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Steps to secure a PhD position?

Written by: Chuen Lee
Published on: 5 Feb 2024

Do you want to pursue a PhD? Are you fueled by unwavering passion and driven by a thirst for deeper understanding? If intellectual exploration thrills you and the prospect of independent research ignites your spirit, then the PhD journey might be your calling. So, delve deep into your motivations, assess your strengths, and carefully weigh the commitment. If the answer resonates with a resounding "yes," then the PhD path awaits, starting with securing a PhD position.

Step 1: Identify your research interest

Explore different fields and pinpoint areas that genuinely excites you. Consider potential career paths and if a PhD aligns with your career goals. If you are unsure about your research interest, try brainstorming specific research areas, discussing with peers, and volunteer or intern for a lab. You could also work as a research assistant in a lab to gauge how interested you are and get paid while doing so.


Step 2: Search for a suitable program and supervisor

The simplest way to do this is to search job boards that advertise PhD positions. An interesting project and good supervisor should outweigh the prestige of the university or size of the lab group. Contact the potential supervisors and their students to find out what it is like to work in the lab. If you have identified an interesting lab group but they are not advertising any projects, contact the principal investigator directly. They may be able to develop a research project with you.

Step 3: Meet Eligibility Criteria

Check the specific requirements to each program, which often include a strong undergraduate and/or master’s degree, relevant research experience, language proficiency (some countries). Other criteria could be nationality, funding type, and visa requirements.

Step 4: Prepare application material

Different programs will have different requested documents but as general rule, make sure you have an up to date CV, a template for personal statement and research proposals. Tailor your personal statements and research proposals to the individual applications. Gather official transcripts and secure strong letter of recommendations from academic references.

Once you have gathered all the required documents, take a moment to think it through thoroughly.


Step 5: Submit application

Adhere to deadlines and application guidelines. Most applications are submitted through an online portal. Pay application fee if required.

Step 6: Ace the interview

Depending on the program, you could be interviewed by the potential supervisor prior to submitting an application. Before the interview, research the supervisor’s work, make notes of how their expertise will help develop you as a researcher. During the interview, articulate how your skills will complement their work. Describe how your previous work can be transferred to the PhD position, such as specific research skills and soft skills. Demonstrate enthusiasm for research and ability to conduct independent research.

In some programs, you may have to attend a panel interview. Display your passion for research and your abilities to complete the specified project. Come prepared!

Step 7: Secure funding

Some PhD positions offer scholarships or research assistantships, while others require external funding. These could be from a range of resources such as Government Funding, Philanthropic Organizations, and Industry and Corporate Sponsorships.


Step 8: Accept the position

Congratulations! You receive an offer. But hold on! Have a think about it, is a 3-4 years of PhD something you really want to commit to?  Carefully consider the offer and any conditions attached.