The idea of undertaking a PhD application never sounded too scary. I had been toying with the idea for six months or so… A PhD or straight into industry?
For me the deciding moment happened when I presented my ongoing MGeol Masters Research Project at MDSG (Mineral Deposits Study Group) back in January this year. Since the majority of NERC DTP application deadlines were January, it was quite a late confirmation. Attending the conference made me realise just how much I’m enjoying my project and the prospect of continuing in research is really exciting! Providing I found the right project, I’d love every minute of it.
For me, the best website was FindaPhD.com – it had all the information you needed in one place. There were hundreds of projects to choose from which really allowed you to consider the vast range of topics.
I was very keen to find a project that was fully funded, either privately or through NERC DTPs. What’s a NERC DTP I hear you ask? NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) funds over 200 scholarships which are allocated to DTPs (Doctoral Training Partnerships). These scholarships provide full funding for fees, a stipend and research costs for three and a half years. There are 15 DTPs including CENTA, which includes The University of Leicester, and GW4+ (Great Western Four+) which I applied to. Each DTP offers unique training and collaborates with a range of partners from industry, research organisations and government bodies just to name a few. The programme ensures students have the experiences and skills they need to progress to become ‘world-leaders’.
Each DTP will have a different application process, so make sure you tailor your documents to meet their requests. Many require you to write an A4 personal statement detailing reasons why you have chosen to apply for a particular project and why you decided to apply to their DTP.
I applied for a BGS-hosted PhD with the University of Bristol. Therefore spending at least 50% of my time at the British Geological Survey in Nottingham, meant that the working environment would be very different if I was a student at an institution. I would be treated like a member of staff and I personally felt ready for that change.
I would recommend everyone who is applying for a PhD to meet their supervisors. I was really lucky to bump in to my potential supervisors at MDSG. They seemed like great characters and I could see myself working happily alongside them for the next few years.
I waited a week or so before finding out I had been invited to an interview, now it was getting real! Most individuals I spoke to reinforced just how competitive the process is. They encouraged me to prepare, prepare and prepare! There is no such thing as over-preparedness.
In terms of the interview itself, the process and questions will vary depending upon which DTP you apply for. I was asked to prepare a five minute presentation on a recent research project, followed by a forty minute interview. I began with presenting my Masters Research Project which made me relax. I thought to myself, no-one knows this project more than me, so relax and be confident. The following forty minutes were questions about my project and my understanding of research. If you know your research well enough, it should be a breeze. Don’t get me wrong it was still very stressful being interviewed by four professionals! Lucky for me, I was the second out of seven to be interviewed and so the hardest part was over quite early on.
The interview day itself was warm and sunny. This meant that the lighting in the interview room wasn’t great! Pictures on my presentation couldn’t be seen well. To overcome this, I took out my Masters Research Project diary and showed them hard copies of the images I was showing on my presentation. I think this gave me the edge as I was showing them what I was really capable of. Didn’t I say there was no such thing as over-preparedness!?
A few months later, even though it felt like a lifetime, I received an email of success. A prosecco later and it started to sink in. Preparedness does pay off!