As academics, we routinely come across students – undergraduate and postgraduate – enquiring into how they can get into a PhD programme. Our advice is always the same, do your research! In today’s #studentchat, Mohammed shares some advice for undergraduate students contemplating undertaking a PhD.
Research is fun! Contrary to popular belief, it is much more than hours on end based in a laboratory carrying out monotonous work. It is a much more wholesome and rewarding experience but it is not without its challenges.
I have been fortunate to be involved in research prior to undertaking my undergraduate degree. Now you may wonder, why burden oneself with extra work, isn’t working towards a first or a 2:1 enough? A decade ago, the answer to that question would have been yes. However today it is almost impossible to get into a PhD programme without some form of research experience under your belt. With this in mind, I encourage other undergraduate students to look out for opportunities to carry out some type of research from the beginning of their studies. You may be thinking, “I don’t want to do a PhD, let me get out and make some real money!” There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and no one should do a PhD if they do not really want to do it. However, for those interested, remember that research in itself can equip you with a range of transferable skills that are highly sought after by different employers.
Simply put, science graduates are highly sought after by employers from different disciplines. Now try and imagine someone who has done a science degree but has also experienced science in its purest form…research into the unknown. Research develops a person in a way that no other work experience can. It builds discipline, a sound work ethic, time management, critical and independent thinking and excellent communication. Your ability to identify and articulate the skills you have developed from research will guarantee your ‘saleability’ in the graduate jobs market.
Still interested in doing a PhD? How can you get into one?
The second question is a tricky question and there’s no straightforward way of putting it other than it’s not easy and it takes a lot I mean LOTS of effort on the prospective candidate’s part. The simplest method and the one I myself used is the following;
- Work hard at your degree even in your first year where people say “it doesn’t count, or that the first year is just a way to bring everyone to the same level.” That last statement really bothers me as the first year is the time where you can begin to stand out from the crowd.
- Develop professional relationships with your lecturers – the majority of them are involved in research and usually don’t mind helping a student they know can deliver. This is why first year is so important.
- Once you’ve built a rapport with your lecturers find out about their research and READ their papers. Familiarise yourself with their work. Email your lecturers or other researchers in your department explaining why you want to work with them what you can offer (however little it may seem) and how it would be beneficial to you to work with them.
- Finally, try try and try again – Some researchers are more willing than others to provide these opportunities and the only way to find out is by asking. Learn to deal with rejection.
To conclude I can honestly say from my own experience that the ability to have had real research experience as an undergraduate is a priceless opportunity that everyone should endeavor to achieve. The rewards that can be gained will most definitely be of value whether or not you can appreciate the value at the time you are doing the work i.e. during your 1st/2nd year. Your hard work will pay off because by the time you get to your final year, you would have that something extra to present to prospective employers.
About our writer: Mohammed Malik is approaching the end of studying for a degree in Biomedical Sciences and now aims to carry out a PhD in neuroscience. Mohammed believes science is a subject that broadens the mind and changes the way people think providing more solutions to one problem. As was once said by the great Physician Avicenna: “width of Life is more important than Length” and science certainly provides width.
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