Starting at, going through and completing university is easily one of, if not, the biggest emotional rollercoasters one can endure. Exceptions include Bambi or Fox and The Hound, heartbreaking, traumatizing stuff. However when you finish your degree and you stroll across that stage at graduation, you’re handed your scroll that, I shit you not, says “Thanks for coming”, there is a feeling of overwhelming relief (Sorry to piss on your parade). You’ve done it, its finished, you’re an adult. Congratulations, I mean it. However now you have a choice, accept your fate and get one of those things people call a job, or consider postgraduate study (it puts off the inevitable). If any of you guessed, I chose the latter, I chose to skip a masters and go straight in for the kill, a PhD. If you’re wondering, yes its possible, but you generally feel like a boulder trying to swim…
The first step you have to over come is the application stage. This can be lengthy, stressful, and rather mind numbing. Stick with me, its worth it in the end. Trust me. This part of the process is difficult, especially if you have to write a research proposal. You may think this is easy, but no, it requires actually having to know things about your chosen subject. This requires some research and some understanding. I’d definitely advise reading up around the topic, and definitely knowing the basics. Sometimes reading over the stuff could be like reading ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, upside down, back to front, underwater… I mean if you’re anything like me, I started out knowing nothing about my subject, and upon graduating, I still knew nothing. #UniWentWell.
The next step is, you guessed it, the dreaded interview or in some cases, it could be rather exciting? I am yet to meet someone who is genuinely excited about interviews. I mean who even enjoys them? Sadists? This is the point where they liked your research proposal enough to invite you to interview. Cracking. You’re doing well. You’ve read up on the topic, you know the basics and you’ve got all that degree knowledge in your brain somewhere. Now is the time that it is put to the test.
Top tip: Read papers, journals, articles, especially current ones, and even better if your supervisor wrote them.
You arrive at the place of your interview, wearing your suave suit or outfit, covering all genders here, best to make a good impression now, but because you look smart, be confident, look good feel good right? An interview generally involves you (evidently), the principal supervisor, a secondary supervisor and if you’re lucky that industry is involved, the industry representative/specialist. Don’t be intimidated by this, after all they don’t like interviews either, plus they already like the sound of you, just have to show them how good you are. Easier said than done right? The interview can last between 30-45minutes, and will start with general questions. Beware of the dangerous question, “Why do you want to do a PhD?”, I’d hope that you’d have an answer for this one. I have a few staple, wholly incorrect answers here:
- “Thought it’d be fun”
- “For shits and giggles”
- “The money”
- and please don’t ever say this…. “to pass the time”.
Once you get past this stage of general questions, the supervisor will generally ask some topic based questions, to test you, do not panic, you will know the answer, it is often things that you have been taught. Unless they’re evil and throw you a curve ball. Battle through, they will sometimes help you, they did for me, but don’t say “I don’t know”, come up with answers that you think could be right. It all is much more simple if you know the answer, but 8/10 times, you probably will forget under pressure. Once you get past this, they will begin to ask you basic questions about you, and what you do in your spare time. This is a chance to sell yourself, get amongst it and let them know how outgoing you are, maybe try and avoid telling them that you sit in your underwear, eating crisps and cake, binge watching countless shows on Netflix? I mean it may be the truth, but they don’t need to know, you can paint yourself to be really outgoing and sociable. The key is, to be able to actually talk to them. Always remember, they’re humans too.
After the interview, they will get back to you rather quickly with an answer (~15mins-3days), if you’re successful or not, they will tell you. If you are unlucky, this is an opportunity, ask for feedback, they will more often than not, offer you some. It is really helpful, I did and it taught me a lot. Nothing better than advice from a high ranking professor. If you’re successful then WOO, well done, celebrate, get yourself a pint/wine/vodka/rum, whatever you fancy really. You can relax! Also maybe change your underwear, there is a possibility that you may have shat your pants.
After this it will be a lot of communication before starting, you have to read up on the topic even more, because it is most likely you will forget by the time you start. I did, I went on holiday and worked and celebrated. My mind was basically mush by start of the course. Definitely read up before you start and have a basic idea on where you could start, it is really helpful. Your supervisor will have sent you stacks of information, they should do but I’m only speaking from experience. If they don’t, you are allowed to ask!
Welcome to the nerd zone!
From this point, you will have a lot more to experience, starting with the people that dwell in your PhD office… that is something for another day.
(Literally listened to Kaleo – Way Down We Go whilst writing this, top tune, would recommend)