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Phd students - advice re application?

(19 Posts)
Nosher Wed 08-Aug-07 21:26:41

Help - I think I've decided to do a Phd, I have a strong idea of what I want to do it on, what I want to explore and where it could go. However, I have been struggling to find a place to take it to! I think I know where, but I have to contact the department and explain that I would like to visit and look around, and why. How do you make initial contact without looking like a complete idiot and saying the wrong thing (I ALWAYS do that.)
And then - how do you write a proposal! Can anyone recommend a good guide. Should I write the proposal before contacting the department or make initial contact and decide if it's right for me?

gess Wed 08-Aug-07 21:38:14

Have a look at the University websites and approach a potential supervisor.

Alternatively you could write to the PhD co-ordinator and ask them if anyone might be interested, but I think best to approach direct. I'd draw up a simple short project proposal to submit to them, then draw up a proper one once you've got a potential supervisor.


Are you applying for funding as well?

Waswondering Wed 08-Aug-07 21:50:29

Hi Nosher- I used to deal with PhD admissions, pre dc, at a post 92 university.

I would approach the person you would like to supervise you and ask if they would be interested in your potential proposal. Be aware that there will be a limit on the number of people that person is allowed to supervise, so if s/he can't take you on, ask if there is an alternative person who could fulfil this role. Look at the research degree website of your chosen university, which should have guidelines for how to apply and what length of proposal you should submit. It may have an application form which provides you with a word limit. The key thing is, a PhD must show an original contribution to knowledge. So your proposal must show what you intend to be unique, what no-one has achieved before, what is new, and what you are adding to the world and society by doing your research. No pressure!

The funding question is pertinent as if it is for a studentship (let's say, AHRC or ESPRC) there will be a set way of applying, and a specific way of writing the research proposal, and defined timescales. Or there may be funding already available to the university and your supervisory contact may guide you on how to go about this. They would also let you know if 07 entry is a possibility or what your likely start date would be.

Finally, this book is fantastic and will provide you with everything you need to know - it will be on your university's recommended reading list! Good luck and all the best!

Waswondering Wed 08-Aug-07 21:52:55

Or this? I don't know this book but looks interesting!

Ellbell Wed 08-Aug-07 21:57:57

Nosher... What's it on? I am an academic, but can only really give advice on arts subjects. I know sciences are very different. If you're a scientist, you want someone like Tamum, who's a great source of info.

However, in very general terms, I'd think about the following...

1. How mobile are you? (If you have family ties in a particular place would you be prepared to move as a family to go to where the best supervision is, for example?)

Based on the answer to 1. try one of the following:

If you are tied to a particular area

2. Contact all the relevant departments in your local institutions. Definition of 'local' could vary depending on the subject again. A lab-based subject might involve you being there all day every day, so you'd need to be closer. With an arts subject you could get away with working at home quite a lot and going maybe once a week/fortnight/month (depending on commitments) so you could live up to, say, 100 miles away and still cope.

If you are completely mobile

2. Try to find out which are the 'best' departments for your particular subject. This is not the best moment, because all RAE ratings are now 6 years out-of-date (2001, next one about to happen), but it does give an indication. Try to find out who the established experts are in your field... Who is publishing really interesting stuff? Who do you feel is 'on your wavelength'? Also, what kind of institution are they in? I hate to say it, but bigger more prestigious institutions have more money and are more likely to offer scholarships, decent funding for conference attendance and so on.

Then...

3. Once you have identified a few possible places where you might want to study, contact them informally. IME it's much better to do this than to bounce right in with a proposal already written (again, in my subject area at least). It's really useful to talk through your ideas with a prospective supervisor. Not only will they (if they are worth their salt...) be able to give you good advice on how to firm up your proposal, on what is/isn't do-able etc., but also YOU can get a sense of what they are like and how enthusiastic they are about your proposal. If they seem bored by it at this stage... don't go there! You can do this by email in the first instance, to avoid the danger of saying the wrong thing (though I bet you don't...).

4. Once you have found (a) the right place and (b) the right person, then work on the proposal. What you need for the proposal will depend on the individual institution. IME institutions are less fussy about what the proposal looks like, as long as they feel that it's a valid and workable idea. Usually they are willing to help you to adapt the proposal accordingly. But funding bodies are a very different kettle of fish, and you'll need to get as much advice as possible about what sort of things to write (I can advise re. AHRC, but no others).

Will you be applying for funding in the New Year to start this time in 2008, or can you fund yourself (in which case you should be able to start whenever... at least, that's possible in my institution)?

Now is probably not the best time to contact people, as a lot of people are away at the moment. I'd leave it till mid-October (unless you're hoping to start immediately, in which case, go for it!) so that people have time to come back from their hols/conference/whatever, get their classes organised, get the new undergraduates through the door and then be ready to think about new postgrads. (If you're applying to Oxford or Cambridge, move the dates back by a couple of weeks... flippin' part-timers!)

Hope this helps. Will stop now, because anything else I can write will be too subject-specific. Have faith in yourself and go for it!

Tamum Wed 08-Aug-07 22:02:50

Oh hello all my usual mates I am guessing that these posts will be more help to you than anything I can say, as I am guessing you don't want to do science, but let me know if I'm wrong and I'll try to help too. I would certainly agree that approaching a supervisor directly is likely to be much more productive than going to a department, but you will need to do your research on that as Ellbell says.

Waswondering Wed 08-Aug-07 22:03:37

(Ellbell, I cherish an idea to do a PhD in my retiral on classic children's literature - what do you think? I have 30 years to think about it )

Ellbell Wed 08-Aug-07 22:04:16

See... I told you Tamum would be along! [waves]

Waswondering Wed 08-Aug-07 22:05:18

Nosher - at my institution, applications from people who had created a good dialogue with potential supervisors were much, much more likely to be accepted than those that came speculatively through the mail!

Ellbell Wed 08-Aug-07 22:05:48

Great idea Waswondering. I know people have worked on it, but think how much fun it would be...! (Have just gone mad and bought up a whole load of classics for dd1, who's had a 'reading explosion' recently... Heidi, Little House, Five Children and It, all that kind of thing... [nostalgic emoticon])

Tamum Wed 08-Aug-07 22:06:21

<waves back to Ellbell- nice to see you by the way, so glad you didn't stay away >

Waswondering, my mother did her PhD when she was nearly 70 on servants in Victorian literature, so don't lose hope!

Waswondering Wed 08-Aug-07 22:07:38

LM Montgomery and Frances Hodgson Burnett to name but two . . . maybe Arthur Ransom!

Sorry for the hijack!

Sigh . . .

Waswondering Wed 08-Aug-07 22:08:32

Wow, tamum, how interesting . . . .

Ellbell Wed 08-Aug-07 22:52:51

Ooh, fab, Waswondering (and Tamum's mum!). Though actually I never really did get into Arthur Ransome.

Tamum... a bit of MN is seeing me through a final push to get my RAE items written (yes, I know... mega late) this summer. Not really having a good time at the moment, but I'm hoping it'll be worth it in the long run.

Nosher Thu 09-Aug-07 08:36:20

Thanks everybody for the advice and reading recommendations!
Yes it would be in the arts but there is a bit of a social sciences cross over. That said, all my academic life so far has been in the arts. The idea grew from a paper I gave at a conference, so some (a tiny bit) of the groundwork is done.
I like the idea of getting in touch in October as that gives me time to create THE PERFECT EMAIL (TM), although I would need funding so I'd have to move fast on that one!
I'm not really very mobile - husband's business ties us to this area, and there are a limited number of institutions which could deal with a topic like mine (it's not particularly grand or clever, just doesn't fit anywhere very well) so I'm hoping that the home I think I've found for it will be suitable and that they'll like me! If not, I suppose it can go on the back-burner for a few years while my brain slowly turns to jam.....

Nosher Thu 09-Aug-07 08:38:19

And on children's books......The Enchanted Castle by E Nesbit terrified the life out of me, creepy creep creep that book!

MrsBadger Thu 09-Aug-07 09:26:48

<quick hijack for Tamum - fancy giving a simple answer to an unintentionally complex genetics q here? Thanks >

Ellbell Thu 09-Aug-07 10:18:29

Hi Nosher

OK... well, I still think October is the best time to get in touch. AHRC closing date is ostensibly mid-May, but the institutional part will take a while to get done, so you'll probably need to have your bit of the application done by March sometime. So getting in touch in October gives you time to identify a supervisor, work out a proposal and get the AHRC form done after Christmas.

Meanwhile (before October) do a bit of research on who's out there in your local or local-ish institutions and try to identify possible supervisors. Then you can prepare your email. FWIW, I'd keep it relatively brief at this stage. Tell them what you've done already and what you hope to do in future and invite them to come back to you (I have a first degree from the University of XYZ and an MA from the Unversity of ABC. I am interested in doing a PhD on blah-blah-blah and this idea is based on a conference paper I gave at doo-dah. Would you be interested in discussing this further? love Nosher).

Let me know if I can do anything else (feel free to CAT me if you don't want to put details on here). My field is Mod. Langs - expertise fairly limited outside that area!

Good luck....

Tamum Thu 09-Aug-07 10:43:53

Good luck with it, Nosher

I hope things improve for you soon, Ellbell. It will certainly be nice when the pressure of the RAE is removed, I must say.

MrsB, I will do my best!

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