November 4, 2021, by Leah Sharpe
My Journey to a PhD Studentship
By Astrid Bowen, PhD student
This year, with the support of the Careers service, I was chosen to fulfil a very special PhD studentship opportunity. Co-funded by the ESRC and Evolve, a social impact company, and undertaken through the UCL, Bloomsbury and East London Doctoral Training Partnership (UBEL DTP), the project aims to evaluate an intervention to support wellbeing, academic achievement and cognitive skills in primary school children.
In this blog post I cover my route to the studentship, the application and interview process, and share my advice to anyone interested in pursuing research for real world impact.
Why a studentship?
I had an unusual journey to a PhD. I had a career in education and applied therapies which motivated me to pursue a BSc in Psychology with Counselling through the Open University, followed by an MSc in Developmental Disorders at UoN. Through my work experience, I realised that to make real change in the way that mental health is approached in schools, I needed to gain more expertise and recognition so that I could shape the future directions of my field. A doctorate seemed the appropriate path.
A typical PhD involves a student proposing and gaining funding for their own project. Sometimes there are advertised studentship projects which already have funding attached. I found the studentship through an advert on my MSc mailing list, and not only was the project very similar to my PhD proposal idea, I knew immediately that I ticked all the boxes in terms of requirements. I could also tell that Evolve as a company shared similar values regarding transforming the landscape of children’s wellbeing and educational development in schools.
The application process
I was asked to submit a CV and personal statement directly to the primary supervisor of the project. As this was a CV for a PhD, I made sure to put my current and prior research projects as the focus, followed by education and employment history.
When I was invited to interview, I took advantage of the Careers and Employability Service at Nottingham for the first time. I found them extremely helpful and supportive. I had an appointment for interview practice, which gave me the confidence to do as well as I did at interview.
I was interviewed on Zoom by a panel of two professors who were supervising the project, and the managing directors of Evolve and Evolve Education, the ‘think tank’ branch attached to Evolve. I was first asked about my previous research experience. It was my impression that they were interested in my understanding of how to ensure rigour and usefulness of findings in research design and statistical analysis.
I was then asked practical questions about my experience in the types of skills that would be expected of a project manager, such as leadership, communication, organisation, and relationship management. They also asked me about my motivation for wanting to lead the project and seemed to be assessing whether I was a good fit for the Evolve family.
I was offered the studentship the next morning and gladly accepted. I’m currently in my first semester of work on the project and couldn’t be happier. I have since been informed that the selection process was very competitive with many applicants. I believe that my work experience and ethos set me apart.
If you want to work in an applied field, you need applied experience. Don’t be afraid to take on roles that aren’t what you want to do in the long run. These positions will provide valuable experience, contacts and eventual routes into the position you want. If finding a position is proving to be a challenge, raise your awareness of the issues in your field of interest in other ways, like subscribing to practitioner magazines or journals. If you are passionate and motivated to create change, you will find your way. I found the post that was right for me, and so can you.
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