I felt I had everything that was relevant for starting a PhD. I had obtained a master’s degree, secured a supervising professor, the opportunity to work in their lab and funding from the university which all accumulated to a super exciting project.
I was very ambitious to get started with my PhD journey. I knew I would learn a lot and it would be challenging, which were two great motivations for me. In the first week, I had a meeting with my professor where we discussed the project and how we would begin. At the end of the meeting, he recommended that I apply for a PhD scholarship which was initially overwhelming. He told me that it would stand me in good stead for a scientific career and could imagine me as a scholarship holder.
My name is Marco. I am 26 years old and a first-year PhD student in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University. I am not going to lie, at first being rejected from Harvard was devastating; however, this rejection was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. In this article, I will share my journey in applying to PhD programs in the US as a Brazilian student.
Let’s begin with a little bit of context. First, I majored in Food Engineering at the Federal University of Viçosa, Brazil, and during this time, I also studied Biotechnology in France. I did one year of courses, and an internship, at the University of Lorraine, where I finished at the top of my class, and I was approved for three fully funded master’s programs. After that, I decided to pursue a masters in Genetics and Molecular Biology at the State University of Campinas, Brazil. However, despite studying at top universities and having +5 years of research experience, and five published articles at the time, I was still rejected from Harvard University.
Did that title confuse you? Most of you are probably wondering how in the world pursuing a PhD in a research field is anything like launching a start-up. After all, academia is not exactly known for being entrepreneurial: it’s slower, more bureaucratic, and a lot more risk averse. It is likely you are pursuing a PhD to conduct research rather than starting a business but for me I worked in a start-up business before beginning my PhD in a research-intensive psychology program and have found there are overlapping skills and mindsets between being successful in a PhD and in launching a start-up.
I share these in the hope that they help other students find their own “success”, whatever that may look like and perhaps prepare future students for some of the unexpected challenges they may face when starting a PhD.
To-Do: Write A Thesis - Reflecting On My PhD Experience So Far & Advice For New PhD Students By Gemma Rides
On my first day as a PhD student, I grabbed my favourite coffee from Starbucks, sat down in my office, grabbed my new notepad and pen, and wrote…
To-do: Write a thesis
Now, for someone that thrives off colour coding, planning, and ticking off to-do lists, the realisation that I could not cross this task off my list for the next 4 years was more than daunting. Slightly worried, I decided to read and re-read every single handbook, document and book that had been given to me for my PhD induction, hoping for some insight into what I needed to actually do. After a week of reading, I was even more confused than when I started. What do you mean I need to ‘upgrade’ from an MPhil to a PhD? I need to consider ethics, recruitment, training and annual reviews? And what was this terrifying viva?
When I first started undergrad in Puerto Rico in 2015, I wasn’t aware about PhD programs. To me, everyone who graduated from a Biomedical Sciences program and wanted to pursue a doctoral degree would go to med school. I first started undergrad as a Hispanic Literature major, and one of the required courses was a biology lab for non-biology majors. It was in this lab that I discovered my passion for microbiology. I changed majors immediately and five years later graduated from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez with an Industrial Microbiology bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate. My entire bachelor’s experience felt like a survival challenge. During these five years I experienced strikes, hurricanes, earthquakes, power outages and the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, all while I was trying to complete my undergraduate education and make the most out of it. It wasn’t a surprise that I struggled with deciding what to do with my degree and my future. I’ve always been passionate about teaching and want to become a professor, but to do this I realized I needed more than just a bachelors.
So you’ve been offered the opportunity to become a PhD candidate. Congratulations! That really is one of the harder parts of your academic career, so you should be proud of reaching this milestone. You stood out from a high level of competition, and you should remember how valued you now feel by your new PhD supervisors. Well done.
Once that PhD studentship is offered, I’ve seen many people online asking, “what can I do to prepare for a PhD?”, and it got me thinking about a fun-filled six months I had before I moved to Germany to start my own PhD in 2016.
Here are six pieces of advice I would give to any upcoming PhD candidate:
"Step Back And Do The Basics Well". A Short Guide On Increasing Your Chances Of Securing A PhD Scholarship By Chris Thompson
My name is Chris Thompson, and before I was eventually successful in my pursuit for a PhD scholarship in 2016, I spent a long time trying to get to that end goal! I had many unsuccessful applications, interview invitations, and a good few “nearly moments”.
In this short article I will use my experience to guide you through your own search for a PhD. There is no magic solution, but there are many simple things you can consider doing to give yourself a better chance of being successful.
“We Regret To Inform You That Your PhD Application Has Been Successful...” A Short Story On The Challenges Of Finding A PhD Scholarship By Dr Chris Thompson
TW // Article contains references to suicide and suicidal behaviour
My name is Chris Thompson, and from 2016-2019, I was a PhD student at Saarland University (Germany) and the University of Technology, Sydney (Australia). For three years, I got to conduct several research projects with professional football players, and I was fortunate to sample new cultures and make lifelong friends along the way. I travelled around Europe to share my findings, and I often partied like it was 1999 (albeit on a PhD stipend budget). I crammed so much into that time, it felt like I’d lived a number of lives in that experience.
Sounds great right? It had its moments. But let me tell you something – it took a heck of a long time to get to this position. In this short blog, I will talk about the painful pursuit of a PhD scholarship which was more challenging than doing a PhD itself.
The PhD Place hosts a community of PGR students from all over the world. All views expressed are by the individual authors.