Applying for a PhD


Applying for a PhD or any other postgraduate study is slightly different and more longwinded than the UCAS application you would have made for your undergraduate degree. The process is unique and individual to each university, and applications must be done separately for each department, and (sometimes) each supervisor you wish to carry out a PhD with.

The minimum requirements for a PhD from most universities are an upper second class degree. For many science subjects a 2.1 in a BSc will suffice, however some subjects may wish for you to have a masters.

Tailoring your CV

Just like applying for a job you will need to ensure you have references a good CV and a cover letter saying why you think you are a suitable candidate, what you enjoy and why you want to go to that particular university to carry out your PhD. This section is primarily aimed at people applying for research science based PhDs, but some of the advice may be of interest to people applying other postgraduate courses.

Your university department or careers department may be able to help you construct a CV for applying for a PhD, they are slightly different to a general one, expanding more on the modules you covered in your undergraduate degree and the research skills you picked up. In particular your CV should mention your third year research project and dissertation, including their marks, and your final year modules and marks. You may also wish to include a “Research techniques” section and list all the experimental techniques you have picked up in your third year project or masters project.

If you are applying before then end of your third year then include any “highlights” from your first and second year. Any modules you got firsts in, or show you a keen interest in the same study area as the PhD you are applying for. If you have completed a masters prior to applying to ensure you include the title for that and a section about what it was about as well.

If you have your name on any papers then make sure to include them, not many undergraduate are lucky enough to have their name on a paper.

One good tip is to ensure your references know in advance you are applying for a PhD, or you have at least asked them to be your references even if it is standard university policy that your tutor is your reference it is polite to ask them anyway. In some cases you will likely need to harass your references, but try and make things as easy as you can for them.

Things not to do…

  • Do not bulk email supervisors for PhDs you are not likely to get any response.
  • Do not try and apply for too many positions, especially if they are in completely different subject areas, it just makes it look like you are desperate for a PhD and not interested in what you are studying. Stick to under 10, perhaps just between 1-4 choices.
  • Don’t request PhD application or funding forms from potential supervisors, show interest in them and their laboratory first when asking about a PhD.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *