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Academic MNetters please help, approached a potential PhD supervisor but messed it up

(29 Posts)
WellIdidthatwrong Thu 04-Jun-20 19:45:17

Ugh I am so annoyed with myself! I emailed someone in department X, after seeing that they have an award for a sort of niche area for PhD. The bit I am interested in is that, this award makes it possible to do doctoral study in this area coming from a different first degree background.

My first degree is not in the area (but my second one is...) but this uni are generally quite tough about your first degree matching the field.

Anyway, the person I emailed seemed to think I was asking about the award funding and said it's not available. It has of course already been allocated, I knew this.

How do I reply and make it clear it was less the award itself I am asking about, and more the potential to apply for the PhD programme despite my first degree?

I don't want to be annoying, they were briskly apologetic for the delay to my email saying they are very busy and things are hectic.

How would you word it? Or should I take it as a brush off?

I struggle with confidence, please help me not make an annoying tit of myself.

OP’s posts: |
WellIdidthatwrong Thu 04-Jun-20 19:50:58

I should make it clear that my second degree is a MA, not another undergrad. So I simply don't meet the requirements ordinarily.

OP’s posts: |
Hillarious Thu 04-Jun-20 20:05:26

If the funding has already been awarded, how are you looking to fund yourself? Is the assumption that you need the funding, and therefore the PhDis no longer available, hence the brush off?

WellIdidthatwrong Thu 04-Jun-20 20:10:14

If the funding has already been awarded, how are you looking to fund yourself? Is the assumption that you need the funding, and therefore the PhDis no longer available, hence the brush off?

Yes exactly this. I would be self funding, as it would be a good investment for me.

So in addition to the confusion about the funding, she probably thinks I'm a bit of a nob thinking I could apply at the last minute and expect to start this year! FFS!

OP’s posts: |
impostersyndrome Thu 04-Jun-20 20:19:31

Just write back explaining that you weren’t as clear as could be, state that you are self funded, but also add a paragraph of what you have in mind to research, what data you have, or have access to, and how your skills are sufficient to overcome the lack of first degree being relevant. Truly, if they’re decent human beings, they’ll realise the misunderstanding (and if they’re not, you’re probably better off not studying with them).

Do check though there isn’t a departmental tutor to whom you might direct your enquiry, or at least copy the email to.

parietal Thu 04-Jun-20 20:46:22

Don't self fund for a PhD. It is not a good investment. You need to apply for advertised PhDs that already have funding. Or apply to a suitable funding scheme (probably Dec deadline for a Sept start the next year).

Do identify supervisors and projects you are interested in and start putting together a funding application. But unless you have £70K to burn, do not self fund.

WellIdidthatwrong Thu 04-Jun-20 21:06:57

Don't self fund for a PhD. It is not a good investment. You need to apply for advertised PhDs that already have funding. Or apply to a suitable funding scheme (probably Dec deadline for a Sept start the next year).

Yeah it's next year I'd theoretically be aiming at.

But not interested in any advertised PhD. And the funding schemes are extremely competitive? I looked when doing my MA but I only have a 2.1 at undergrad. So doubt very much I'd get anywhere near funding!

I think self funding is the only way to do it.

OP’s posts: |
WellIdidthatwrong Thu 04-Jun-20 21:09:33

@impostersyndrome that sounds good, thank you.

OP’s posts: |
Floatyboat Thu 04-Jun-20 21:15:18

Id have thought academics would be pleased to have self funded PhD students wanting to work for them. What field is this? Do you think the time and cost is worthwhile financially?

bridgetreilly Thu 04-Jun-20 21:19:10

2.1 is not impossible for PhD funding.

But if you can't work out yourself how to reply to an email to ask a simple question, I would be wondering whether you really should be thinking about doing a PhD at all.

Doggybiccys Thu 04-Jun-20 21:20:37

In our institution we are told not to respond to direct requests for masters or PhD supervision as many prospective students just send blanket emails to all “Drs” on the mailing list. So there is a central application webpage where you apply but you can state a specific person you’d be looking to supervise you - organisation will then forward. You should also send a brief outline of your ideas for study and what You could bring for them and how you would fill any gaps in your knowledge. Any potential supervisor will get probably hundreds of emails a year asking for supervision knowing many, particularly state funded students from SE Asia and the UAE, are just looking for anyone that will take them so you need to stand out but also be brief which is no easy task.

BeNiceToYourSister Thu 04-Jun-20 21:25:30

I second the advice imposter gave, but also: don’t write yourself off just because you got a 2:1 at undergrad. I barely scraped a 2:1 but got a decent master's several years later, applied for funding on a total whim and got it! I’d never have dreamt I’d actually be successful in a million years. IME if you have a good proposal and can show genuine enthusiasm for the subject, you’re in with a chance. Self-funding is fine if you’re doing it for the love of the subject and can comfortably afford it but it’s NOT necessarily a good career investment - I know several PhDs who are now struggling in low-paid precarious academic jobs (and those are the ones who were lucky enough to find academic jobs - many of us aren’t!) Obviously this will vary depending on your discipline so it could well be a good move for you, but be realistic and get some advice from people who’ve done recent PhDs in your field if you can. The academics’ chat page on here might also be useful. Good luck!

OhTheRoses Thu 04-Jun-20 21:26:11

Bridgetreilley that's really unkind. My DS has a brain the size of a planet and is starting a selfparent funded MRes leading to PhD in the autumn. He asks mine and dh's advice about such things all the time. Perhaps the OP is asking MNet because they don't have that sort of advice readily available.

OP IME most acadwmics are happy to help and only too delighted to have another PhD supervision on theor CV. If you don't ask you don't get

Very best of luck x

BeNiceToYourSister Thu 04-Jun-20 21:30:01

But if you can't work out yourself how to reply to an email to ask a simple question, I would be wondering whether you really should be thinking about doing a PhD at all.

Pointlessly unpleasant comment - shame on you.

Ignore this, OP! Email approaches like this can definitely be anxiety-inducing and tricky to get right. Most reasonable people understand this!

JustOneMoreStep Thu 04-Jun-20 21:53:58

Genuinely no idea where the previous poster got 70k from for a self funded PhD, certainly hasnt cost me anything like that! I will PM you OP

CrazyToast Thu 04-Jun-20 22:21:19

Best way to approach a supervisor is with a draft proposal for your PhD. I would put one together and email again, apologise for the confusion and the proposal will make it clear. Or if not a full proposal draft then at least attach an outline of the project with a bit about why you think it would fill an exisiting gap in knowledge etc, what you woudl research and roughly what methods.

Sending proposals or applications directly to a general admissions team first has never worked for me. I have done it the other way round, researched the person, got their thumbs-up then applied.

Sadly you almost definitely wont get funding with a 2:1 (I am the same) but if you can self fund then great! Good luck, don't let the crossed wires stop you from getting back to this person.

CrazyToast Thu 04-Jun-20 22:23:07

PS Even though funding is hard to get, if there is any relevant funding going, your potential supervisor can advise on this, so worth asking. No harm in trying!

parietal Fri 05-Jun-20 10:15:37

I got the figure of £70K because that is roughly what I need to put in a grant to have a 3 year PhD student (stipend + tuition fees + bench fees & lab costs).

I agree with CrazyToast on the strategy you need - first find the right supervisor & approach them with a proposal. Then do the formal application with the support of a supervisor.

SarahAndQuack Fri 05-Jun-20 10:41:14

I have a 2:1 and got a funded PhD place. It was a few years ago now, but I have known plenty of other people get funding.

I would agree you should be cautious about self-funding. Do you mind me asking what field you're in (no worries if you'd rather not say). It's just, there are few fields in which a self-funded PhD would be a very reliable investment.

I don't think you've messed up, and definitely don't think it is unusual to be unsure how to approach academics on this subject. (That was a very rude comment upthread). Loads of people aren't sure about the process; they will be used to getting emails like yours.

Hillarious Fri 05-Jun-20 15:13:47

My colleague's partner has started a PhD as a mature student. It's funded, and he got a II.2 in his first degree.

Superscientist Fri 05-Jun-20 16:05:04

Academics default for emails is terse and to the point, I wouldn't take it personally.

I would reply saying you were interested in the PhD in general and that self funding is an option for you.

It is possible to do and get a PhD (even funded) with a 2.1 especially if you have a masters and other relevant experience although be warned that some sources of funding are so competitive that some PhD supervisors are only in a position to put forward people with the highest grades as sadly that is how they judge who to put forward for interview is based on grades and not the most suitable. You might have to look at less competitive or more specialised funding options.

I would look at funding options before self funding, it depends on your subject area. I did mine in chemistry and self funding and was quite rare because of the bench fees as well as tuition and living costs. A PhD is stressful and time consuming enough without having to factor in financing or job stresses.

Pukkatea Fri 05-Jun-20 16:28:50

Are you in sciences or humanities? That makes a big difference when considering self funding!

Also, a 2:1 doesn't write you off. I got a funded PhD with a 2:1 and no MSc. People are correct though, that unless you want to enter academia a PhD is no investment. They aren't particularly valued outside of academia and noone has ever cared about mine.

Just be more clear about the self funding aspect and don't worry about the misunderstanding - but yes, have a proposal for the topic done and send that over along with a rough work plan. Supervisors get a lot of approaches from self funders, being speculatory won't help you stand out, give them something concrete.

Superscientist Fri 05-Jun-20 17:45:29

@pukkatea it depends on the field. For my job a PhD was essential, this is pretty common in my industry and was the main reason I did a PhD. Most of my friends that didn't stay in academia are in similar position (biology and chemistry phds)

SockYarn Fri 05-Jun-20 17:56:24

This is all really interesting.

I have a 2:1 in my undergrad and am starting a MSc in the autumn - 25 years since I graduated. Once that's finished I would LOVE to do a PhD building on the topic i'm thinking of for my MSc dissertation.

It's not a lab based field, it's social history. So there would be no "cost" in terms of lab work, just cost of my time schlepping around various archives, visiting museums, reading. There may be funding available, but it's 2 years until I get my MSc as i'm doing it part time. Surely it's not going to cost me £70k?

KerbsideViolet Fri 05-Jun-20 18:18:34

I’m a bit confused about the situation here, which might account for the mix-up.

Are you approaching this academic with the hopes of them supervising your PhD? You say this in the title but in the post you’re talking about the award they have. If you were asking them about supervision, did you clearly state that?

I’m sorry if that’s a silly question but it sounds like they weren’t clear on your aim of the email, so I’m assuming it wasn’t clearly stated.

Is the award relevant to you? Will you need this same award in order to start a PhD? Is another institution an option if this one is so strict about first degrees?

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