Ok so I feel like I’ve been promising this one for a long time! How did I actually go about the whole process of finding and securing a PhD at the University of Leicester? It’s been painful in places, it wasn’t an easy ride and I had nearly given up on the idea of getting a PhD entirely if I’m honest, however as we all know here I am blogging to you about being a PhD student at Leicester so that’s not the case. Here is my story…
Step 1: Before you set out know your destination.
I knew from the start I wanted my PhD to be at Leicester, I could consider some of the other great universities in the Midlands but location and reputation wise Leicester was where I wanted to be. That said I didn’t limit myself to Leicester when searching (just in case), you have to be somewhat flexible or prepared to wait a while for the right opportunity in the right place. I waited, and that was a difficult wait, so be prepared. So, why Leicester? I think the reputation of the genetics department speaks for itself, the department is hugely successful and has been involved in important projects including the recent DNA analysis of King Richard III. Possibly the most famous of all is the discovery of the technique of DNA fingerprinting by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys in 1984. So the fact that Leicester is a great University is established, but there are many good universities with great reputations so again why here? Well, for me, I’ve moved past the point where I’m willing to go anywhere to do what it is that I want to do, I have other priorities in my life as well. My boyfriend and I have been building a life together in Leicestershire for a few years now (and a few more in Bath before that, where we did our undergraduate degrees) he has a good job that he loves doing and his industry is fairly location limited compared to “science”. So we moved to Leicestershire and I found a Lab job to keep me going until something more appropriate popped up. It’s ok to base important life decisions on those most important to you, despite what you might be told.
Step 2: FindAPhD.com – the GoogleMaps of PhD searching
My tool of choice was FindAPhd.com, it gives you tons of options to search by discipline/location/specific provider whatever you need really and it will email you with new opportunities if you want. FindAPhD.com was how I started my journey to Leicester. In 2012 I found a PhD advertised that I really liked the look of, at this point I was still motivated, we hadn’t even moved to Leicestershire yet so the Oct 2012 start date would’ve been perfect. I applied, I got an interview! I came to Leicester and fell in love with the university, in many ways it reminded me of Bath so I felt very at home. I just missed out 🙁 and I was pretty gutted, they had someone with more specific experience for the project. I was told by one of the supervisors he would keep me in mind for future projects, I didn’t really believe him, so moved on with my search. In the time between this and step 3 I had another possible project offered to me, the timings didn’t work out and the project fell through (for me at least) and I started to give up on ever finding a project. I started looking for lab based jobs closer to home as by now my daily 75mile commute was getting to be too much!
FindAPhD.com is actually the reason I’ve been holding off on this post, every year they offer scholarships for PhD students and this year I won the Medical Sciences and Health PhD Scholarship 2013. I will be doing a separate blog post all about this as this post is already too long, but if you want to check out what I had to say about winning I’m second from the bottom.
Step 3: En route
April 2013, I got an unexpected email. That supervisor who was keeping me in mind had actually kept me in mind! There was an opportunity coming up in the department to work on S. pneumoniae and if I was interested to send my CV in. I was pretty shocked, and didn’t want to get my hopes up after coming close a few times and knowing how it felt to lose out, but I got an interview. I was back again to this campus that now felt familiar (even though I’d only been twice before!). My interview was tough! My now supervisor was new to the department so had 3 current academics on hand to help interview me and explain all the Leicester specific information. This interview panel included; my supervisor, my “contact” who is now my 2nd supervisor, a third academic and the head of the department (oh god!). It was intense and I left to walk back to the train station feeling as though this hadn’t gone as well as the previous interview where I failed to get the PhD – so my hopes weren’t high. My interview was on Friday 14th June, on Monday 17th June I was informally offered my studentship and on 20th June I received my official offer from the University. Formal offer to steady me I handed in my notice at work and haven’t looked back.
Step 4: Enjoy the journey
The conclusion of all this is if you have your heart set on a particular location, for whatever reason (family, friends, adventure, reputation or a combination of all these) you need to be prepared to wait. Leave a good impression and forge good links with people, these are the things that will get you where you want to be – which for me was doing a PhD in microbial genetics at the University of Leicester. I can happily say it’s living up to expectations 🙂