Ever wondered what it’s like doing a PhD? Is doing further research something you’re thinking about now you’re clarifying your dissertation topic and thinking about life after your master’s?

Here Mia Certo, an MPhil/PhD candidate in International Relations at LSE, shares her five top tips for things you need to think about if the prospect of doing a PhD sounds appealing.

1. Choose a topic you can’t get enough of

Though your research project will evolve over the course of your degree, it’s important to select a topic that will hold your interest for several years. A while ago, I came across the following quote by Jessica Hische, a letterer and illustrator: ‘The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.’ This is a good thought exercise to devise a research topic for a PhD. Is there a question or area that ‘calls’ to you even when you’re meant to be doing something else?

2. Selecting a programme

Do your research prior to applying. Find out which academics and institutions work in your area. You should select a programme based on its ability to supervise your research and your proposed supervisor’s familiarity with your field. Departmental reputation is not synonymous with institutional reputation at the PhD level. Look to relevant literature to identify potential supervisors.

3. Talk to current students in the programme

Ask about the size of the annual PhD intake, contact with members of faculty, research assistant/teaching assistant opportunities, field work or conference funding, and the ‘culture’ of the department. Develop an understanding of what PhD student life is like in the programme and try to envision yourself as part of it.

4. Make a financial plan

It’s crucial to come up with a financial plan for the 3+ years of your PhD. Does the institution offer funding? Are you eligible for external funding? If you work part-time, how might this impact your research? Are you willing to undertake debt? If you find yourself in the enviable position of comparing studentship/scholarship offers, examine any work requirements. How might they impact your research?

5. Consider the hidden costs and benefits

As a PhD student, you forgo the earnings you would make if you were not pursuing a doctorate. Additionally, the nature of a PhD means that it’s hard to ‘leave work at work’, a phenomenon that my working friends enjoy in their careers. On the other hand, you’ll enjoy the benefits of being a student: organising your own schedule and the freedom and happiness that self-direction can bring. You’ll become part of a community of scholars just as passionate and vibrant as you are who will uniquely understand your struggles and support you – and that’s something you shouldn’t undervalue.

If a PhD is something you are thinking about, why not make an appointment to speak to a careers consultant? Talking through the some of the things to consider as well as typical application processes and funding sources in a one-to-one careers discussion with an LSE Careers Consultant can be a useful step in thinking if a PhD is right for you.

You can also find out a bit more information about the topics above in our ‘Thinking of Doing a PhD?’ seminar. Slides from this are available online and we have an information page on our website with really useful links too.

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