Hello. This is a very short resource for people looking at the PhD application process in the UK right now. S0me of this information may be obvious but there is a real lack of democracy and transparency about getting on to PhDs in the UK, and I want to make sure as many people have access to this intel. I intend to expand on various parts of this list in other blog posts and videos to provide more specific information but I hope that this will arm you with questions and power when looking for the PhD setup that serves you.
- If you know what your proposed topic is, put it into a paragraph and give it a rough title. It will be much much easier for you to find good supervisors this way. Don’t be afraid to put it in your approaches
- Supervisors work with you. You do not work “for” them unless it’s a very specific project. This is *different* to other disciplines. Look at them like mentors that you get to pick and be practical about it.
- (CONTROVERSIAL) You can ask your supervisors questions about their supervision style/interview them. A PhD is long and advice/support/writing help is personal. Ask about how they like to supervise, what they think the first year of a PhD is like, do some research on their career, etc.
- Sometimes, PhD supervisors can be enthusiastic but do not have space/capacity to take on your project. Don’t take it personally if that’s the reason. Consider what matters to you to seek out others. Is it subject-expertise? Is it experience? Is it a career mentor? Is it someone who demonstrates care for your topic?
- Be aware that approaches to PhD applicants vary. I offer a lot of feedback on applications even when I won’t be on the team/at the institution. This is not standard. Be aware that you will get different responses to your inquiries
- You can apply to lots of PhD programmes at the same time. You can and should investigate your options. That said, be tactful about who you tell that you are applying to different courses. Some postgraduate admissions officers (unreasonably) take exception to this
- Many universities offer PhD places on projects. Search websites and jobs.ac.uk to find projects to apply for. These often come with relationships to industry which is great in the current job climate.
- There is an unwritten timeline for applications in most UK unis. April-Nov: expressions of interest with abstract, finishing project idea, finding supervisors and unis, and researching funders. Nov-Jan: getting a place, submitting funding apps. March-April: funding announced.
- You don’t have to stick to that timeline. Most unis have two “standard” entry dates: October and January. If you want to do something different, ask. It’s normally possible!
- A remote study PhD is a different programme (technically) so some unis may genuinely say that you can’t do distant PhD study. Make sure to check if this is something you definitely want/need.
- Most PhD funders (private and national or university-based) require you to have a place on a PhD programme by the time you submit your funding application. For big bodies like the AHRC, this may involve an interview at the uni(s) of your choice so leave time or it’s a waste of your effort.
- Know that *most* applications for funding go to a *general* panel of academics. It does not go to experts. You need to write an application that can be read by old person. Technical/specific terms need explanation. Clear title. Always summarise project at the top.
- Getting awarded funding can *rely* on your referees actually sending references. Do all you can to get reliable people and check-in with them to make sure it gets done.
- Grant awards for international students have different terms in different places. For example, sometimes a fee award will only cover the cost of domestic tuition fee rates. Some institutions have specific awards that cover “international” fees and offer stipends.
- Not for everyone: You can (often) apply for funding in the first year of your degree if you are in the financial position to take out a student loan/fund year one of your studies.
Remember that it’s your degree. You need the institution and supervisors but you are the heart of your work and your wellbeing and quality of experience matter.