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After completing your BA and/or Masters program you may be thinking, what’s next? If you are committed to your research journey, to investing in academia, and/or would like to be a university professor one day, a PhD program may be a perfect next move for you. But how do you apply? How should you be thinking about these applications?
Crimson is host to a variety of successful PhD candidates who now work as consultants for applying BA, Masters, and PhD students. We have compiled their key tips and tricks for how to approach the PhD application process.
Where to Start?
We recommend starting with research! The first port of call might be doing a wide online search on a specialist website such as FindAPhD where you can filter results by discipline, region, institution, and funding options. You will likely start to come across funding opportunities / fellowships as well, such as the 2023 Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme. Fellowships are a great way to fund your PhD and are well worth exploring. PhD Fairs or Open Days are often advertised on FindAPhD too, which are great ways to meet people studying at different institutions.
During the research phase, we also recommend seeking out current or past students from the programs you are interested in applying to. Meet them in person or get them on a zoom call and ask them about their experience with the program. What do they wish they did differently? What do they think are their programs’ greatest strengths and weaknesses? What kinds of students typically attend this program?
Contact Potential Supervisors
One of the most important aspects of undertaking a PhD study, typically unlike your BA and/or Masters program, are your working relationships with your supervisors. This can make or break a PhD and so it is well worth emailing potential supervisors beforehand to understand their field of research and what it would be like working with them. Take a detailed look at your intended program’s website and brochures. Who are the supervisors and how can you get in contact with them? Reach out - even if this means a cold email! In this message, you can even offer to volunteer your time - maybe they need help on a proposal or a funding application? This is a great way to see if the two of you have shared values and/or be on their radar when it comes to the application selection process.
Investigate the Institution
Another important part of your study is a sense of belonging to the institution - after all, this will be your base for the next three, four, or more years. A good research culture and peer group can get you through those tough days of fieldwork and paper writing. Having peers who understand the struggles you might encounter makes it so much better! Likewise, a good institution whose values you align with can make all the difference.
Cost of Living and Funding Opportunities
One of the biggest trade-offs of doing a PhD is that you may be on a low stipend or even self-funded. You might have a family, be abroad, or have other expenses to deal with whilst you study. There are many ways to bolster your stipend, such as tutoring and working at the University as a teaching assistant. As you are a student, you should not have to pay any tax either, so explore these opportunities when they arise and capitalize on them. Teaching at university also gives you valuable experience if you decide to become a lecturer one day.
Have Passion for Your Subject
Another piece of advice is to choose a subject which you really have passion for and want to explore further. If you are not deeply passionate about your subject, the application readers can usually tell! This doesn’t bode well for your application prospects. What is more, even if you do get in, if you don’t care about the subject those years towards completion may be grueling.
Try to have a couple of back-up programs / opportunities. This may mean applying to a few PhD programs and/or jobs. The application process is lengthy and competitive; be sure to keep your options open and keep persisting - what’s for you won’t go by you!
Enjoy the Journey!
Finally, once you have been accepted onto a programme, enjoy all the ups and down that PhD will bring. You will develop incredible research and communication skills in these years and make some of the best friends of your life, so work hard and enjoy the journey!
Want more support? Reach out to Crimson’s highly skilled team of research mentors!