Thinking about applying for a Masters or PhD? Quick tips to get you started

Originally published on September 30, 2017, on Sophia’s personal blog.

Start early:

It takes time to find supervisors with similar interest who are willing to take you. After choosing a field I was interested in, I did online research on potential supervisors who worked in that field, drafted and sent emails (I sent emails to all supervisors I would be interested in working with. Some of them don’t reply back if they are not interested/busy/not taking students, and some reply back nicely to say that they are not accepting students for the year), waited for their response, and spoke to them about our mutual interests, all before I even started my PhD proposal/application.

Be organized:

Make an excel sheet showing deadlines for all of the programs you want to apply to, reference letter status, as well as application documents that you need.

Ask questions:

About the program

  • How does funding work?
  • Do I need to find a supervisor first or after applying?
  • What is the reputation of the program? the University?
  • Where do graduates get job afterwards?
  • What types of opportunities are provided within school/outside of school for personal and professional growth?
  • What are the comprehensive exams like?
  • How many courses do you have to take?
  • What type of dissertation do students produce (sandwich style? one big paper at the end?)
  • How many years do students typically take to complete program?
  • Will there be opportunities to work outside of dissertation (e.g. teaching or research assistant)?
  • Is that something that is expected or “voluntary”?

About the supervisor

  • Will I be expected to bring my own funding?
  • How many students do you have? Willing to take?
  • Where is your research headed in the next few years?
  • Will I be expected to do similar research as you? Come up with my own topic or you will provide one?
  • What is your favoured approach to supervising?

Most importantly, questions to ask yourself

  • What are you most interested in that you can spend the next 3-6 years researching that topic
  • What do you want to get out of your phd?
  • Why PhD?
  • What kind of a supervisor do you want? (more involved, less involved)
  • Where do you want to live?

Your statement of interest

  1. Share your research interests early on in the statement (what led you to be interested in this topic. I don’t know about selection committees but I like to use stories!)
  2. Share
    • why you are interested in the program
    • what your personal and professional goals are (what do you want to take away from the PhD)
    • why is the chosen program/supervisor/university perfect for you (share how your research interests align with your supervisor’s, what courses you are interested in, etc… )
  3. If you have found a supervisor and/or the supervisor has funding available for you, make that clear in the statement!!!
  4. Share your experiences (don’t just list all of your experiences but how did those experiences lead to where you are now and where you want to go). This includes both education and professional experiences
  5. Discuss your academic skills
  6. Highlight how important your research is in today’s context and provide its implications
  7. Summarize your PhD working plan to show that you know what you are talking about! (how long this section should be depends on the page limit of your statement as well as the requirements of the statement of interest. I know that some schools in Europe require a well-detailed protocol. From my understanding, schools in Canada don’t require this)

Leave a comment if you have anything to add to these suggestions! Applications are a very stressful time so lets try to work together to make it a bit easier for those applying.


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