Many students who are considering a PhD do a Masters degree first. So what advantages do you get as a Masters student or graduate applying for a PhD, and how can you make best use of your time?
There are three main aspects of a PhD application – motivation, skills and knowledge – which can be impacted by a taught postgraduate degree:
Many students take the wise decision do a Masters before a PhD to see if they are suited to independent research – therefore reflecting on how you enjoyed this part of your Masters degree should be an important part of your application. However, there are other possible aspects of your Masters research project that can help. Most projects are carried out alongside, or under the supervision of, PhD students. Talking to them will help you to confidently explain in your PhD application why you want to do a PhD and what the common challenges are. Your project will also allow you to give details on how you were motivated to complete your research in spite of specific obstacles and problems, which is essential for a good PhD student. Finally, if you are doing a Masters in the same subject you are planning to do a PhD in, this shows interest in the subject.
There are lots of skills needed for a PhD that can be obtained or strengthened by completing a Masters. Do note that many of these will be different than those for a job, and also that PhD positions often don’t have a job description with a list of skills to work from. So you will need to reflect on what skills are needed to successfully complete a PhD (attend the S&E Doing a PhD event in November to get started on this – check careers.qmul.ac.uk/events for registration details) and then see which ones you can evidence from your MSc. Literature search, scientific writing, lab and computational techniques are some examples, but each PhD project will have their own set of skills that would be required to be able to carry out the research.