PhD Q&A 2

Thought I’d share extracts from discussions and questions I’ve been receiving about PhD since the first PhD Q&A blog post.

I am currently engaging with my literature reviews, and I use Scrivener, to organise my notes/research. But I was wondering, is there a more suitable program, for doctoral research? What program(s) do you normally use, to organise your research/notes? [Felix]

I use Mendeley (reference library and syncs across devices) and just in the last few weeks started using Docear (visual/mind-mapping reference manager and writing assistant, I really like it!). And of course use LaTeX (TeXShop on the Mac) to write papers.

…how many PhD’s did you have to apply for until you for the one at Surrey or did you just apply for the one? [Karishma]

I applied to 1 PhD position amongst 29 graduate programmes (which didn’t go too successfully) – ended up being a great experience and so happy I went this way.

Would you know if Engineering PhDs are less competitive than Humanity PhDs? From the forums I have read,  a lot of people have said they have had to apply to several PhDs before they got accepted, so it’s reassuring to hear you only applied for one and got it! [Karishma]

Judging competitiveness of PhDs would be a difficult thing for me to comment on seeing that I only applied to one (5 applicants for 1 position)…I think competition is going to be very irregular even throughout a single year, let alone year-on-year (because you could start a PhD at the beginning of a quarter e.g. 1st January, 1st April, 1st July and 1st October). Furthermore, given how and how much various universities and departments are funded, when they open studentships and how many will vary annually.

It’s nice to be able to see the journey of a PhD student especially in a research area I am interested in. Also I haven’t come across many profiles who want to go into industry after their PhD, which again is something I intend to do as well. Have you done anything specific over your PhD to make sure you still have those employability skills for when you finish? [Karishma]

I’m fortunate to have an industry sponsor on my PhD which is great for learning more about the hands-on aspects, the production side and problems there – it’s really good to gain experience from people who work in the factory, then you can see the difference between theory and practicality in addition to learning about things you had no idea about. Having industry involvement is uncommon in PhDs but pretty much certain for EngDs, where students spend a lot of time in industry in addition to taking compulsory modules in the first 2 years I think – EngDs tend to be 4 years in length.

I feel it’s important to make sure you’re well rounded, able to communicate your work to the public and show it’s real-world impact.

In addition, at the University of Surrey I’ve always taken up opportunities to attend skills and enterprise workshops, networking events with industry and outreach events to improve the soft skills – I feel it’s important to make sure you’re well rounded, able to communicate your work to the public and show it’s real-world impact.

I have been offered to continue my research as a PhD at [removed], however before I accept the opportunity I am trying to see what other opportunities are out there. I know its time consuming to write research proposals for applications so I was trying to weigh out if it was really worth it considering I already have a place to research something I am interested in. Since the research community is so small already and everyone has had different experiences its hard to see what the ‘right’ path is, especially since I know I want to work in industry after. I know EngD are a lot more industrial focused however doesn’t that mean the research you do is driven by their needs? [Karishma]

I agree, I presume it’s quite time-consuming writing your own research proposal, a lot of background work and finding the appropriate contacts and funding must go into it. I used FindAPhD and came across mine i.e. the studentship was advertised and all you have to do it apply like any other job – saves time and it’s nice that there’s some background already laid down for you to get started.

It’s actually a good thing to hear that your research community is small: it should be easier to find the main researchers/research-groups and contribute something novel, if it’s an underdeveloped field. If you can find a PhD with an industry sponsor, I’d definitely recommend! They have practical and commercial experience that proves invaluable in translating your ideas and theory into a reality. There’s no harm in looking around for other PhD positions.

I do think their research is quite driven by the industry sponsor – they have regular meetings/presentations. The traditional PhD is quite different in that you can basically research whatever you want as long as you can justify it to yourself and probably supervisor.

…you can basically research whatever you want as long as you can justify it to yourself and probably supervisor.

Did you have to find your company sponsor yourself? [Karishma]

For my PhD I do have a company sponsor (which is uncommon for PhDs), and I’ve currently spent the last two weeks doing experiments. Their help and knowledge has benefited me hugely! I can’t express enough how useful it’s been!

Now follows a discussion with my friend Tom…

There is a PhD in the Computer Science department which one of the Professor’s emailed me to see if I was interested in it. The topic is [removed] which is certainly something which interests me, but I’m just not sure about 3 years of research into it, it’s quite a bit commitment. I was just wondering when you were looking into doing a PhD what your thoughts were and if you had any advice? [Tom]

I agree 3yrs is a lot of commitment, we’re a bit different in that I was moving to somewhere new so it felt like something totally new, whereas you’ve had 3-4yrs here already – depends how you feel about staying in Guildford longer and if that might work out for future plans.

Also, just because the PhD is on a particular topic, doesn’t mean you have to stick 100% strictly to that. There’s always scope for looking at so many other areas. In general, the PhD is supposed to be super-specialised e.g. perhaps only 10-15 people in the world work on what you work on. But if anything my interests have grown outwards from background education, so for you, you may come across loads of non-Comp. Sci. topics that take your interest. Your time and research direction will/should be flexible enough that you can do whatever you want.

I guess the main thing which is making me not be sure is the writing up my research, the papers and thesis, and the presenting it it’s not something I’ve really had to do so far apart from my dissertation. [Tom]
…staying in Guildford is not something that is an issue, in fact it works quite well. The supervisor seems really chilled, I had him for a couple of modules and he’s one of the best I had. So no concern there. I guess the main thing which is making me not be sure is the writing up my research, the papers and thesis, and the presenting it it’s not something I’ve really had to do so far apart from my dissertation. The PhD is backed and funded by [removed] with a stipend of £[removed] a year, so really good opportunity and not something I want to miss but equally not something I want to do without being sure it is right for me. [Tom]

Good to hear about location, supervisors and stipend. I wouldn’t worry about writing up papers and such. You get loads of training workshops in the RDP (Researcher Development Programme) in the library with PhDs from other fields. They’ll be loads of presenting opportunities too e.g. probably departmental presentations. And what’s always possible is that you just try the PhD for 6-12 months, by which time it isn’t for you, you can just quit it.

Tom has gone on to apply for the PhD. All the best!

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