candidate so we can feel each other out. If there is incompatability then I will see if another supervisor can be appointed but workload may not permit. In these cases the PhD student has fees refunded and is offered advice on where to present their proposal. It is not fair to either party to continue in an unequal relationship. If the proposal stands up at my faculty then I venture to suggest it will at others.
PhD’s are an academic pursuit and need absolute application by all parties and thus I limit my supervision to 6 students at any one time, preferably only having 4 students.
There are some universities which have specifically recognised the needs of the disabled of those with other learning challenges and these should be highlighted in some circumstances. PhD’s are no guarantee to a good job or to entry into academia but they do open up windows of opportunity so their must be input and understanding on both sides of the equation.