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A ten step guide to applying for a place to study for a PhD: Part one

Applying to study for a PhD may simply be seen as a necessary bureaucratic hurdle to negotiate before getting down to the real business of researching and writing your thesis. If you are motivated to do the kind of in-depth research necessary for a PhD, then you may well see the application process as an unwelcome distraction. The goal of this brief guide is to help you identify and efficiently navigate the important parts of the process. This guide is presented in two parts, with the first five steps in this article. It is aimed specifically at those candidates who are applying for a place to research a question of their own choosing, rather than those candidates applying for a place as part of an established research programme.

STEP 1: Having decided to study for a PhD, the first step is to ensure you can fund at least three years of study.

STEP 2: The second step is determine your research question. You probably already have an idea of the topic, but you should refine this down to a research question before you apply. Read around the topic, start building a bibliography, start writing down your thoughts, think of a question and then think of a question within that question.

STEP 3: When you have defined and refined your question, write a generic research proposal that explains why your research question is worth asking, how you will answer it, and how your answer will contribute to the literature.

STEP 4: Only when you have a working research question and proposal should you think about where to apply. Narrow your choice first by country and create a shortlist of preferred institutions. Next identify possible supervisors at each of these institutions and decide where to apply based on your preferred combination of supervisor and institution.

STEP 5: Before formally submitting your application, you should try to make informal contact with you prospective supervisor. You may get feedback that can help you improve your proposal and this initial contact will increase your chance of being accepted.

This guide will be continued in a future post, stay tuned.. If you need assistance with your application, the PhD Consultancy has a range of experts who can advise and support you through the process.

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