PhD application help!

(27 Posts)
NewStickers Tue 10-May-16 09:12:51

Hello - looking for some help for a PhD application please! I have a masters but have been out of formal education for over 10 years. I have seen a PhD advertised which is completely up my street - a collaborative doctoral partnership that would combine practice and research, in the area I've been working in for the last 10 years. I am going to give it a punt, but have a few questions:

The PhD proposal - should I outline my personal aptitude to this PhD (like a job application), or should I refer to the academic discourse around the subject more generally?

As this is a funded PhD, the topic is already outlined. What should my proposal add to this? Theoretical background? A research plan?

Finally, the writing sample. I write a lot about this subject, but not for academic publications - more like industry magazines and websites. Should I submit a writing sample about a relevant topic but that is not up to a peer reviewed standard, or should I submit part of masters coursework which is 10 years old and feels very naive and is also not on the same topic? (And not peer review quality either, although academic in style)

Thank you for all your help!

Lweji Tue 10-May-16 09:17:25

Are they asking for a PhD proposal? I'd put in mostly the academic part, as it should demonstrate you've read about it and can make a plan from there.
I'd try and write something up to peer review standard, maybe updating your master thesis.

notagiraffe Tue 10-May-16 09:21:14

Yes, definitely write something new up to peer review standard, which is very academic in tone. Even a short piece will demonstrate that you recognise the difference between industry writing and academic writing.

I'd explain your specific areas of expertise and interest within the subject as well as your strengths (research, writing, data base building, statistical analysis etc) as well as any public speaking/teaching/lecturing/training you've done, to demonstrate you would be able to contribute to the teaching element.

NewStickers Tue 10-May-16 09:41:56

Thank you - yes, they are asking for a PhD proposal, which has thrown me a bit because I am responding to their proposal not creating my own. But from what you're saying I think I can write about the theoretical context in the proposal outline, and my experience in the section on research methodologies.

And thanks re the writing - so tone is more important than content here?

Lweji Tue 10-May-16 10:06:25

I've been on a similar panel.
Regarding your experience, it should be obvious in your CV, and your letter of intention (I expect you need one).

I'd leave your personal experience out of the proposal.

On the PhD proposal, they expect to see that you dominate the subject. It probably won't be your final proposal, but you should demonstrate you can write one: review the state of the art, think of more specific objectives within the topic and propose appropriate methodologies, and explain the expected results. It will be a good idea to include contingency plans. Make sure your plan includes "safe" data - that would go into the thesis regardless of the results - plus one or two more risky bits.

Lweji Tue 10-May-16 10:07:17

Is it a Marie Curie Programme?

NewStickers Tue 10-May-16 10:08:09

That's extremely helpful, thank you

NewStickers Tue 10-May-16 10:35:49

No, not a Marie Curie programme. It's in the arts. Effectively it's the kind of job I've been doing for years but with more focus on research (which is something I've always done privately, but not published academically because there's no point if you're not going to pursue an academic career). I also teach this subject and am considered, in a very small circle, to be an expert. But my academic credentials only just scrape the mark and I know I will be competing with people who are much younger and have much better master degrees as well as more relevant academic experience. Also, I've been working very part time for the last few years for health and childcare reasons, so I am not exactly top of my game in any respect.

But j am going to give it a go because even thinking about the proposal has got me all fired up and excited about work in ways I haven't felt for years. There's nothing to lose after all!

Lweji Tue 10-May-16 10:38:41

Good luck.

We once hired, for a Post-Doc, someone who had been away a few years and he's doing very well.

It may be different in the arts, so I hope I didn't mislead you. smile

NewStickers Tue 10-May-16 10:56:12

Thank you! smile

It may be a bit different in the arts, I know that in humanities/social science there is more scope for writing that doesn't comply with positivist assumptions that delineate a particular detached style.

I suggest that you look at the literature referred to in the call for proposals and take that as your model. I agree that you should write something new though: a 10 year old masters will be obviously out of date, and writing for industry won't necessarily demonstrate your scholarly potential. And if you have practical experience or a practice, in the arts this could be a strength and not necessarily something to leave out as you might in a science context. Again I suggest looking at relevant literature for inspiration. Look at how the PI writes, too.

Good luck!

FoggyBottom Wed 11-May-16 07:43:28

You sound like a v good candidate. I've had CDAs and supervised & examined them, and written the proposals to get the funding in the 1st place (you could well be applying for one I wrote last year grin ). You sound an ideal candidate for a CDA in the arts.

Although he broad topic is usually outlined, the funding proposal is always written with the understanding that the appointed candidate will find their own way into the topic & bring their own perspective.

I usually ask for a PhD proposal of 1500 words or so. That could also be your writing sample maybe?

So think about:

Research questions - your own articulation of the broad topic, and the more granular detailed questions that your experience suggests to you.

Research context - what is the general field for the topic? How does it emerge from this field? Can you identify the particular gaps in knowledge that your research could fill?

Research methods: HOW will you go about answering the research qq?

Do talk about your own experience, but in that exposition, start to show how you can analyse and reflect upon it. This will give a good indication to the selection committee or the Director of Postgraduate Studies that you are capable of doing the analytical work required.

One thing you need to be prepared for is the possibility of a drop in status. I've seen this - it's unfortunate but inevitable. Someone who's top of their field decides that they'll do a PhD to get the academic recognition & the passport to academia as a second string or second career ("coming in out of the rain" as one artist put it to me). There is a LOT to learn about the academy and the way they do things; and you will have a lot to offer as well of course! But a PhD is the final stage of an apprenticeship in scholarship, and requires a level of self-reflection, analytical thinking, and intellectual reach that most working practitioners/artists don't get to do in such concentrated ways, although they DO do it. While in the right department (mine for example grin oh no not boasting at all wink ) your expertise will be recognised & encouraged, you will be starting from scratch in other ways, and that can be scary. I've seen very senior people become students again, and they've found it very hard - that said, they were men ...

Good luck. We really need good candidates for these PhD studentships, but a lot of excellent people are (wrongly) put off by the idea tat it's not their topic. But we're looking for people who can see how to make it theirs.

FoggyBottom Wed 11-May-16 07:44:46

Oh, and DO contact the person as the contact point in the advert. If it's the Postgrad Director of Studies they will answer your questions more specifically than we can here. A phone call or email conversation will really help.

FoggyBottom Wed 11-May-16 07:47:06

And on health - don't underestimate how physically tough a PhD is. Make sure you're ready for that. And re childcare - you'll need to be present, so do start to think about ways of sorting that. Long distance PhDs are tricky.

justjuanmorebeer Thu 12-May-16 23:47:24

Hi. I have just applied for a funded PhD studentship (also an advertised project) and got it. I am happy to show you my proposal so you can see the structure etc. Pm me.

NewStickers Thu 26-May-16 00:26:02

Thank you everyone for your advice! It obviously paid off b cause I have an interview next week!!!! Very nervous - any tips?

foggy I know what you mean about academia and think I am fully prepared for that. I really want to spend time researching and thinking and reflecting, as I recognise that is missing from my practice at the moment.

just thank you so much for that kind offer, and I'm sorry I didn't see it in time. Congratulations !!! Can I ask what kind of questions they ask d you at your interview?

Doik Thu 26-May-16 00:56:06

Congratulations on getting an interview and good luck!

My PhD was science based so the questions I got may not help you, but despite making some foolish mistakes I still got the funding.

Some important things I was told in advance, one lecturer told me he'd turned down someone who was academically capable but just just didn't seem keen enough and was almost condescending towards the subject so I ensured I was the most enthusiastic person towards the subject whilst being realistic towards the issues (which come up in questions such as why do you want to do the PhD and what are the biggest challenges). Another questions was what I wanted to do afterwards and I was told in advance that remaining in academia was the right answer. This might not be true for you, but they'd rather not fund people who just want a better paid job after.

Despite having seen what they want you to achieve, can you also find another thing that would add to their research and suggest this? It shows additional research and enthusiasm towards the problem. It's hard for me to recommend what as the arts is definitely a weakness for me!

Once again, good luck and well done!

esornep Thu 26-May-16 07:52:58

Another questions was what I wanted to do afterwards and I was told in advance that remaining in academia was the right answer.

This would categorically not be the right answer in my department. The "right" answer would be an honest appraisal of what attracted you to scientific research, what your strengths and interests are, and what kind of career you could see yourself in. I would also expect a realistic acknowledgement of the fact that the vast majority of PhD students won't manage to get an academic job, even if they want one.

False enthusiasm tends to be seen through - there are quite a lot of candidates who seem very keen, but you can still feel that they aren't rally that engaged.

NewStickers Thu 26-May-16 08:54:21

Thank you - really useful suggestions. doik - really useful to know that Interest/ enthusiasm could trump academic prowess. It's a long time since my masters so I'm hoping that my interest in the field will help me shine in relation to young, highly qualified people with more recent academic experience.

esor very interesting point about jobs afterwards. There are fewer and fewer jobs in academia for the arts, so i should probably be realistic about future opps in that area

Lweji Thu 26-May-16 08:56:17

Enthusiasm is best shown by a deep understanding of the subject, by asking relevant questions and having a good explanation of why it matters to you.
Basically they want to know you have staying power and can sustain the project for the 3 or more years it will take.

FoggyBottom Thu 26-May-16 10:10:24

In my field - humanities based - enthusiasm does not trump intellectual engagement. We get enough UCAS candidates telling us about their "passion" and then cutting classes all through first year.

I've interviewed practitioners in my field for doctoral study, and what puts us off is the sense that they just want three years of funding to do their art practice and make work.

You need to be driven by wanting to do research.

NewStickers Thu 26-May-16 11:38:03

Thanks everyone. Ok, I think I have the research / enthusiasm balance down pretty well. I'm a practitioner with a strong research background, and a good reason for wanting to research this area, and to contribute to the field. This thread has made me clarify exactly what that is, which is really useful.

I have to do a presentation of my proposal, with no slideshow or digital props. I'm wondering if this should include a bibliography -in my proposal I only referenced the work I quoted directly. Should I put together a short list of relevant texts? These would necessarily include books that I haven't read. I'm not sure whether to put time into researching this, or to concentrate on expanding the ideas in my proposal.

Lweji Thu 26-May-16 11:46:45

Usually you do need to read to be able to expand your ideas. Know what has been done, others' experiences, whatever.
It usually looks better if you can refer to where you got your data or your framework from.

NewStickers Fri 10-Jun-16 12:18:50

So, I had the interview. It went ok. They didn't ask any questions at all about my past work experience, it was all about the PhD, which was really enjoyable and refreshing. The only question I hadn't prepared for was, 'what would you do in the first month, and in the first six months'?

I didn't get it sad - the interview was over a week ago and they haven't got back to me, so I'm assuming they've given it to someone else (they said they would get back within a week). But it was an interesting experience and I'm glad that I got that far.

(Now I need tips for how not to torture myself over the details of the interview and everything that went wrong. I didn't make a total twat of myself but clearly didn't shine either)

Thanks everyone for all your help!

Lweji Fri 10-Jun-16 22:59:47

Sorry you didn't get it.

If you really wanted it, you could try to contact someone in the interview panel and get some feedback to know how it went and how you could improve. But they could have had someone they already liked and the interview may not have had anything to do with the result.

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