The LSE Careers team have been seeing quite a few students asking about the process of applying for a PhD. Here Hannah Cottrell, a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology, shares her insights into the process and some of the things you need to think about when putting together a PhD application.
Know the PhD application requirements inside out and back to front!
You should make sure you know exactly what needs to be included in the application. There is nothing worse than getting to the crunch point and, with 3 hours to go before the deadline, realising that you need to scan 5 essays with feedback for them, feedback that you definitely didn’t file properly. Worse still, you don’t have a scanner! Knowing what needs to be included to complete the application will help you decide which order to tackle it in, ensuring you have more time to spend on the parts you find tricky and successfully avoiding any last minute panic. Check your chosen university’s guidelines for what you need to submit in advance. LSE’s guidelines can be found here.
Make a plan of action
Writing an application for a PhD is a time consuming endeavour. Make sure you allocate more than enough time, not only complete the research and writing process, but to gather the required documents, edit your work multiple times, and create the most well-presented and accurate application. Only by planning and allocating time to work your application will you do yourself justice. Breaking the whole process down into manageable chunks will also help you manage your time effectively if you’re still studying and need to focus on other university work. Don’t miss your deadline because you fell behind on your schedule! Dedicate sufficient time to reading and researching and for writing your personal statement, and whilst some parts of the application will be easier to write than others, know that your research proposal will probably be the most time consuming.
Seek feedback on your draft research proposal
Nothing is more more helpful than a critically trained eye on your research proposal. Whether you send it to your teachers, potential supervisors, academic adviser or your mum, feedback is a great way for you to grow your ideas and create a well-developed and coherent piece. Not explaining a concept clearly? Forgetting to reference? Making confusing intellectual leaps? These are all issues that you might not spot in your own work but others might point out. However, don’t stop working once you’ve sent a draft out for critique and keep integrating feedback and reviewing the statement . Ultimately it’s your work, and whilst others can provide advice and suggestions, you need to have faith in your ideas and writing.
Ask for your references WELL in advance of the deadline
So you’ve chosen your preferred referees, academics who know you well, maybe who have taught you in the past and can attest to your excellent research potential and intellectual rigour. Even though you can submit your references post-deadline, it’s advisable to approach your chosen referees to request a reference early on in your application process, as your application won’t be considered until your references have been received. However, as we all know, lecturers, teachers, academic advisers and professors tend to be very busy. Take the time to visit an office hour, send an email or arrange a meeting to discuss your application with your referees well in advance of the deadline. Give your referees time to understand your project. That way they will be much better informed to be able to write you a great reference.
Visit LSE Careers
Last but certainly not least, seek feedback from the LSE Careers team. Make the most of the services available to you and book an appointment for a CV and personal statement check. Having a trained and impartial eye look over your work will help you with the structure and content of each, ensuring that you’ve written targeted and relevant pieces, demonstrating not only your aptitude for the course but your enthusiasm for your subject and ensuring that what you have written flows.
Keep an eye out too for any talks on ‘Thinking about a PhD’ and discussions in your academic department. We have talks open to LSE students coming up in the next couple of weeks. There is a general talk on ‘Thinking about a PhD‘ in the PhD Academy on the 20 November as well as Department specific talks in Law and Media and Communications.