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PhD applications- etiquette

(11 Posts)
tangerino Wed 31-Aug-16 06:58:29


Can anyone give me advice on the etiquette of PhD applications?

I have just finished a Masters and am hoping to apply for a PhD to start next year. There are three academics I would really like as supervisors:

- my current MA supervisor. I've spoken to her about applying for a PhD and she was v encouraging. However, she has said that she would want me to have a second supervisor (as my area of interest is interdisciplinary) and I'm slightly struggling to identify anyone within the university who might be a good fit. I've written to one chap but no response yet (to be fair, I only emailed yesterday wink )

- a v distinguished academic at another university- I suspect it might be v hard to get in, but it would be amazing if I could do it. Would not need a second supervisor as his work covers my area of interest exactly. I wrote to him last term and he was encouraging and has invited me for a chat at some point this term.

- a younger chap at another university- less prestigious and probably easier to get in (I don't really understand yet how finding a supervisor who wants to supervise you relates to getting accepted into a department). Again his work covers my area of interest exactly. I have not contacted him yet.

Is it normal and expected to make multiple applications (to different universities) when applying for PhDs, even though in each case I'll also be contacting potential supervisors directly? I am worried about being seen to waste people's time. I am particularly confused as to how to approach this with my current supervisor- I'll have to ask her for a reference if I apply elsewhere but I'll also be applying to stay at my current university with her as my supervisor. I'm really keen to understand whether this is all completely normal or whether I need to tread carefully to avoid annoying people.

Any advice v gratefully received!

Bountybarsyuk Wed 31-Aug-16 09:08:26

Normal, indeed expected, to make multiple applications for funding- because you don't know if you will get it. If you are self-funded, it's a bit different as you wouldn't need to hedge your bets. I write references for students for PhDs who have also though/are applying at my own institution, I wouldn't scupper anyone's chances. Just be upfront and say can you have a reference as you need to make a few different applications. Also look at existing PhD funded projects (i.e. topics already designated and funded by external bodies) as you may see one you like that is funded, if you are a good candidate. To me, it's all down to funding as lots of people want to do PhDs but fewer get funding to do so.

shovetheholly Wed 31-Aug-16 10:16:43

A few thoughts:

- wherever you go, you will need a second supervisor. The role that they play on your thesis will vary from institution to institution and person to person. Having someone who isn't simply a sleeping partner is a huge advantage. (My primary supervisor died a year into my thesis).

- know thyself. What kind of student are you? Are you a confidence player who needs encouragement? Or are you the opposite, the kind of student who has bags of confidence but might need a bit of strong criticism to keep the project on track? Are you the type who can trawl patiently through sources/data, or are you more of a theoretical person? A supervisor who can support you in the way you need supporting is important.

- Think about practicalities. Long distance PhD arrangements can be tough because you don't get to take full advantage of all the opportunities on offer in your department, many of which happen in the evening. It can also be isolating - a good community of students matters as much as a good supervisor in getting you through.

- Don't worry so much about getting in. It's not by any means an elite game. Even the top, top, top universities are pretty lenient about their entry requirements provided you can pay.

- Speak to people about institutions and LISTEN. I could have saved myself a world of heartache if I'd actually taken the advice I was given at PhD level, which was not to attend the department I attended because it was full of media academics who didn't give a shit and who were in a financial mess.

- Look at what they can offer YOU. It doesn't help to have the very distinguished academic if they have 30,000 PhD students who are generally left to rot miserably in the library while they swan around on TV. No-one cares if your thesis was supervised by God, if the thesis and research isn't very good. And the difference between good and not good work can sometimes be how supported you are.

Bountybarsyuk Wed 31-Aug-16 13:57:27

My uni makes you have a second supervisor so you are always in a team, not alone with one supervisor who may or may not give you the attention you deserve, there's also a set minimum amount of contact.

I would find a first supervisor first though and worry less who the second is, often someone will step forward if there's a good project and a happy first supervisor, I have quite a few as second supervisor.

Closetlibrarian Wed 31-Aug-16 14:37:30

Just to tangentially echo what someone said above - beware the 'star' academic as Phd supervisor. I had one of those and he was absolutely useless. He barely gave me any feedback on drafts and was no help at all in getting jobs post-phd. (Although the experience did teach me a lot about a. how not to supervise phds and b. how to become self-sufficient intellectually)

tangerino Fri 02-Sep-16 06:35:03

Thank you for this really helpful advice. Since posting I've had a helpful email from the chap I emailed, saying he's about to retire but giving names of 2 colleagues to speak to, so feel I am getting somewhere.

PerpetualStudent Fri 02-Sep-16 06:45:15

I'm currently in my writing up year with a single 'star academic' supervisor and would strongly echo all of the above!

Houseconfusion Fri 02-Sep-16 06:48:21

I had a superstar academic as supervisor and she was phenomenal and co to use to be my mentor and first go to with questions. Supportive critical as hell cheerleader and advisor supreme

On the other hand others in my programme have had mixed experiences with her. I have found her a stellar mentor.

Figuring out multiple applications especially if related to funding is very key. Money matters. Unless of course it doesn't!

YawningKasm Sat 03-Sep-16 09:59:49

Are you applying via a Doctoral Training Centre or Partnership (DTC/DTP)?

In which case, you'll be required to have a 2nd supervisor. A good research university will always provide a 2nd supervisor (in case the 1st one goes under a bus, goes on sick/maternity leave, gets a fellowship, resigns, & so on). At my place, you get a mentor as well.

I think you should focus on your 1st supervisor, and maybe take their advice about nominating a 2nd supervisor. In a Humanities DTP, you generally need to be supervised by a 2nd supervisor in one of the partner universities, so it isn't a random or 'choose anywhere' choice. Indeed, at my place, PhD students do not get to choose their 1st supervisor. We have to balance expertise & familiarity with workloads and spread of expertise.

I would strongly advise that you discuss your possible 2nd supervisors with your proposed 1st supervisor AND the Postgraduate Director of the Department/School/unit you're wanting to study within.

There should be some central website and/or information point about the DTPs/DTCs to which you're applying. And it's OK to apply in more than one place.

All of these discussions are normal - the 'etiquette' is that you take advice, and no-one will think this is odd. Actually, the more pertinent the communication, the better. It's a complex thing you're proposing to step into - 3 to 4 years of close work. It's worth taking the time & advice from those you want to work with.

YawningKasm Sat 03-Sep-16 10:12:54

Sorry, I realise, on re-reading that you're asking also about etiquette for 1st supervisors.

a) your 1st choice saying she'd need you to have a 2nd supervisor is not unusual. Don't interpret it as a weakness or an indication of lower expertise. Quite the reverse, one might cynically infer ...

b) if you apply to a Department, citing research expertise in the field where you want to research, then you might be allocated the specific supervisors you're talking to, but you may not. So it's important to look at where there is sufficient depth in your research area, not just one academic.

c) if you're applying through a DTP/DTC then you will often have a 2nd supervisor allocated to you.

tangerino Sun 11-Sep-16 17:29:00

That's really helpful- thank you.

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