A PhD can certainly be a rewarding experience but it’s tough and takes a few years, so think through carefully before making the decision to apply.
Are you interested enough?
Refining and focusing on a single research topic for PhD level study requires commitment. You’re expected to produce original research that makes a contribution to the body of knowledge in your discipline, so think about how your proposed topic fits with work already done by other researchers. It will need to sustain your interest and enthusiasm over the course of four years. Your topic will influence the options you have after your PhD, so consider the contacts, expertise and skills you’ll develop over the course of the project. For example, will it give you strong quantitative skills? Programming ability? Will your methods be transferrable to another sector? Will you be an expert on a particular issue or region by the end? How valuable are these to future employers?
How does a PhD fit with your long term career plans?
Do you have specific career ambitions? There’s no certainty about progression after a PhD and talking to recent graduates might help you to review your career options. Every year between 50 and 60% of PhD graduates stay on to work in academia. Career progression in academia after one or two short-term posts is not guaranteed. Your chances of building an academic career depend on a number of variables. People progress into many different career areas after a PhD and some of these will not have this qualification as an entry requirement. All these issues can be reviewed in a one-to-one careers discussion with an LSE Careers Consultant. We’re open all summer and if you’re not able to come in to see us, don’t worry – we offer Skype and telephone appointments too!
Where to study
If you decide that a PhD is for you, then you’ll carefully consider where to study. Think about which country, university and department would suit you best and research possible PhD supervisors. It’s worth noting that PhDs vary in different countries. For example, in the US a PhD lasts 5-6 years, whereas in the UK 3-4 years is typical. If you’re thinking of doing a PhD in the US, take a look at the US-UK Fulbright Commission which has comprehensive and accessible guidance for anyone looking at postgraduate study in the US. Other countries structure the PhD process differently too so research is important.
You’ll need academic references as part of your application. Talk to your dissertation supervisor and other staff on your course to see what they say about your applying. They will be able to help you identify the best departments to apply to. To find out more talk to current PhD students, read some of the advice on jobs.ac.uk, and borrow books from the LSE Careers Resource Centre on Floor 5 of the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre. It’s also worth looking at the postgraduate study section of the LSE Careers website where there’s lots of advice about the details of the application process. We regularly run seminars for students considering PhD study and the next one will be in Michaelmas Term.
This is an important issue! You should try as hard as possible to have your PhD funded by a university, a research council or another body. The Funding in the UK section on the LSE Careers website covers this in detail and some alternatives are covered in the Alternative Funding Guide. Funding overseas PhDs is more complicated and needs time to research. There is some advice and as well as opportunities listed on jobs.ac.uk.
If you’re not sure yet what sort of career you are interested in, it’s worth exploring other options before starting a PhD. You may find that a PhD isn’t necessary for the kind of career that you’re interested in. Alternatively, a clearer idea of your career goals will help you to work out what sort of research project would be most useful for you to do during the PhD.
You’ll find plenty of guidance on the LSE Careers website for choosing a career that would suit you, as well as more about different employment sectors. You can also use our events to find out more or book a one-to-one career discussion to discuss your career options, including doing a PhD and whether it’s the right thing for you to do.
Tips from an LSE PhD alum
LSE PhD alum Ruth Garland (media and communications) has some excellent questions to ask yourself before making a decision.
Good luck with your career, whether that includes a PhD or not!