Things to Consider While Planning a PhD Abroad

by Dr. Sriyash Mangal, PhD

Things to Consider While Planning a PhD

Things to Consider While Planning a PhD Abroad: Committing to a 3-4 year-long PhD program is an important decision and I, often, see students not thinking it through before starting the application process. PhD applications are very demanding and applicants are required to find a potential supervisor, provide different documents, write essays and statement of purpose, arrange LORs, take language or aptitutde tests, etc. Planning plays a crucial role in determing the success of your applications. So, if you want to apply for PhD position abroad, then you must give careful consideration to all the points discussed below.

Actively look for PhD programs and prospective supervisors

Once you decide on your topic of interest for doctoral research and the country where you would like to study, start searching for professors whose research interests align with yours. Familiarize yourself with the academic and research background of the supervisor by reading his/her few publications. You should then contact them to express your interest in doing your doctoral research in their group through email. This email should demonstrate that you have done ample research about his/her field of specialization/research and that you are eager to be associated with him/her. Before you send emails, check the eligibility requirements of the university and/or PhD program they are affiliated to.

Plan ahead

You should start working on your applications well in advance. Keep in mind that you will be asked to write essays like a statement of purpose and/or research statement which take a lot more time to prepare than you may anticipate. Besides, you have to get official transcripts from universities where you have studied, give tests like GRE/GMAT and TOEFL/IELTS, and get letters of recommendation from 2-3 referees. Thus, if you want to submit a good application then, it is important to plan the process well in advance.

Choose programs based on your past education and experience

Unlike masters, where you can easily switch your field of studies, the topic of doctoral research should be linked to your past education, work experience and technical expertise. For example, if you have a strong background in Psychology, then you can choose any topic in psychology for doctoral research including interdisciplinary ones. It does not necessarily have to be related to the topic of your master’s thesis. It is perfectly acceptable to completely change research areas as long as the overall subject matches your past education or work experience. And, if you do that, you must explain the reasons behind the same in your statement of purpose.

Give importance to the location of the chosen university

While choosing a PhD program, the first consideration should be given to the research topic and the interest of the prospective supervisor. After all, you will be working on this topic for 3-5 years as a PhD student. Having said that, the location of the university is an important factor you must consider. Many students think that the location of the University does not matter as they will spend most of the time at university anyway which means it does not matter if a university is located in a village, city or near a beach. From my long experience of advising students, I can tell you that this is not true. You will have a life outside the university and you will need breaks to freshen up your mind. Therefore, it is important to pick a location that matches your current lifestyle or to the one you desire to live in. Consider what activities will you do and how often will you want to visit family.

Don’t get obsessed with university rankings

While location is more important than you think, the reputation and prestige of the university is not. In graduate school, the reputation of the individual department you are joining — and sometimes even the specific research group you work in — are more important. There, you will develop research collaborations and professional connections that will be crucial during your program and beyond. When searching for a job after graduation, other scientists will look at your specific department, the people you have worked with and the research you have done and not at the university ranking.

Set right expectations

Most PhD applicants think that doctoral research is about working on a project for 3-5 years which ends with summarizing the findings in a thesis. Many students think of it as a degree to progress in their career. And, surprisingly, a small fraction considers PhD studies to be a way of settling abroad. In reality, doctoral studies will help you to progress in your career and even settle abroad, but these should not be the main reasons for why you want to pursue a PhD. It is a tough degree course that requires countless hours of reading literature, doing experiments, acquiring data and most importantly publishing your findings in reputed journals. Therefore, make sure that you are genuinely passionate about the chosen topic of doctoral research.

Also read: Eligibility Criteria for PhD Abroad

Following are some popular destinations to pursue PhD Abroad. To read about them, click on the name of the country.

Author Bio:

Dr. Sriyash Mangal
Ph.D. Cell biology from LMU Munich, Germany MSc Biomedical Sciences, University College London, UK Dr. Sriyash Mangal has been mentoring Ph.D. aspirants to secure fully-funded Ph.D. positions abroad for more than 5 years. He has lived in the UK and Europe for over 7 years and completed his higher studies with 100% scholarship. He is an expert in applying to highly competitive Ph.D. programs and scholarships/ fellowships. 
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Aditya sahu
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Aditya sahu

How early should I start planning? I am currently in 2nd semester of my masters program.

Rohit Adhikari
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Rohit Adhikari

My referees are lazy and they will probably not give me more than 10 reference letters. How should I plan my PhD applications?

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