Applying for any course abroad is a daunting task. You can get lost in the many decisions you have to take: which country to apply to, which university, and what about funding or other expenses? This task gets even more amplified when applying for a PhD because of another significant decision you have to make: the research project or topic that you want to study.
How to choose Your PhD
This is where I think you should start when applying for a PhD. Narrow down your research interest or research focus. Although, you may be interested in many things and don’t know exactly what to choose. It simply helps to:
- write down all your possible research interests
- use the process of elimination
- narrow down your options to the one topic that most interests you.
Once you zero in on the topic, the other tasks (such as searching for the right university) become a little bit easier.
Where to start
Once I had narrowed down my research topic to contemporary Indian literature in English, I began to scour university websites and their English departments to find supervisors who had similar research interests.
A good place to start is:
- University ranking websites (such as QS World University Rankings and Times Higher Education)
- education fairs
- comprehensive university or individual department prospectuses
- education agencies in your respective countries
Otherwise, the whole process of even researching universities can seem like an insurmountable black hole!
Just make sure you know that a lot of research is required to find potential supervisors. It will definitely take up some time to look into each supervisor’s profile thoroughly. Don’t lose hope though. Take it one day at a time and try to set a goal. Look at one university each day, or looking at four universities over the weekend when you have some more time on your hands. I would also suggest saving important links and taking notes as you search. Note down the supervisor’s research interests, the application process requirements and any funding opportunities.
Why I chose York
One of the main reasons for selecting a particular university is the academic and supervisor support that the university offers. For me, it was also my supervisor’s prolific work in the area of South Asian literature that helped me decide to apply here. Another quite unique aspect about the University of York’s Department of English was their emphasis on global literature; not just studying global literature from a postcolonial lens alone. While I was searching through other websites, I found that research on Indian literature was usually through a postcolonial perspective, rather than any other theoretical approach.
York’s beautiful and rich history, combined with the fact that it is a smaller, walk-able city were other reasons I chose to study here.
The application process
After you decide on the supervisor you want to work with, the next important step is to reach out to them. Email them about your research topic and your interest to study with them. When they agree to be your potential supervisor, you should start on the application process.
The major parts of my application process were:
- Academic transcripts
- My research proposal
- A writing sample (which could be my MA/MPhil dissertation),
- English proficiency test scores (if you are an international student)
These things can vary depending on your year of study and what you are applying for. Make sure you check the application process.
- If you are an international student, sign up to take an English proficiency test while you are looking for universities to apply to.
- Make sure you have a copy of your academic transcripts from your colleges and universities beforehand. If you think that getting transcripts from your university/college might be time consuming, request for transcripts when you are simultaneously searching for potential supervisors.
- When emailing potential supervisors, don’t be worried about not having a full-fledged 500 to 1000-word research proposal. The aim of the preliminary email is to establish contact. You need to only briefly mention your research topic so that the supervisor is able to gauge if it aligns with their own research specialisations.
- Ask your professors (who supervised your MA/MPhil dissertation) to be your references. Alternatively, if you are a working professional, ask your head/supervisor/manager to write one.
- Before starting on the research proposal, make sure to look at the word limit and the department advice for writing a clear research proposal.
- It is better to start proactively searching around one and a half years before you apply. Funding deadlines are earlier than the general admission deadlines.
Read more blogs from postgraduate research students.