Getting onto a phd

November 22, 2016, by lpxnt

Dealing With a PhD Panic!

Natalie Thorne, MSc Psychology Research Methods

I knew that doing a masters would feel very different to being an undergrad, but what I didn’t expect was for it to feel so very real so quickly. I guess I am one of those people who put their ‘life savings’ into doing something different with their life. For 16 years, I had a steady job as a journalist, a nice PC, a personalised coffee cup, and a desk nice and close to the kitchen. I mean, who would give up a job like that? Well me, apparently.

I’m just starting to realise how very real my decision to leave a steady job was. I think the main difference I have found between my undergrad and my masters is that what I am learning now isn’t just about passing an exam or writing a good essay, it is more like training for an actual career. I’m not learning about bias in data analytics for any theoretical reason; I am learning about it for when I am the person analysing data. Every moment we spend discussing a scientific paper is now vital because in a short time, I will be one of the people writing such papers – I hope!

All of a sudden, reality has hit.

When you send off your application to do a masters, what you don’t realise is that within a matter of weeks of your start date, you will be once again thinking about the next step. For many masters students, like me, that step is the ultimate one – the PhD.

I’ll be honest, I am like the proverbial bunny in the headlights right now. I have no supervisor, no idea how to apply for funding and only a vague idea for an experiment written on the back of an envelope that is somewhere on my untidy desk.

So clearly, I need to get myself together a little. If I want to go straight from a masters to a PhD, I need to get on it now. My first port of call is the staff list. I need to find somebody who will look at my scruffy envelope and will think “yup, I like that”. I think I have short-listed a few possible academics, but how do I approach them? This feels like dating again. What do I say in the email? What if they reject my advances? Could I take that sort of rejection?

And what about my research idea? How do I go about changing that idea on the back of an envelope into a proper research proposal?

It suddenly seemed clear that I needed advice, fast! So I went onto the Careers and Employability website and navigated to their further study section.  It gave me loads of info about possible funding sources and there was also a section for prospective PhD students which explained loads to me.

This was really helpful to get me started, but it isn’t the same as talking to somebody face-to-face and asking them all the questions a web page can’t answer, such as what do I wear when I go to meet a prospective supervisor? Do I call them Dr or just their first name? And what about other universities, should I consider them and how do I approach them?

So from rummaging around the Careers and Employability website, I found out that there are career advice drop-in sessions held in every department on a regular basis. For these, you can just walk in and ask your questions. I think this is a good place for me to start. Even if they can’t tell me what I want to know, the chances are they can pass me on to somebody else.

Who knows, I might even take my important scrappy envelope with me …if I can find it under the piles of papers and dirty mugs on my desk. I wonder if Einstein had these problems?

Posted in Careers AdviceEarly Career ResearchersPostgraduate Taught StudentsStudent Bloggers