Monthly Archives: November 2013

Finding the Fun in Funding! (Unfortunately it is not quite that easy, but hopefully this blog will provide you with a useful start in the hunt for funding).

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Generally advertised studentships already have funding. But not all of them, so you may need to look for funding if it is not already sorted for you. Some studentships will only cover tuition fees but not other aspects such as living expenses, training, conferences etc.  Therefore you still might need to look for funding.

This can be tricky. One place that you can start your search is by looking on the websites of research councils. There are not that many different councils (in the UK) if you want to do a PhD in Psychology / Social sciences / Neuroscience. Therefore these can be competitive so start looking ASAP!

Some research councils that may be of interest:

Research Council UK

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Medical Research Council (MRC)

Another option is applying to be funded by a charity or a business. This may be a great way for some people to get funding. Usually this route means that in order access funding (if your application is successful) you have to work for the organisation that is funding you. This means that on completion of your PhD you will also be able to put work experience on your CV and you may even be offered a position at the company you worked for!

Some Charities and Businesses that you may want to look at:

Wellcome Trust

The Nuffield Foundation

Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland

Waterloo Foundation

The British Academy

This is not an extensive list of charities / businesses so if you have an idea and think that a relevant organisation may be interested in funding you then contact them.

*Be careful when filling out applications for funding. Some will only give funding to specific areas of research so make sure you read the eligibility section.

Self funding

This may seem like the most undesirable option but as a last resort if you really, really want to do that PhD you might need to consider self funding.  There are two ways in which you can do this. One option is working part time. However if you are going to do this you may want to consider doing your PhD part time to accommodate for this. The second option is that you can access a Personal Career Development loan.  This allows you to borrow money for your education and usually you only pay back after you have completed your studies. However it is best to check this out yourself either on bank websites or by speaking to someone (who has way more knowledge than me) in branch about the T&C’s.

So now you know your options. You now need to decide on one, think of a back-up option and get going!

-Dr Fran-kenstein

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Timelines, timelines and more timelines… Things to be aware of when PhD hunting

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**Get to know what you need to do, dates of deadlines and CONTACT a potential supervisor!!!

-Peace out, Dr. Double D

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November 29, 2013 · 11:43 pm

Approaching academics and universities

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Have you considered approaching universities and academics about doing a PhD with them or applying to one of their programs? Although cookies might not hurt your chances* there are better ways to make sure you get noticed and given a shot to apply.

First of all you shouldn’t be afraid to contact and approach an academic if you are interested in their area of research, or if you think you would like to work with them. Not only do academics expect this kind of contact but they welcome it, as it shows initiative on your part. It’s no small feat to email a researcher and ask them to consider working with you, and it is sort of a requirement before applying for a PhD with them. Many researchers meet their students before the interviews, or have communicated via e-mail to assess whether there is a possibility of working with one another both from the student’s and the researcher’s point of view.

So now that we’ve clarified that you will have to contact Dr. InMyDreamFieldOfResearch before showing up for an interview with her, you’re probably raving to go, typing emails on the side as you furiously skim the rest of this post. But hold on! There are a few things you should consider before you shoot electrical signals halfway round the world to recompose themselves into meaningful squiggles on your future supervisor’s screen.

First of all, know who you’re directing the e-mail to. A little respect can go a long way, so make sure you address the person with their correct title! If you’re not sure whether the academic is a Doctor or a Professor, find out! A short google search will quickly resolve the matter for you, and yes it does matter which you use! If in doubt, always aim high. No one will be offended if you call them Dr. when they haven’t finished their PhD yet, or Professor if they haven’t received professorship yet, but if you call a Prof a Dr some offense might be taken. Now this might seem snooty to you, but the problem isn’t just to do with the researcher’s ego, it is a direct reflection of the amount of effort you’ve put into finding out about this person’s work! If you haven’t even bothered to find out their qualifications and title, that’s a pretty bad start. Avoid Mr., Mrs., Miss, Madam etc. (unless the academic has not received a PhD and this is the appropriate title) and for Pasta’s sake NEVER address an academic by their first name!

On a related note, do your research! Read this researcher’s papers, read the papers they’ve cited, make sure you are familiar with their work and make it known that you are familiar with their work, especially if it’s relevant to your PhD research area. If there is a specific PhD question related to the post, familiarize yourself well with it, if there is a grant proposal that you have access to, do the same, if you’re emailing just to say “Hey your work is awesome, wanna let me look into this rad thing under your name and lab??” then do the research you need to for that!. It is not only flattering to the academic that you have taken an interest in their work, but it shows that you have made a well informed decision about wanting to work with them or on that specific PhD. (And yes by the way, it is perfectly ok to email an academic even if they’re not advertising a PhD program, to express an interest in working with them. You can even explore funding opportunities together!)

Notes on style: presentation matters! If the e-mail is the first thing your prospective supervisor ever sees of you, you want to make a good impression, as we know that first impressions not only matter but also last! Proof read, check your style, be professional, be formal; sign off with Kind Regards, Sincerely, Thank you (but preferably not all three at once), and your full name. Ask questions! Relevant, well thought out questions about the research post are very impressive and often can make the difference between a candidate that gets the post and one that doesn’t. Don’t ask questions that are or will be readily available in the PhD advertisement (like rate of pay, where the lab is etc.).

Finally, don’t be afraid to arrange a visit to the university and a meeting with your prospective supervisor (all previous points about emailing still apply in a meeting situation too).

So, go on, armed with everything you need to make the first contact, and wow your future supervisors with your awesomeness!

Dr. Neo

*disclaimer: there’s a small chance that this constitutes bribery, and so The PhDninja would advise you to play it safe and keep the cookies for after you’ve been accepted onto the program..

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The PhD Ninja Checklist

  • I am certain I want to devote the next 3-4 years of my life doing research and working hard to earn my PhD.
  • I know which area(s) I am most interested in.
  • I know that I have the skills / have a plan to develop the skills I will need to do my PhD.
  • I know where to look for PhD programmes that I might be interested in.
  • I have explored funding options and I know where to get the money I need for my PhD.
  • I’m ready to dive into a world of mass amounts of reading, writing and work.

Ready? Good!

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Where to find a PhD?

So if you are reading this then I take it you have decided you want a career in academia. Well if you want to do a PhD knowing where to look for these opportunities is a good start. One of the main places to find opportunities is through websites such as findaphd.com and jobs.ac.uk. These websites are really good at helping you find PhD opportunities in any academic field including psychology. With these websites you can sign up for regular updates / alerts for PhD adverts in your field. This is really useful as it saves you having to search through lots of adverts that may not be relevant to you or that you may have seen before.

Websites like jobs.ac.uk (as the name suggests) show other academic jobs like research assistant posts which you may also want to consider as these types of posts will provide you with experience to put on your CV (more about that later!)

Here are some links to websites advertising PhDs:

http://www.prospects.ac.uk

http://www.postgraduatestudentships.co.uk

http://www.myscience.org.uk

http://www.phdportal.eu

Another good place to look for opportunities is on the websites of Universities and the department you are interested in. They usually advertise all of their opportunities on their own websites as well as elsewhere.

Lastly sometimes (but not very often) these opportunities get circulated through University emails. However as I said this does not happen very often so be proactive and search for yourself!

-Dr Fran-kenstein

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The curious life of an academic…

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Working as an academic; is it for you?

A career in academia is not the right choice for everyone. Applying for a PhD is something you have to think about carefully to see if it is right for you. I will try to answer the age old philosophical question of: what does a PhD student actually do?

Well, the most crucial aspect of a PhD is research. Most of your time as a PhD student will be spent laboriously in the lab with a cup of coffee (*other hot beverages are available) slaving over SPSS until nightfall.  I hope this doesn’t sound too disheartening, but a PhD is 99% research related. The most influential person in regards to your project, ideas and making sure you are on track is YOU. PhD’s are for those that are truly dedicated and self-motivated in achieving what needs to be done to get the project finished. This doesn’t always work right the first time, so you need to be patient and diligent in order to keep things moving. Plus this will prevent you from hating your PhD.

But in order to know whether a PhD is right for you, you have to weigh up whether a career in academia is something that you’re suited to.  Most academics fill their time with a combination of research, teaching and admin things, like marking. Academics tend to going to conferences; apply for funding, network and work alongside fellow researchers. As you could imagine, these duties are all quite time intensive. So, if a life in academia is really for you make sure you are passionate about your research, fanatical about organisation, like networking and are flexible with working hours. As an academic the days will start early with meetings and end late with readings (so make sure you keep up with the literature within your field).

What does life look like after a PhD?

After a PhD most students take up a Postdoctoral (Postdoc) position within a university which is 9/10 times research based. Then, after Postdoc training a lectureship is usually the next step.

Ok so still unsure if a life in academia is right for you? Take my 2 minute quiz – it’s just like the ones we used to obsess about in the 00s in Shout and Kerrang magazine!!! It won’t tell you who your dream celeb date is, but will give you some things to think about to see if you’re suited to a life in academia.

http://www.onlinequizcreator.com/is-a-career-in-academia-for-me/item4093

-Dr. Double D

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Is a PhD for you??

Is a PhD for you??

As I’m sure you all know the pressure is on for students and young people to gain higher and higher qualifications if they are to have any hope of getting a job. All of which means that many people end up applying for postgraduate education because they feel like they have to, rather than because they actually want to.

Doing PhD takes a lot of hard graft (more like a 50-60 hour week than a 38!) and the only way you’re going to be able to keep motivated and see it through, is if you actually enjoy the subject and the work.     i.e. you’ll need to be a little less like this:

and a little more like this:

Ask yourself:

Why do I want a PhD? Reasons such as: you want to put ‘Dr’ in front of your name, you’re worried about getting a job, or you simply don’t want to leave the University bubble, are not going to keep you motivated through a 3-5 year program of 40+ hours a week.

Do I love my subject enough to be essentially married to it for at least 3 years?

…Nuff said.

Is the right one out there?You need to make sure that the PhD’s you apply for are going keep you engaged for the 3-5 years it’s going to take. And this doesn’t just apply to the PhD itself; it’s something you should be considering when you think about WHERE you want to study and WHO you want to study with. Doing a PhD should be fun and rewarding (at least sometimes!) but having to work with a supervisor you don’t get along with, or getting stuck living somewhere you hate will be extremely de-motivating in the long run.

You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you feel so trapped  you have to throw away your beloved companion cube… err I mean beloved thesis!

How good are my lab/stats/research skills? PhD’s involve a lot of independent work and its pretty safe to say that your supervisor is not going to be impressed if they have to walk you through every step of your data analysis, or spend time teaching you the most basic lab skills.

Try to make sure you’re going to be able to keep up with the demands of the project. For example, if this PhD is going to require a lot of programming skills but you know zilch about programming, then maybe consider trying for a different PhD or taking some courses before you start.

How good are your time management skills REALLY? As well all this research and lab work I’ve been banging on about, most PhD students also have a myriad of other tasks to do at the same time, such as: teaching, helping their supervisor with other projects, scheduling collaborations with the rest of the lab or other labs, taking extra classes/seminars, trying to get published, attending conferences etc. Being able to prioritise and plan your time effectively is absolutely essential for a PhD, especially if you want to find time to sleep and have some time to yourself as well.

Having said all that, this post isn’t intended to discourage you from following your PhD dreams but rather to encourage you to really think about what you really want from a PhD and whether it is indeed the right path for you. The most important thing is that you love and enjoy what you do, whatever that may be.

^^^^^- THIS is how awesome your PhD should be for you (well sometimes…   …occasionally at least).

Some other helpful links on this topic:

http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2013/03/28/advice-should-you-get-your-phd/

http://www.elsevier.com/connect/9-things-you-should-consider-before-embarking-on-a-phd

http://careers.theguardian.com/phd-right-career-option

– Dr L

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