After a few months of research and deliberation, I’m happy to say I’ve accepted an offer for a PhD starting in September. Doing a PhD after completing an undergraduate course is becoming increasingly common in steps towards a career in both industry and academia, and generally consists of 3-4 years spent on a very specific research topic, culminating in a thesis of your unique contribution to the field, which then has to be defended against the critique of other academics. Considering the natural sciences course at Leicester is entirely research-based in its ethos, applying for PhDs is actively encouraged, and there’s a preparation and advice session for final year students. This includes everything from refining your academic CV for a given application and advice on how to find PhDs, to what to wear and some good questions to ask during interviews. One of the key points I took away from this was that it’s important to consider what techniques you’ll be doing throughout your PhD, as these are likely to shape your day for the next few years (so it’s probably a good idea that you enjoy them!).
In the end I applied for two PhD programmes, one at Leicester in nanoscience and one at Oxford in theoretical chemistry. Both offered interviews that consisted of a mix of technical questions and questions on the motivation in wanting to do that particular PhD. A lot of time was also spent explaining to me details of the programmes, and the benefits of accepting an offer. Typically interviews include meeting members of the lab to hear what it’s like working there, but in the first case the PhD would be in the same lab I’ve been working in for my fourth year project, and Oxford offered an open day with this opportunity just before Christmas so I’d already had most of my questions answered beforehand! I was lucky enough to receive an offer from both, and decided to choose Oxford primarily as theoretical/computational chemistry has been my main interest over the course of my degree, and many of those involved in the programme have contributed to the areas I’ve studied and the programs I’ve used!
There are a number of resources I found helpful to finding a PhD:
– FindaPHD has an active database of PhDs currently offered from across the UK and Europe.
– Going to a conference for an area you’re interested in is also a great way of getting a sense of what different research groups are doing.
– The Research Excellence Framework has also recently released their report that attempts to rank the impact of different universities in terms of academic research. Although the way of measuring isn’t perfect, it can be a good start in narrowing down where you’re thinking of applying.
– Lastly, most research groups actively advertise available positions on the university’s website, so after narrowing down where you might like to live this is a great place to start.