Why I chose to apply for a PhD programme
|Date:||06 October 2020|
A common question many students nearing the completion of their Master’s programme have is: “what to pursue next: a job or a PhD?” With the current COVID-19 situation worldwide there are challenges for every fresh graduate. While studying for my Research Master in Biomolecular Sciences, I was always more inclined towards pursuing a career in research. Being a critical-thinker, I have always been intrigued by common scientific problems we face in daily life and this further fuelled my desire to obtain a PhD position. Another reason that prompted me to apply was that my expectations are that although a job provides a more structured routine it can get monotonous after some time. I think that being a PhD student gives me more freedom to explore my curiosity, learn the scientific principle in practice, learn a new field and learn how to translate ideas into tangible working models. Most importantly, I wanted to pursue a PhD to learn about performing research independently for a career either in the industry or in academia. My decision to apply for a PhD position at the University of Groningen was purely based on being passionate about my field of interest and also to enhance my chances of getting a good job in the industry after the completion of my doctoral studies.
However, finding a fully funded PhD position was not an easy task. I started looking for research assistant roles as well as PhD positions a couple of months prior to the completion of my Master’s. I wanted to be well informed about the opportunities that were available for me. In the beginning I was not entirely sure about the kind of research position I was aiming for. That’s why I applied to both structured and unstructured programmes in both the Netherlands and other countries. What helped me most was contacting professors associated with a particular research group directly as well as contacting my university professors through email and LinkedIn.
So, what do I think universities look for mostly while hiring graduate students?
From my experience most universities are looking for graduates that are articulate, proactive, have good communication skills (scientific data can get lost in translation) and can dedicate 4 valuable years of their career towards the completion of the PhD programme. In general, I think universities highly value applicants who are passionate about research and have thorough knowledge about their field of study.
In my opinion, pursuing a PhD depends on your scientific curiosity to learn new things about your field. The journey is unique for every individual and requires immense commitment.
Having said that, I believe that, despite inherent challenges, pursuing a PhD can be immensely fulfilling. Not only can you acquire career skills, but also skills that will help you cope with challenging situations throughout life. It mainly depends on your area of research. Another aspect to consider is that employers in an industrial setting value the high quality of education and the practical skills which are a core part of your PhD journey! As an international student I am aware about the language barrier that can exist across different countries in Europe as well as the immense competition for being selected. This actually being another reason why I chose Groningen to pursue a PhD. The language barrier is much less of a problem at the UG, and I am already familiar with the scientific network within the university.
Based on my current experiences, here are my seven tips for aspiring students, interested in a PhD position:
1. Contact your professors for recommendation letters and in case they have any open vacancies for projects. Always attach your CV and preferably a motivational letter as to why you would be suitable for a role. Even if they currently do not have a position, they can always forward your profile to someone who has!
2. I would advise to take the time to write a suitable motivation letter based on the advertised project rather than writing a common one for every application. In case of doubt, you can have your letter and cv checked at the career services department from the University of Groningen. Also attending virtual career fairs like, Make it in the North, provided tips on how to successfully tackle job interviews and utilising LinkedIn as an effective tool for job searching.
3. Start applying early! The application process for PhD positions starts a few months before completion of the master’s programme, so it’s always better to be prepared in advance. Also, as an international student the registration process can take 2-months due to administrative procedures and the application of a residence permit.
4. You can also use LinkedIn to expand your professional network and find an available PhD position. Universities do advertise incoming vacancies on LinkedIn. Keep your LinkedIn profile well updated about your previous and ongoing research internships. You can also let your network know that you are open for research opportunities so that a recruiter might reach out to you.
5. I would also suggest some online portals that were immensely helpful in looking for information about PhD positions on the university website. I'll share a few links from the university website that can help you navigate your options:
- How to obtain a PhD position
- What does the University of Groningen have to offer PhD students?
- PhD research programmes
- Current PhD Vacancies
6. Do not hesitate to apply for positions you are not 100% suited for. Some countries, such as Germany, may also state certain language requirements for the application. But from my experience sometimes it matters more how well you are able to communicate and acquired your skill set rather than having years of experience and being able to speak a certain language.
7. You can also find a PhD position that is a collaboration between a company and a university. It is always better to acquaint yourself to the expectations of the industry during your PhD programme. This can greatly boost your professional network and provide you with job opportunities post the completion of your PhD degree.
Overall, I am quite excited with the prospect of pursuing research in the Netherlands, considering its well reputed for research across the globe and I'm am happy to say that I found a great opportunity in times that the world is faced with a pandemic. I wish everyone who is currently looking for a suitable PhD position lots of luck. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me via the contact form on my personal page you can find the link below.