So you are one of those poor souls that decided to sign your life away and embark on the PhD journey? By accepting the long days, little pay, inevitable caffeine addiction, and pale complexion that comes with this decision you may think the tough part is over – think again! The next step is applying for PGR scholarships, which is a highly competitive and time-consuming task. To give you a hand, I had a chat with the Postgraduate Research Service at the Research Strategy & Innovation Office (RSIO), responsible for awarding several PGR scholarships at UofG. They gave me the inside scoop on what to do and what not to do when you’re applying for PGR scholarships.
Life ambition vs. years of PhD study
Image credit: “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham, www.phdcomics.com
Disclaimer: doing a PhD isn’t actually such a grim experience. Well, it can be, at times. But this is eclipsed by the joy of constantly learning new things, the freedom of managing your own time and work, and eventually seeing your baby grow into a successful project and thesis! And hey, hard work builds character, right?! So let’s get going on those tips & tricks to land you the PhD of your dreams!
Tip #1: Do your research before applying
This seems obvious, but apparently RSIO receives lots of e-mails like this:
A serious PhD candidate shouldn’t be using a scattergun approach, spamming every university they can find an e-mail address for. You’ll be investing the next 3-4 years of your life doing this PhD, so you should find a university and supervisor that you will be happy with. The University of Glasgow has a searchable database that lists the research interests of staff members, to make it easier for you to find a potential supervisor.
Additionally, everyone understands that finding funding for your PhD is not easy, but just cold-emailing universities asking for money is not the best idea. It is a bit naïve to think that they will give you a pot of money just because you e-mailed them, right? Universities usually have several schemes and scholarship programmes that are listed online, with detailed eligibility and application criteria. If you do want to contact a number of institutions with queries, invest a few extra minutes and send them a personalised e-mail. You can usually find the name of the person responsible for administering a specific scholarship on the university website, so do a little digging (not everyone is a sir, either)!
Besides the official channels, such as RSIO, the University of Glasgow also has Ask a Student. Here, you can ask E-Mentors any queries about student life, Glasgow itself, or their experiences in the department or institute you are applying for. E-Mentors are current students and you can contact them using a form on the website, the Student Room Forum, or you can download the Hello UofG app and chat with them on your phone. I’ve been an E-Mentor for over a year now, and though it’s a bit more informal than contacting University Administration, the same rules apply:
This person could have saved us both some time by just doing their research and finding out whether the course was actually offered by our university, before asking me lots of questions about it! This leads me to the next piece of advice from RSIO…
Tip #2: Don’t ask questions that 2 minutes on Google can answer for you
Well, let me Google that for you! I understand that it’s easier to ask someone rather than investing some time in trying to find something out for yourself, but scholarships are seriously competitive and this doesn’t make you look particularly motivated. You are asking a university to invest in you for four years of solo study – you should be able to find out how to apply by yourself, right?!
UofG provides a handy step-by-step guide on How to apply for a Research Degree and you can also identify PGR opportunities online. The Postgraduate Research Opportunities page lists research projects currently on offer in your field of interest. Another useful tool is the Scholarships & Funding database, where you can enter your details to find funding opportunities tailored to your situation.
If you decide to apply and you’ve read through all the eligibility and application criteria, you may still have some questions. This is the time to get in touch! If you have a question that is not addressed in the scholarship guidance notes or on the funder web page, then by all means, ask! Is there a word limit for my research proposal? Can I include diagrams? When will I be informed regarding the outcome of my application? They are more than happy to answer the queries of serious applicants that have obviously done their homework.
Tip #3: Include only relevant information in your application
Most scholarship application processes require you to fill in an application form and provide a range of supporting documentation. This means that the average application runs into at least 4 or 5 pages, if not more. While this gives the funder a full picture of you as a candidate, it also means that reading applications is very time consuming and repetitive. They may have hundreds of applicants per funding cycle! You need to grab the funder’s attention quickly, so make sure the opening and closing paragraphs are concise and to the point. To stand out from the crowd, make sure your key achievements, experience, and skills are easily accessible and memorable. Think carefully before including any material that wasn’t expressly asked for in the application notes; keep asking yourself whether this piece of information is really relevant to your application. There is lots of information on the web on how to write a killer CV – Google is your friend, again!
Tip #4: Follow the instructions
Via MemeGenerator.net https://shar.es/19XfKE
This seems like common sense, but RSIO assured me that this is one of their biggest pet peeves. Incomplete applications, applications that aren’t in the required format, late submissions – all deadly sins that are guaranteed not to impress! This is the fast track way for your application to end up in the bin, so please read the application notes and double check that you have provided all required documentation prior to hitting “Submit”.
Oh, and finally… act professionally.
You’re applying for a job, not a date. Save it for Tinder, darling!