At the University of Westminster, we understand that putting together a research proposal and applying for a PhD can be a very mysterious process. This can be especially true for applicants from backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, particularly in doctoral education, so we've put together some guidelines and information to help.
Things may differ slightly depending on the subject or discipline, but these notes will give you a good basis from which to begin.
Applying for a research degree
There are certain areas of the application process that can be particularly confusing for students, so to help we've put together specific advice for anyone unfamiliar with the process:
Finding a supervisor
Your supervisor will be the most important person during your research degree, so you need to ensure you find the best person for you. Find out how to approach prospective supervisors, what they'll be looking for in a research proposal and what you can expect.
Find out more about finding a supervisor.
Understanding the application process
The application process can be a bit intimidating, so we've put together a list of all the key stages, so you know what's going to happen.
Find out more about the application process.
Funding PhDs can be complicated and the advice can often be convoluted. We've listed the most common methods of funding research degrees along with how to apply for funding.
Find out how to fund your course.
What are PhD students called?
You've probably noticed that a variety of names are used when speaking about research degrees and those who do them, which can be confusing. Those doing these degrees are sometimes called PhD students, doctoral students, doctoral researchers, or postgraduate researchers (PGRs).
Generally in higher education, 'doctoral researchers' and 'PGRs' are the most often used terms for PhD students, as it's felt that those doing research degrees are no longer 'students' in the same way as undergraduate or Master's students are. However, it's also true that the majority of those engaged in research degrees use the term 'PhD students' – which is also the term used most widely outside of universities.
The PhD Student Community
Doing a PhD can be an isolating experience – and so can thinking about doing one. There are lots of ways, however, to find and talk to others whose experience can help you through the decision making and the application process.
- The Student Room is the UK’s largest online student community and is a great way to ask questions and find tips and information
- The PhD Society at the University of Westminster is made up of and run by current PhD students.
- The University of Westminster Students' Union also has a Vice President for postgraduate education – you can find their information on the Students Officers page of the UWSU website
There are a lot of websites you can look at for advice on starting a PhD, we've compiled some of the most useful below:
- findaphd.com – as well as advertising studentships, the site has many resources providing information and guidance on applying for, getting funding for and doing a PhD
- jobs.ac.uk – this is the main place in the UK that academic jobs are advertised and many PhD studentships are also advertised on the site. There's also a lot of information and guidance on doing a PhD
- Leading Routes is committed to supporting and preparing the next generation of black academics. They run a number of events and schemes, and you can find lots of information on their website. Particularly interesting is their report, The Broken Pipeline, on obstacles to research council funding for black students
- 'Letter to A Prospective PhD Student' – this letter from an academic gives a good insight from the other side – what academics want to see when approached by potential PhD students
- A Ted talk by someone who has recently finished a PhD, and it gives some real insights into the reality of working for one
- Government loans – the UK government offers loans for PhD study (subject to its eligibility criteria)
- UKRI (United Kingdom Research and Innovation) is the umbrella organisation for all the government-funded research councils in the UK. The research councils fund PhD study through Doctoral Training Partnerships and Doctoral Training Centres. Find out more about AHRC-funded DTP Techne (to which the University of Westminster belongs)
- Vitae – an organisation that supports the development of researchers worldwide, from doctoral-level up. There is a lot of useful information on their site about what it’s like to do a PhD
- Working-Class Academics – a relatively new group, and you can find information on those involved and how to contact them at their website