A post by alumni blogger Marina.

So you like research? Do you feel like you would prefer to continue doing research? Would you like to do a PhD after your MSc? I have laid out a mini-guide about how to successfully apply for a PhD.

Disclaimer: this is advice is for people who are considering a european PhD programme only.

What you’ll need for your PhD application:

  • A full research proposal of your thesis (literature review, research questions, methodology/data collection, and contribution. About 5-7 pages, depending on the university)
  • A personal statement
  • An ‘academic’ CV
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Transcripts (you should aim to achieve a distinction in your MSc dissertation)

LSE has a great Careers Service, even for prospective PhD students. I have used it myself quite a few times and it has helped a great deal. They offer advice on how to make your ‘professional’ CV into an ‘academic’ CV and help you with your personal statement. They also have PhD events that include PhD alumni for you to meet and ask questions regarding the application process and the academic life afterwards.

Once you have figured out what you want to do your thesis on (don’t worry you can change later!) and you have written a draft of your research proposal you must consider these 3 key points:

Contact potential supervisors
I cannot stress this more, if the professors you would ideally want to work with do not know you, your chances of being accepted are pretty slim. The work your supervisor does has to be completely related to what you would like to do for your PhD, therefore find the ‘right’ supervisor is crucial. Simply email the academic explaining that you would like to work with them and write a few paragraphs on what you want to research on. It’s even better if you even have a draft of your research proposal. Don’t assume that all professors are free to take PhD students – some departments restrict professors in terms of how many PhD students they can supervise on average. If you get a negative reply you know it’s time to move on and look for another potential supervisor.

Visit the campus and/or department
Do this at the same time, or after your potential supervisor confirmed that a) your research interests are aligned with their’s, b) they’re free to take on another PhD student, c) they would like to potentially supervise you. At this stage it is really important to either meet your supervisor and/or visit the campus and department. Some universities have open days for PhD students, and you should definitely go to those. Don’t forget you’re going to be almost ‘living’ there for at least three years so it’s important that you feel like you could fit in, feel like you are at home, and meet other PhD students who seem friendly and welcoming.

Narrow your research to 3-4 PhD programmes
The amount of work you need to put into writing a very concise yet precise research proposal as well as the personal statement, means that you won’t be able to apply for more that 4 PhD programmes. One important aspect to consider is funding. If the PhD programme does not offer funding, do not even bother applying. Remember you’ll be spending three years of your life (if not more) being a full-time researcher. Having a steady income in your bank account just seems like a must at this stage. If your department does not offer full funding, make sure that they offer travel grants, as you’ll surely be going to conferences and flying from the UK to the US isn’t cheap!

P.S. Don’t forget most PhD application deadlines are in January!


Advice from LSE about applying for PhD study

For those considering applying to LSE for PhD study, note that you should research potential research supervisors with matching research interests – you can do this through The Experts Directory. We do encourage you to try and make contact with potential supervisors, but bear in mind that academics are busy people – if you don’t hear back, don’t give up immediately! Some academics prefer to read your application and then talk to you at an interview. However if you receive a negative response, it may not be worth your while submitting an application.

See guidance from LSE about your research proposal.

Note that at LSE, while many deadlines are 9th of January, the deadline for the MRes/PhD Economics is the 14th of December. Check the relevant programme page for details as some programmes do have a later application deadline in April, but an earlier deadline for some funding (such as ESRC funding).