Regular, targeted applications and demonstrating how you can benefit a lab will go a long way to securing a PhD position.
Frances Aschroft, physiology professor at the University of Oxford, and James Hadfield, manager of the genomics core facility at the University of Cambridge, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, tackle the question of how to get selected onto a PhD programme, as part of the 2015 London Naturejobs Career Expo panel on careers in academia.
- Look for advertised, four-year, PhD programmes offered by departments
- Look for PhD positions that aren’t part of larger programmes. Some principle investigators won’t have access to an official PhD programme, but will have funding for individual students.
- Write to the lab leaders whose work you’re really interested in. They might not be advertising a position, but they might have some funding available for enthusiastic students.
- Whilst looking, write to people who working on a subject you’re interested in, and ask if you can work for them on a short-term (six months – one year) basis. Labs might not have funding for a whole PhD, but they might for a little bit. This would allow you to build up work experience, and develop skills in a field that you want to be in during the long term, and who knows what other doors it might open in the future.
- Justify to your potential supervisor why you think you would be a good hire, whether for a full PhD or just for a short-term project. Even if you are volunteering, you are a cost to the supervisor in terms of time and effort they put in. If you can demonstrate what you can bring to the table that would benefit them, you’re in a much better position to get hired.