My previous post was about applying for a PhD, but in this post I wanted to go into a little more detail about the actual application process. Obviously it differs a little from university to university, but one thing you will definitely need is a research proposal. Honestly, attempting to write one of these seemed wild to me. You mean, you’d like me to write exactly how I’m going to do this PhD, having never done one? Sure, sure, seems reasonable. But I managed it, and you will too, if you want to do a PhD.
Different universities require different proposal lengths, and this can also vary by school so it’s worth scouring the application guidelines when writing your proposal to make sure you’re not writing 2000 words when you only need 500, or vice versa. Within your proposal you need to outline your topic, show your awareness of existing work that has been done in this field, and make clear where your research project can fill a gap in the current scholarship. Some questions you should be answering are: what will you be studying? how? why? and, most importantly, what makes your work original? It is worth noting that nobody is going to hold you to this proposal. You are allowed to change your mind as your PhD progresses. In fact, if you didn’t it might be a bit weird.
Once you are happy with your proposal it’s time to send it to the potential supervisors you identified. Be prepared for feedback. This is good! It means they think your project is worth spending time on. If you are applying to multiple institutions you will end up with multiple drafts of multiple proposals, each adapted and aligned with the institution you are applying to and the research interests, skills, and experience of your supervisor(s).
With the support of a supervisor, you can begin your application. Here I am going to go ahead and assume that in order to do your PhD you’re probably going to need some money to live on. Funding is sometimes available from the institution you are applying to but is more often offered by funding bodies such as (for the PhDs I was applying for) the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This involves a whole separate application, but with a lot of similar components. You need to sell yourself, your project, its timeliness, and how it fits within the research interests of your institution.
Your funding application is probably more important than your actual PhD application, given that there isn’t really too much money lying around for research. You really need to take the time to study the values of the funding body you’re applying to. I can only speak from my arts and humanities background but key themes I have come across are interdisciplinary projects, and those that address global challenges. No big deal, huh.
These applications will involve balancing help from other people. Not only are you working on your proposal(s) with different supervisors, but you may also need to ask them to write you a supporting statement as part of your application. You will also need references, normally two. These are likely to be tutors from your master’s degree, or at least they were in my case. So you’re juggling several academics, who are all busy people with their own responsibilities. Give them as much time as possible, and make sure you are responsive when it comes to both communication and feedback.
Once all of the elements are co-ordinated, make sure each part is submitted before the deadline and then sit back and wait for the offers to roll in. Good luck!