Have you been thinking about completing a PhD? Have you got lots of questions but you are not sure who to ask? In the following article, I have highlighted some PhD facts you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask
According to the University of Plymouth, people complete a PhD for a wide range of reasons: becoming an expert in their field, improving their career prospects and expanding their network just to mention a few. Your studies will provide you with the opportunity to become part of a closely-knit academic community and dive deep into your area of interest. However, it is a challenging journey. Based on a study of 26,076 PhD candidates, nearly 20% of students who start a doctorate degree do not finish it, with 16.2% of students leaving their PhD early, and 3.3% of students failing their viva. Embarking on a research degree in a significant investment of your time and resources
Completing thorough research before applying for a PhD will help you to make the best possible decisions.
#What is the difference between a PhD and a DPhil? The terms PhD and DPhil relate to the same academic qualification: a Doctor of Philosophy. A very small number of UK universities call their doctorate degrees DPhil (including the University of Oxford) while the majority of UK universities use the term PhD for these degrees.
#How do I prepare before applying for a doctorate degree? It is essential that you carefully explore potential universities and supervisors prior to submitting your application. You could start by researching potential supervisors whose research expertise align with your interest. Some doctorate supervisors prefer communicating with PhD candidates prior to seeing their applications while others like to get to know candidates once their applications are received. You may try to reach out to your preferred supervisor(s) to introduce yourself. However, if you do not receive a response, please do not get disheartened. Academics tend to have a busy schedule which includes presenting at overseas conferences, publishing articles, researching and teaching.
#How many universities should I apply to? There is no magic number in terms of how many applications you should submit. Putting all your eggs in one basket may significantly limit your chances, however. Think of each application as a job application. You will need to tailor your application documents to the specific university and the nature of the doctorate training. Submitting high-quality, bespoke applications will take a significant chunk of time. You may need to submit a research proposal, exploring your research questions and locate them in academic literature. In addition, you might be asked to submit an essay as well as a personal statement, and copies of your academic transcripts. If you can, do find out when your preferred university offers Open Days. These could provide you with valuable opportunities to find out more about studying at the university, to introduce yourself to potential supervisors, as well as connect with other PhD applicants.
#How many supervisors can I have? Some universities provide two supervisors to doctorate students. Your primary supervisor will focus on your academic development and research, and the second supervisor will offer some pastoral support. Other UK universities offer one supervisor only. Their role is to offer feedback on your work, discuss your academic progress on a regular basis, and give you guidance on how to further develop your research project.
#Would I be able to complete my degree studies? Completing a PhD degree requires lots of resilience and discipline. Most students reach a point in their journey when they doubt whether they will be able to complete their studies. Developing a strong support network, even before you reach the most challenging times, is essential. You may find it helpful to think about who could support you: your supervisor, family members, friends, other PhD students, mental health advisors. The more you are able to draw on others’ support, the more likely you will be to successfully complete your degree studies.
#What if I will not get on well with my supervisor? Occasionally, supervisory relationships do not work out. If you feel that your supervisor is not meeting their responsibilities and you are unable to establish a successful working relationship with them, you will first need to try and make every effort to resolve the issues. As a first step, approach your supervisor and discuss your concerns with them if you can. In the event that you are not able to make improvements, you would need to follow your university’s procedures and see if they can appoint a new supervisor for you.
#Would a PhD degree improve my career prospects? According to a recent article published by Dr Sally Hancock, Lecturer in Education at the University of York, PhD holders receive higher average earnings compared to those with a first degree or Master’s. However, there are differences in earnings in various subject fields. Arts and Humanities PhD holders receive significantly lower salaries than all other subject areas.
Depending on your career aspirations, a PhD degree could open some ‘doors’ for you: working as a post-doc or a lecturer, accepting a position in industry, being a business consultant, setting up your business. Some doctorate students have a clear career path in mind when they join their doctorate studies whilst others prefer exploring possible career directions throughout their studies. Your supervisor and the university’s career’s department could be valuable sources of support.
#Would I be a good enough student? From time to time, you may naturally doubt your academic skills. You may experience anxiety, lack of motivation and imposter syndrome. The Imperial College’s website highlights: ‘Impostor syndrome, the fear of being ‘found out’ or a belief that you don’t deserve the achievements you have accomplished, is a common feeling among students…’ Universities do offer a range of support to students such as counselling and mental wellbeing courses. You might find it helpful to research your university’s student support initiatives at the start of your studies.