I officially started as a Doctoral Researcher for Loughborough University last week. Although it’s only been a week as a PhD student, the journey to get to here has been long. Ten months to be exact — from researching which universities and studentships to apply to, writing my research proposal, and contacting possible supervisors to my studentship interview and applying for a new student visa. It’s been tough, but I’ve made it this far, and I’m excited to be researching about a topic I am passionate in for the next three years!
I did get a studentship from the university from the School of Social Sciences and Humanities and this is how I’m funding my PhD. More on this later.
During the induction last week we were told about two things: pride and privilege. We were told take pride in our work, in all the things we had to do to get this far because not everyone is given the chance to do what we are doing. Which leads to the second point of privilege — know that not everyone will be privileged to be a doctoral researcher and so we must remember why we are doing our research and whom is it for? Pride, to hold our heads high and privilege, to keep our feet down.
A few people have already asked me: how did you get the studentship? Is it difficult? How can I get one too? The answer is of course never straightforward and as with everything, things differ for everyone. My experience might be different for someone else. But I am writing this to share my experience which can hopefully help those of you who want to dive deeper into the academe.
1. DO YOUR RESEARCH ON UNIVERSITIES, THEIR RESEARCH INTERESTS, AND POSSIBLE SUPERVISORS
It seems obvious, but there’s so much more to researching about a studentship or a doctoral programme. It’s good to know a university’s research interest. Is your research aligned with their interest? If yes, then there’s a high chance your research proposal will be accepted. If not, it’s better to find another university who will be more interested.
I spent time researching which universities I would apply to. In the end, I applied for three universities with interest in media and politics and who offered studentships for international students (note that some universities only offer studentships to UK/EU students). I applied to the University of Glasgow, the UEA (my MA supervisor supported my research), and Loughborough University.
Then, I looked for a potential supervisor in the universities. It’s advisable to look for their profiles and read a bit of their work. Your potential supervisor will help you hone your proposal to make it stronger and stand out among others. A good supervisor will help you through your application and of course during your three year PhD work.
2. PREPARE YOUR PROPOSAL AND HAVE IT CHECKED
I would say your proposal is the most important part of your PhD application. Your proposal will allow the university to see the relevance of your research and your abilities as a researcher. What gaps in research are you answering? Why is your research important? What are its impacts? How will it contribute to the existing body of research in your field? These are only some of the questions you need to answer in your proposal.
I spent a month writing a 2,000-word proposal. I used journals, books, latest research in the field for my references. I also made a timeline of how I propose to do my three year research.
After, I asked my potential supervisors to review my proposal and edited them accordingly. I initially had three similar proposals but ended up with different ones. Often, the supervisor will ask you to revise and align your research also on his/her expertise. For example, one of my proposals became a quantitative research because my supervisor’s expertise is in quantitative content analysis.
3. PREPARE FOR YOUR INTERVIEW
After you submit your application, the university will review it and will give you an offer if you pass the review. However, the studentship offer is usually separate from the PhD offer. Sometimes, they require a separate interview for your studentship.
During my interview I was asked different questions ranging from my professional experience, motivations for doing PhD, to media and communications theories and methods. My advise is to prepare well. Review your proposal. Read as much as you can about previous research similar or related to your work. Know your research methods. Don’t take the interview lightly. Remember you are competing against other good researchers.
4. WHAT KIND OF FUNDING IS AVAILABLE?
There are different kinds of funding available for a PhD: self-funded, university funded, externally funded.
Self-funded is basically you paying for your PhD. This is very expensive, so I believe very few self-fund their research. For international students in the UK, PhD fees can be anywhere from 18,000-22,000GBP/year.
University funded studentships are given by the university. Often, you are free to propose your own research topic. University funded studentships may or may not include stipends for international students. Sadly, this is a reality international students face. However, you are allowed up to 20 hours of work per week so you can work inside or outside the university to help you with living costs.
Externally funded studentships are those funded by organisations/research bodies such as ESRC, EU, UNESCO, etc. Again, depending on their budget, sometimes they may only be open to UK/EU students or open to international students with no stipend. Externally funded studentships are also usually done through the university and there is already a research topic for your research proposal. For example, Loughborough’s Online Civic Culture Centre has an ESRC funded studentship and the topic of the research proposal must be about social media and politics. You then fit your research proposal to this topic.
In the end, I got the studentship from Loughborough. I got rejected from Glasgow because they said I couldn’t prove my English skills (despite graduating from my masters in a UK university and submitting a 2,000 word proposal in English) and UEA didn’t offer me a studentship.
I am happy with Loughborough, as they were named as the #1 university in the UK for media and communications studies. I believe I am also most in line with their research interest on social media and politics. I am researching about how Facebook has impacted Philippines’ elections.
I am lucky enough to get a studentship and excited to start doing my research which I hope will have impact in the real world. As I go through my PhD journey, I hope to share more insights on this website.