As promised here is a brief account of my experience of PhD applications!
Where to start: At first I had literally no idea where to look for PhD positions, its not like there is a UK wide UCAS application to go through this time! Luckily for me (and you I suppose!) they have started introducing Doctoral training partnerships where universities link up and share a group of fully funded PhD students. Each group has a website which advertises all of the PhD’s on offer, this is the main website for the NERC DTPs that I was interested in for geosciences. This is where I started looking.
What to pick: A very difficult question to answer for anyone other than yourself! Sometimes you will be interested in a subject even though it is not quite what you thought you were looking for. The number one most important thing to remember is – is the question interesting enough? Do you really want to spend 3.5 years of your life trying to find the answers?
How to apply: Each DTP has a different application form but usually they require you to write some sort of covering letter explaining why you are interested in this project. This is your chance to really sell yourself! Link back to past experiences and how they are driving you to continue research. They are not going to interview anyone who doesn’t seem interested in the subject! You will also need 2 -3 academic references. The way this works is: you will provide an e-mail address of your trusted lecturer and then the university will e-mail them asking for a reference. It is a very good idea to ask your lecturers well in advance!
Interviews: I had three PhD interviews, all slightly different and all a lot less scary than I presumed!
The first was at Cambridge, this interview style is very different to all of the others. You are interviewed by 3 separate people all on the panel and then you may have other interviews with lecturers that think you might be interested in their PhD. Everyone was very friendly and I actually had a really nice day! I even got some help with my masters project during my last interview.
The other two interviews were very similar, one at Open University and the other at Edinburgh. These were more like the interviews I had heard about where you sit across from a panel of 3 or 4 academics and they ask you questions in turn. Again I was bowled over by how friendly everyone was!
Typical interview questions – ‘Why do you want to undertake this project?’ ‘Explain your final year/masters research project to us’, ‘Give an example of when you had to overcome a challenge’ and many others like that.
My tips – In the end I actually got offered two positions, but didn’t make the cut for Cambridge. Across the DTP they can only fund a certain number of places so only the top few candidates get offered positions, but they are always fully funded. On reflection, my mistake at my Cambridge interview was simple – when I was explaining my master’s research project to them, I left my project book tucked away in my bag – utterly useless! Without actually showing my work and what I was capable of, I was really shooting myself in the foot. That’s not to say I would have secured a place if I did show my work (I don’t know how they were grading us!), but it clearly went down well at my other interviews so that’s my big tip: take examples of your work and actually show it to your interviewers as you explain it! They are looking for passionate people who know their stuff, so also do research on your potential project.
The waiting: After your interviews are done all there is left to do is wait. This is probably the worst part of the whole experience! It turns out I didn’t have to wait very long to hear back from OU and Edinburgh – just a week each. Both of them informed me by e-mail and every university gives you the same deadline by which you must reply. This means that you can wait for all of the offers before making a decision.
Hope this helps! If you have any further questions, please leave a comment below! (Although not after July 2015 because I will have graduated and left my blogging position!)