5 Tips for Graduates considering a Career in Research
February 22, 2021
While in their Master’s degree, many students realise that they would like to continue studying and pursuing a career in research. Yet, the process of applying for a PhD is complex and full of obstacles. Often, there is not an immediate or direct passage from getting a University diploma to starting a career as a young researcher.
Navigating academia and applications for PhD positions can be challenging but with the right information, you can make the pivot seamlessly. Here are five suggestions PhD candidates wish they’d received while working on their own applications.
Talk with a professor you trust
It is possible to write a project without any kind of supervision. Still, it is definitely good to ask for help, even for double-checking your structure, your ideas, and grammar in the writing process of a project. You will also need a reference letter, so having a professor on your side is a crucial form of support. Don't forget to request it weeks before the deadline: professors are busy with tons of students approaching them for such help. Don't expect them to reply to your email and provide a document in 12 hours.
Decide a topic/subject you are eager to study, possibly for an extended period
If you decide to pursue a research career, you will have to work on a topic for years. Motivation is vital: a PhD candidate should become an expert on the research topic they scrutinize. Otherwise, it will be difficult to keep going in moments of crisis or when an obstacle comes in the way. Being in a PhD programme can be a 3 or 4 years commitment. Considering the complexity of this career, ask yourself if you are really motivated and confident about your decision.
If not, working in a field different from academia might be worth exploring.
Use online resources
The internet is full of helpful resources that can guide you in the brainstorming and writing process. It is advisable to listen to other PhD students' experience by watching videos, reading threads on Reddit or Twitter, or searching for projects' models online. Online resources are also central to look for openings. Many websites publicize new positions and include mailing lists.
For instance, the website Academic Positions posts constantly new openings (https://academicpositions.com/jobs/position/phd), PhD Portal also promotes positions and shares resources (https://www.phdportal.com/) as FindPhD (https://www.findaphd.com/).
Euraxess (https://euraxess.ec.europa.eu/jobs) and Scholarship Positions (https://scholarship-positions.com/post-job-free-scholarship/) have mailing lists.
Reach out to PhD students of the potential programme
It is not unusual to ask for tips and suggestions from potential future colleagues. PhD programmes usually have a public web page with the names and emails of candidates in their first, second, or third years. It is okay to drop an email to those working in the field of your research interests, asking for advice and questions about their experience in that academic environment. Most researchers would be happy to connect with and answer your questions.
Apply to Call for Papers
Your academic curriculum vitae is always required in applications. As an applicant, you have to stand out, and enriching your CV with conferences and publications can boost your profile. A variety of seminars, talks, summer schools happen all over the world every day: google “call for papers - X,Y subject” and check which one could suit your research interests. This can be a crucial first step in your academic career because it forces you to write an abstract and, possibly, structure a paper to present in front of an audience.
All in all, deciding to pursue a career in research can be a daunting process. It is important to have a Plan B, to take care of yourself, and always preserve your resilience over a possible series of rejections. Setbacks and obstacles are the rule, not the exception.
Written by Francesco Bacci
Francesco Bacci is pursuing a PhD in American Literature at the Graduate School of North American Studies at the Freie Universität, Berlin. He has a Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Languages, Cultures and Literary Translation. His research is grounded in Queer culture, Black studies, literature, and cinema. Since 2014, he has also been writing articles about cinema and culture for various Italian and international magazines.