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I want to do a PhD!

(27 Posts)
duchesse Fri 08-Feb-13 11:38:35

I need some help as I don't know how to go about it at all. Any advice gratefully received.

I think I know roughly what I want to research but am not entirely certain what broad subject area it would come under. Possibly French, or history or social science, possibly a combination of all three. Something along the lines of "Aspects of economic migration to Northern France in the early 19th century". I have a personal interest in this because a branch of my family settled there in the 1810s.

How would I find out if it's already been done?
Do I have to be registered with a university (and pay fees)?
Do I have to have a supervisor?
Can I access any research funds? And how to go about it if so? My topic would probably involve travel to northern France to poke around in departmental archives.
How do I go about it?
How would I submit it?
Is it possible to do a Phd part-time to fit in with working patterns? I'm self-employed and freelance but I typically have large gaps between paid jobs.

Any other advice would be very gratefully received!

Snusmumriken Fri 08-Feb-13 12:32:02

What is your educational background? There would be a significant difference between a sociological PhD and a History PhD.
Why don't you have a look at a couple of university websites and contact their postgraduate secretaries. They should be able to answer most of your questions.

Good luck!

givemeaclue Fri 08-Feb-13 13:01:37

You would need to narrow the topic down bit too

Snusmumriken Fri 08-Feb-13 13:08:37

I agree with giveaclue, why don't you spend sometime thinking about what aspects of migration, you are interested in. For example, would you like to research food rituals, sexual exploitation of children during this period, ideas of home and family life? The possibilities are endless and could make for a fascinating thesis.

TheCollieDog Fri 08-Feb-13 13:18:27

Duchesse as the others have said, in order to give you useful advice, we need to know your current academic background:

* What's your first degree? What classification at graduation? When?

* What's the area of your Masters degree? When? How well did you do?

* What are your research questions? Broad topics (but narrower than what you've put in the OP), or specific problems you want to investigate.

* What research methods do you intend to use?

* What background reading have you done on the subject throughout your Undergrad and Masters work?

* If you want to do something on French history, what's your level of attainment in French? What's your experience with early 19C French published writing eg local Commune records and manuscript material? eg letters or diaries? A PhD in any language needs to be at native speaker level, and no decent UK university would take you on in a non-English topic without near-to-Native speaker attainment in the other language, or would expect you to be there by the end of your first year.

To be blunt, your OP doesn't indicate to me that you're currently equipped to undertake a PhD, but that could be a wrong impression, simply from the informal style of message board communication.

But if you can give some more concrete information (you may not want to of course) then I think we can help you.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 08-Feb-13 14:09:24

I don't want to disagree with the others, but I also think I have a slightly different perspective. We are informal on MN, it's a chat board after all. And my PhD is interdisciplinary, so to me, your two subject areas don't seem ridiculously far apart (I work mostly in English Lit and Art History, but also get some supervisions from Historians and Psychologists).

You definitely need a supervisor. And you would have to pay fees at a university (possibly covered by funding, if you are lucky). Your supervisor would then guide you in how to submit it.

I also think your supervisor would help you to narrow down a topic and your topic doesn't sound impossibly broad to me, as a first idea.

Mostly, these days, people who do PhDs do a Masters first. Not always, and if you've been out of education for a while, there could be ways around that. But, if you are unsure, a Masters could be a great way to get your mind around what topic you fancied, over a shorter timescale. You would then also have a headstart on the PhD.

Funding opportunities for either a PhD or a Masters in the subject areas you mention are really competitive, and part-time studies are not usually funded. However, most people I know do work alongside a PhD so you could quite probably make that work, at least after the first year while you might be too busy finding your feet. Your supervisor would be able to advise you. It's really worth finding a good supervisor, as they vary hugely.

For example, my university let me live 200 miles away and commute, and they have been very keen to arrange my supervisions so that they work with my other committments. However, my friend was not even allowed to live outside the city her university was in! And she has found it much harder to fit in part-time work, as her supervisors were not sympathetic to the idea.

I bet by now you have loads of questions so I will shut up, but you might as well work it out with us on here as anything else, so please come back and tell us what your situation is so we can help you work through some questions.

Snusmumriken Fri 08-Feb-13 14:18:25

Yes- I should add that my topic was impossibly broad when I started my PhD and that good supervisors are like gold dust.

duchesse Fri 08-Feb-13 14:26:53

Thank you! And Doh!

First degree was in Law. Did not do stellarly. blush

MA was in Translation. Got a distinction. Better.

duchesse Fri 08-Feb-13 14:27:55

Oh and am bilingual and bi-cultural French/ English. English, but brought up in France.

duchesse Fri 08-Feb-13 14:29:29

And I have been researching family history since I was 14 (hence wide exposure to archives, parish records, historical documents etc) for over 30 years. There is a significant overlap between my genealogical research and what I want to do as a Phd subject.

duchesse Fri 08-Feb-13 14:32:28

Oh and finally (I really won't chip back in!) I should say that although I did abysmally overall at my degree, my final year dissertation was 1% off a 1st at a difficult university. I don't get on with exams but can do research.

And who posts in research language on a message board?

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 08-Feb-13 14:53:24

Oh, well! If you have a distinction at MA, that will mean a huge amount. And 1% off a first is absolutely fine. Don't do yourself down!

It sounds as if you have everything you would need.


Would you want to do interdisciplinary work, do you think, or to choose one subject or other? I would think if you email some likely-sounding supervisors with a more detailed research proposal, they might well be happy to discuss the possibilities. After all, that's what they're there for.

I did much worse in my first degree than you and it has never been an issue - I think they will be very lucky to have you, what with that and the bilingualism and the MA in translation.

duchesse Fri 08-Feb-13 15:01:27

No, the only near first paper was the final year dissertation, which accounted for less 20% of the total mark! The rest was terrible, trust me. I made a habit of completely failing a paper each year, which meant that my final mark was capped by university rules at a III. Anyway, that was about 1000 23 years ago. The MA was in 2005. I also did a PGCE in 2000.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 08-Feb-13 15:05:44

I would think that a MA with distinction in 2005 is going to mean a lot more than a third (with some excellent elements) 23 years ago.

I'm not sure, but I think it's true. Other people I know who've had a long break between undergrad and postgrad say so. Certainly I have been told myself, lots of times, that my good MA mark makes up for my undergraduate record. So I really don't think you should do yourself down. There is a good chance you should get something.

Could you write a research proposal? Say maybe 500-1000 words, to explain what you're interested in, what you hope to find out, and how you plan to go about it? And also why this research will be important for other people to know? If you can do that, it would help a potential supervisor to know what you'd want to do. It could be quite speculative, so it doesn't matter if you ended up doing something else - but if you'd got that written, you could start emailing people who might be able to supervise you and they'd have something to go on, to let them work out how to help you.

duchesse Fri 08-Feb-13 15:08:24

I'm particularly interested in assimilation I think. My family history has been fascinating in that respect for 200 years. My g g g g grandparents moved to Boulogne from Buckinghamshire in about 1815 to run a wine import/export business. They had many children, most of whom settled in France. One of their great grand-daughters was my great grandmother, who utterly turned her back on France and went to live in London in 1899, never setting foot in France again and vowing that she would never return. My grandmother (her daughter) inherited this unhealthy disrespect for all things "frog", yet her grandson (my father) chose to go and live in France in 1973, which I why I grew up there. Only one sister of the 5 of us has chosen to stay there though.

There are still French people with my G grandmother's maiden surname- it arrived there with my family.

It's fascinating, I tell you. I wonder how many other families have similar histories.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 08-Feb-13 15:12:49

It does sound fascinating!

I think this could be a great project, because there is currently a lot of political interest in how people assimilate into different countries and cultures, and what national identity means, and so on. So a project that looked at those issues in the past would be very topical. You see, there's this big thing about research having to have 'impact' in the community, so if you can demonstrate that your research is likely to give us a new perspective on contemporary concerns, that is always a really good thing.

So, do you have a sense of what themes you would look at under 'assimilation'? That might give the clue as to whether you'd be interdisciplinary, or whether you'd pick one of the two disciplines?

systemsaddict Fri 08-Feb-13 15:23:22

My advice would be:

Use Google and Google Scholar to see if you can locate people who are publishing work in areas related to what you are doing, as potential supervisors.

Use the links from their websites to read some of their work if you can - or abstracts at least - a lot of universities have online repositories where you can access versions of published articles - to see if their work fits with the sort of approach you'd like to take (or inspires you to take a different approach!)

Look at the websites of the universities these people work at, to get info on what PhD programmes are running, how to apply and what the requirements are.

Yes, doing PhD part time is usually fine.

TheCollieDog Fri 08-Feb-13 17:10:17

OK, so your later posts are much more indicative of your situation.

Of course I know this is an informal MB but taking on a PhD isn't just like doing random research: it's a huge investment of resource -- your time & money, and the university's time & money. And there are pressures all round for picking only the best candidates: ones who demonstrate that they have the skills and stickability to finish what is a very arduous task. So your later posts suggest a much more focussed area of research. We'd be looking at ability to keep to the task, ability to write & research independently -- you'll see a supervisor once a month and after the first year of candidature I don't chase supervisees: it's their job to set their own deadlines and contact me & when they want a supervision.

The reason I asked about previous degrees is because what we look at are several factors -- I've known quite brilliant people who've not finished PhDs because while they are brilliant they don't have the sheer determination to do a major piece of work in 3 years (or PT equivalent). But you do need to have some evidence of recent study -- your MA in Translation in 2005 is a good start, but at my place (& other research universities I've worked at) we'd probably not accept you straight into the PhD but enrol you in an MPhil first, and then after about a year FT (or PT equivalent) you'd do an upgrade. It's what I did -- I wrote 25,000 words at the end of my first year over that Long Vac., and tat was my upgrade/transfer to PhD candidature. It's a good thing: it means you end your first year with a substantial wodge of yor first draft, and you also show that:

* your project is of Doctoral standing (it's an original contribution to knowledge)
* you have the skills and the ability to complete it
* you have a realistic schedule for completion and a realistic plan for the dissertation

Other posters have given you great advice about finding a supervisor. Another thing you should look out for are funded PhD studentships which are connected wit large research projects: I had one of those for a large research project I am Principal Investigator for and it's a great experience for the candidate: she's had a free ride to several conferences, including one where she's given a paper; she's had the extra input of my Postdoc Fellow, and my research collaborator (it helps that I'm a pushy supervisor and drive her hard!). Her work wasn't quite ready for us to publish in one of the books we're doing, but if it had been, she would have been a central part of that, too.

But often people dismiss those opportunities in the Humanities because they think they have their own personal; project and nothing else will do. They don't realise that this kind of Doctoral research, as part of a larger project, can be very malleable -- my student had a very broad brief and she adapted it, changed it from what we'd envisaged, but it's all the better for that. As is her input to the project overall.

Another form of funding that comes yp is a Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) which is a joint supervision between a university researcher and a non-HEI institution. I';m irking on an application for one of those at the moment, with a literary organisation. The candidate will spend some time doing outreach work for the organisation as a complement to the PhD research, and so develop a brilliant non-HEI network as., let's face it, there ar fewer & fewer straight lecturing jobs going, so new PhDs need to look beyond the academy.

I'm afraid most funding opportunities for the 2013-14 academic year have passed, and in the fields you're looking at, it's very competitive.

We're in the middle of selection at my place and we've had around 30 applications for around 6 funded PhD studentships, and we have a lot of funding compared to most humanities faculties. We're looking at an excellent first degree in a cognate discipline (or equivalent) and a Merit or Distinction at Masters. In your situation, I think you'd need to say something about a change in interests/career etc and equivalent life/work place skills rather than the first degree.

And Funding opportunities are all full-time. I doubt there's very much funding for part-time PhD study, I'm afraid. Universities are better about understanding PT candidatures, but they are wary of them -- I know it sounds unfair, but there are good reasons. A PhD is far more than 40 hours a week, and sometimes a PT candidate can get very distracted. It needs a lot of grit and good management by both candidate & supervisor to keep a part-timer on track. It's why I crack the whip -- 3 years seems a long time but it's not! So I think you'd need to show how you realistically aim to do the work. And then be very good at keeping track -- my supervisees are lucky -- I end every supervision with a quick review of where they're at in relation to their submission date. We always get out our diaries!

As for a research proposal -- that's a great suggestion to try writing one. Generally any application to study will require one (and if they don't frankly I'd run a mile -- they're not a place that takes research seriously). You'd need to outline:

* the broad area of research
* the research problem (what don't we know that we want to find out?)
* the general and then specific research questions you want to pursue
* the body of evidence or primary sources you'll use
* the body of scholarship already extant (secondary sources and theoretical framework)
* the methods by which you will investigate the evidence to answer your research questions
* your hypothesis

I'd want 1,000-1,500 words. It also gives the Department/ potential supervisor a chance to see how you write.

Whew! My students called me a research nerd yesterday -- I think you can see why!

(I'm a Director of Research & oversee our PG admissions with our PG director, and I have 2 first degrees & my PhD all in different areas, and teach in a 4th area, so know about interdiscip. from the inside)

Hope this helps

Snusmumriken Fri 08-Feb-13 17:11:20

It sounds like the beginning of a fascinating project.

My advice would be to not underestimate the importance of a good supervisor. Try to find someone whose work you enjoy and think you might get along with.

Good luck!

creamteas Fri 08-Feb-13 18:36:37

I would second much of the advice above about researching supervisors and different ways to fund.

But I disagree that it is too late for 2013/14. Whilst scholarships tied to the research councils are in the process of being allocated, there are still lots of other scholarships being advertised. My university usually advertises in March for example, and where the PhD is attached a grant, these can be advertised at different times of the year.

Most funding is advertised either on websites (, findaphd) or on email lists related to the disciplines (many of which are 'jiscmail') so joining some of these would be useful.

If you want to do an interdisciplinary PhD, look for universities that allow cross-dept supervision as this can be really useful.

Lomaamina Sat 09-Feb-13 18:41:41

A few points occur to me:

Don't be discouraged, but part-time PhDs are much harder, simply because you have to keep up the momentum for longer. I would contemplate registering for a part-time but still setting yourself a tighter deadline to complete.

I also handle PhD admissions and in my subject (not related to yours, but also interdisciplinary) we're still accepting applications, although you are really too late for most studentships.

I strongly recommend the advice about searching for prospective supervisors to see who might be relevant. Search also for research centres that sound likely prospects - not my area, but I know that Leicester are good for history. It make sense to home in on the 'major' subject of your interest and then look for people who delve into your minority interest; and don't forget co-supervisions across subject areas within a university are increasingly common (I have several across three different faculties!). Have a look at conferences in the topic area. That'll give you a feel for who's doing latest interesting work.

I recommend the OU book 'How to get a PhD', which has a wealth of advice. Have a roam around too for general advice.

I'm sure you know this, so apologies for stating the obvious: When approaching prospective supervisors do please get their title right and make sure your research proposal is relevant to their interests. So, no to 'Dear Prof blah, I'm interested in a PhD in history and can you read my proposal; and yes to 'Dear Prof blah, I'm interested in an interdisciplinary PhD on the topic of 'Aspects of economic migration to Northern France in the early 19th century'. My particular interest is in exploring assimilation through archival resources x, y and z and I note from your recent publications that this may be relevant to your interests. Might you be interested in reading the brief outline attached?

Don't expect a 1:1 chat until you've swapped a few emails with someone but do be suspicious of someone who takes you on without an interview. This is a long haul and you really need to make sure you can work with this person and vice versa.

MariscallRoad Sun 10-Feb-13 01:40:52

Good Duchesse. Where did u do your MA and BA? Can u contact people who know you there?
A PhD must be original work. Some include also primary sources. The British Library has all the doctoral dissertations & abstacts of PhD Theses - useful. Some people skim those too.
important to find a supervisor.

duchesse Sun 10-Feb-13 01:44:15

Thank you so much everyone!

I'm thinking the most sensible course of action for me is to spend a few months reading everything I can get my hands on to refine my draft title a bit. I'd start in 2014 I think (not least because youngest child currently 3.5 yo will be settled in full-time school by then and I have a bit lot more time). That will also give me time to work out which broad school it would fall under. That'll also enable me to sort out funding in a more leisurely fashion. There's nothing to stop me from getting ahead in the reading.

MariscallRoad Sun 10-Feb-13 02:59:52

UCL has an Msc in global migration which might be a start for a PhD and LSE has a Migration Studies Unit and research on this which might interest you

dorapeppageorgenoddy Sun 10-Feb-13 08:52:31

Oh and read 'Mama Phd' it's a great book about balancing motherhood and academia and being on the inside of academia etc - (American but still interesting)

And in regards to studentships the research councils and other bodies start the process early however you may be surprised at the funding available from the uni direct - mine didn't come up till very late the June and I got funding for that October, but once you are in a course, emails and notices of funding often come up - sometimes uni's give bursaries for working in the library for 8hrs a week supporting research students at MA level or for being a graduate research assistant etc -

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