PhD application - lots of probably stupid questions!

(15 Posts)
likelytoasksillyquestions Sat 12-Oct-13 20:39:30

I graduated this year with first class honours and am now doing a Masters, fully funded (fees + stipend) by the university. I'm in the social sciences. I really want to go on to a PhD but postgrad education is enormously beyond my frame of reference (non-trad background blah blah). I know the person I really need to speak to is my personal tutor at uni but I want to ask a few things first so I don't seem completely dim when I speak with him!

I would be looking at applying for ESRC funding, either the +3 or 2+2 depending on how my MSc is viewed. My current college is part of a consortium DTC and does not lead on my subject area, which I presume rules out staying exactly where I am? (The lead for my subject in this DTC is actually where I did my undergrad, I'm definitely not averse to returning.) What level of support would you expect my current department to offer with my application - would it be very little, do I need to be sounding out potential supervisors elsewhere and building towards having support from them instead?

I'm also probably too vague on ideas for exactly what I would like my thesis to be on. I have a pretty broad area of interest and I'm not sure how tightly I need to whittle it down, or really how to do so. (Coincidentally it does fall within my current personal tutor's research interests so I imagine he may be able to help here.)

Finally - would you recommend applying to multiple departments, or just pick the one that really fits and focus on that?

I think there were more questions but I've just had to resettle my toddler and my train of thought's gone.

Many thanks in advance.

likelytoasksillyquestions Sat 12-Oct-13 20:43:29

Oh! And the sillest question of them all - is it okay for me to be looking to apply this year, for autumn 2014 entry, when I'm still doing my MSc and don't even hand in my dissertation til Sept?

likelytoasksillyquestions Mon 14-Oct-13 09:36:54

And another one - if I wait til next year to apply (ie for 2015 entry), will that look bad, given that in the intervening year I'd either be at home with my toddler or working in unrelated job? (I mean, of course I'd be reading loads etc and putting myself in a better position to apply, but does the year out just look lazy/uncommitted? I'm just not sure I'll be able to put together a convincing application by Dec/Jan this year, esp given I've not yet made any contact with potential supervisors or anything.)

likelytoasksillyquestions Mon 14-Oct-13 19:13:41

Nobody? sad

(Is it my dubious title, or the fact that I keep talking to myself?)

dotty2 Tue 15-Oct-13 11:07:22

Hello - didn't want this to go unanswered, though I may not be much help - slightly different field etc. I've just come to the end of an AHRC funded studentship, though unfortunately not quite to the end of my actual Phd - I'm writing up now, and hoping to be done and dusted early in the new year. But my circumstances were quite different - I'd been out of education for about 15 years and working in a related field.

Anyway, my main piece of advice would be just to talk to people you think you might be interested in working with. Ask your current personal tutor, and go from there. If he's not helpful, pick someone you liked from your undergrad and drop them a line.

I first approached my nearest university - I knew someone who worked in the relevant department there and they had some university-wide studentships offered. She was very helpful and honest and said 'here's not the best place to do that, x would be better'. So I dropped a note to someone in x university, went in for a chat, and they steered my application from there. I don't know that it definitely works like that everywhere, but I would hope people would be helpful.

I think it's OK to apply now - people certainly do that. But equally, it won't look bad if you defer a year - people do that too.

And finally, you need an idea of an area you want to research, but people hone their research question quite a lot over the first few terms of their work, in my experience.

Good luck with it all - on the whole, it's been a very positive experience for me and I'm really pleased I did it.

likelytoasksillyquestions Tue 15-Oct-13 15:13:01

Thank you very much for your reply! Very useful, and also very reassuring. (Too many verys, sorry...)

Increasingly I don't think I'm going to be in any position to have an application ready to go this year, so it's particularly reassuring to hear that that shouldn't look bad. I also don't seem to be saying anything too 'wrong' or off piste? So I suppose I shall just go and talk to tutor sooner rather than later.

Thanks again.

ProfondoRosso Tue 15-Oct-13 15:24:49

It's absolutely OK to apply now for Autumn 2014 - I went straight from my Masters into my PhD, as did many others I know. smile

I'm in quite a similar position to dotty - AHRC-funded, nearly finished the thesis. The best way to look for research council funding, like ESRC, is to contact your potential supervisors first, in whichever department/university is best suited to you. They will be the ones who put the clout behind your funding applications. So send out some emails to potential supervisors, explain your interest and ask to meet with them.

Your current tutor should certainly be able to give you a bit of guidance re: application, and should understand your desire to go to another RO if where you are right now wouldn't be the best fit. Also, potential supervisors in the ROs you're interested in going to should be able to help you with forms (remember - they want the funding for their departments, so if they have faith in you, they should be willing to help you out).

Don't worry about not having an exact research question right now. My own research question has changed immeasurably since I first applied. Again, current tutors/potential supervisors can help with formulating a coherent question.

Personally, I would give applying this year ago (remember, it's only October), but it's absolutely not silly to take a year off study either.

likelytoasksillyquestions Tue 15-Oct-13 18:58:30

Thanks Profondo. Gah, I'd mentally given up on the idea of applying this time round but now I'm feeling inspired to do so. I'm really, really aware that I don't know what the existing literature on my chosen topic is, or where the gap I propose to fill is - obviously I would expect to have a grasp of this by the end of the current academic year, but I'm concerned that I'll just look lazy for not knowing it already. And I'm dubious about my chances of getting much to grips with it this term, tbh - I have five modules this term as it is. Hmmmmmm.

likelytoasksillyquestions Fri 18-Oct-13 06:19:11

I'm still struggling to pluck up the courage to go and speak to my tutor. hmm

ProfondoRosso Fri 18-Oct-13 07:16:47

Oh likely, you mustn't worry! The best thing to do is go in prepared - perhaps write down the questions you would like to ask him/her, and all the possible areas you'd like to research (no need to have a solid question formulated just yet).

Could you send your tutor an email today, asking if you can have a chat about your options after your masters?

likelytoasksillyquestions Fri 18-Oct-13 12:18:31

Ohhhhh, thank you. That helps massively and you're right, I'll email today. (Also lovely brief phrase you used which I'll be nicking - thanks!)

I feel like an 11yo on my first day at big school!

likelytoasksillyquestions Thu 24-Oct-13 20:33:15

Pfft, all that stressing and he hasn't even replied to my email yet.

trish5000 Thu 24-Oct-13 20:42:28

You could try writing a new email and saying something along the lines of "I dont know if you received my original email dated 18 October, so have attached, it in case you never received the first one"

That is what someone I know did. He genuinely thought he himself might not have sent it. But turns out he did,and the recipient sent back an embarassed apology.

6 days seems like a long time to wait. Though it is the beginning of the new uni year.

Is there anyone at the university you did your undergrad who is a likely PhD supervisor? You could email them and see if they'd be interested in working with you.

And chase up your current tutor too.

likelytoasksillyquestions Fri 25-Oct-13 07:26:02

6 days seems like a long time to wait. Though it is the beginning of the new uni year.

Yeah, exactly. And I did (cleverly hmm) say it wasn't urgent. So I don't know at all how long to leave it before checking if he actually got the message. And obviously this is someone I want to like me and want to help me and not think I am a nuisance.

Arbitrary, I don't think there's anyone there who's a particularly obvious possible supervisor, given my interests. sad I wonder if a PhD there would only work if I was able to maintain some links with where I currently am, which is highly specialist in my broader area of interest. <outs self>
I am seeing my undergrad tutor in a couple of weeks though (unrelated to this), so that might be a productive conversation.

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