Applying for a PhD in the Humanities and Social Sciences (2/2)

Joe Cronin, Application Adviser

In part 1 I outlined some things to consider when thinking about a PhD in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Today I’m going to focus on how to deal with the application process itself.

Your research proposal is just that – a proposal. For almost all applications to PhD programmes (and undoubtedly if you’re applying for a funded position), you will be expected to write a research proposal. This can be a daunting prospect for those who ‘only’ have a Master’s degree and now have to consider how they would plan three years of research. But remember that whoever looks at your proposal is also going to be aware of this. Research proposals are simply a means to show that you are capable of conducting a long-term research project. They are not rigid plans that you have to stick to (and few people do anyway). With that said, it does pay to do some research for your proposal, if only to make sure that you have some knowledge about the topic you’re proposing to study (if it’s related to your Master’s thesis then this is less of a concern), and, in particular, to make sure that no one else has done your project already. However, you don’t have to show a comprehensive knowledge of your topic, nor do you have to know what the findings of your research will be. After all, you haven’t started it yet!

Make sure you have access to a library. When writing your research proposal, it’s a good idea to make sure that you can access a decent amount of scholarly material relating to

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Considering a PhD in the Humanities & Social Sciences (1/2)

Joe Cronin, Application Adviser

There are currently more PhD scholarships available in Humanities and Social Science subjects in the UK than at any point in recent history. While this is undoubtedly a blessing for anyone considering embarking on doctoral study in these areas, there are some factors to bear in mind:

It’s more worthwhile than ever to try to find funding. Some students are in the fortunate position of being able to fund their own doctoral research (in 2016/17, annual fees for full-time research courses at QMUL will be £4,121 for home students, and £13,400 for overseas students). However, with the range of funding now available, try to find a suitable scholarship – even if you don’t feel your academic credentials are ‘exemplary’. Most PhD studentships will cover not only your course fees, but will also provide a maintenance allowance. Even if you are able to cover these costs yourself, a scholarship also adds prestige to your work (someone is actually paying you to study!) and will bolster your CV when it comes to applying for future positions. You can find plenty of PhD scholarships advertised on (scroll to the bottom and click on ‘PhD’ in the

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Broaden your horizons: opportunities to gain skills and experiences outside your PhD (part 3)

Gemma Garrett, Careers Consultant

In the final part of this series, read on to hear more from our Broaden your horizons event last week, as part of QMULGradFest.

andrew hinesAndrew Hines, a third year SLLF postgraduate, spoke passionately about his teaching experience with The Brilliant Club, a charity that exists to widen access to highly-selective universities for school pupils from under-represented groups. The organisation employs PhD students and postdoc’s from all disciplines to teach.  Andrew’s role involves tutoring small groups of bright secondary school children from low economic backgrounds for two hour sessions at time. The experience enabled him to hone his communication skills by talking about his often niche and complex area of research in ways that could be understood by young, non-specialist audiences. Andrew gained an insight into what it’s like to teach to school pupils and developed his tutoring skills, whilst also earning some extra cash (all the positions are paid). As well as giving him an outlet from his PhD, Andrew’s involvement means he can now “sum up his PhD in three lines” – a valuable skill whatever his next career move.

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Broaden your horizons: opportunities to gain skills and experiences outside your PhD (part 2)

Gemma Garrett, Careers Consultant

In last Wednesday’s blog we introduced you to some of the PhD students who spoke at last week’s Broaden your horizons event. Read on to hear from more of our students and what they’re involved in …

hayleyHayley Peacock, a fourth year PhD student in Geography, is also a great example of how being open to doing new things can lead to further opportunities. Hayley’s involvement with The Brilliant Club led to her being invited to apply for the role of ‘Widening Participation Support Officer’ for the School of Geography’s Stepping Stones scheme. In this role she trained QMUL Geography undergraduates to deliver challenging 1:2 tutorial sessions to widening participation students from local schools. Hayley’s teaching experiences also gave her the confidence to coach in one of her other passions –

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Broaden your horizons: opportunities to gain skills and experiences outside your PhD (part 1)

Gemma Garrett, Careers Consultant

Whether you’re seeking a career in academia or elsewhere, it’s likely your next employer will be looking for a broad range of skills and experiences, not all of which you might acquire during your PhD. It’s therefore useful to be aware, and take advantage of, opportunities to broaden your horizons beyond your PhD. 

On Weds 13th June, postgraduate researchers gathered to hear from six of their peers about a variety of activities they’re involved in alongside their PhD. The event aimed to raise awareness of the exciting range of opportunities available to PhD students to broaden their skills and experiences, and further enhance their chances of securing their next role. Broaden your horizons was organised by Careers & Enterprise as part of the 2016 GradFest organised by QMUL’s Doctoral College.

Read on to find out more about what our speakers are involved in… we’ll be featuring more of our speakers on our blog soon, so watch this space!

jenny mccurryJenny McCurry, a third year Geography postgraduate, recently completed a three month Research Councils UK (RCUK) policy internship. These paid internships are available to any Research Council-funded PhD students, regardless of their discipline (they are offered by the MRC, NERC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC and AHRC). They provide the opportunity to develop an understanding of the policy-making process and how research contributes to it. In her role, Jenny was working in a team of analysts at the Department for Communities and Local Government. The experience gave her an insight into the different roles within government and how the policy process works. It also allowed her to apply the research skills developed throughout her PhD to new topic areas, and to achieve impact in a new environment outside academia. As well as gaining an insight into a different job sector, Jenny made a myriad of new contacts (including academics active in the policy arena) that will support her in her next career move.

Samuel BrodSamuel Brod from the WHRI spoke about how a chance encounter, talking to a (then) stranger in a bar about his PhD project, led to involvement in a series of science communication activities. This started with a video combining his science with art, but subsequently led to writing, public engagement and presenting roles. Sam found these opportunities through a combination of proactivity (seeking out activities like the NatureJobs blog writing competition) and his ability to talk enthusiastically about his subject to anyone who will listen (leading to referrals to roles that included an internship at the Centre of the Cell). Among other things, Sam has contributed to the NatureJobs blog, helped organise events such as Pint of Science and the Cheltenham Science Festival, and edited the WHRI academic newsletter.  His rising science communication profile means that people now approach him with paid work to do something he enjoys doing!

Guest blog: MSc Engineering conversion courses at the University of Exeter

You don’t need to have studied Engineering to begin a career as a professional engineer

Why should I consider an engineering conversion course?

An engineering conversion course can be a great way to learn new skills, build on your existing knowledge and increase your employability. In an ever competitive job market, the demand for engineers only continues to rise. Employers are placing increasing value on graduates with well-rounded professional skill-sets and a broader knowledge base – gained from transferring from a different undergraduate specialism. All of this, plus the introduction from 2016 of postgraduate student loans of up to £10,000, make now a great time to consider a career in engineering.

How are the programmes delivered?

The programmes are delivered in short, intensive teaching blocks, enabling you to quickly build new knowledge in each individual area before moving on to the next. Some teaching takes place in conjunction with the University’s Business School. The structure of the courses mean that some modules are taught in conjunction with other programmes, enabling you to network with students from other specialisms and build professional contacts for the future.

What career opportunities are available following an Engineering conversion course?

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Thinking about postgraduate study?


After your exams, you might be considering continuing with university life and doing a postgraduate course. A few students have mentioned this to us already, so before you decide on anything, we’ve put together a list of things to consider.

Think about why

Be honest with yourself about why you want to carry on studying. Is it to gain an industry-recognised qualification? Do you think it will make you more employable? The course doesn’t have to be purely for vocational reasons. Love of a subject is also a good motivator. What isn’t a good reason, however, is fear of having to job hunt, because you will have to look for work sooner or later. A postgraduate course is also a big commitment (financially and time-wise) so make sure you have thought about all the key elements beforehand and know where your motivation really lies.

Research what it will involve

There are a lot of differences between postgraduate study and an undergraduate course, not only in the expected standard of your work. Postgraduate courses can be much more specialised and ‘niche’ than an undergraduate degree. The form of examination may be different (more coursework, less exams). You may not have as many lectures or seminars and the cohort of students may be smaller. Some of this may not matter to you, but it’s worth having a clear idea of what postgraduate life looks like.

Know your term dates

One key difference to note is that the vast majority of postgraduate courses run from September to September. You’ll be a student throughout the summer when you’ll be expected to be working on your dissertation. You won’t, therefore, have the summer holidays to do an internship, if that’s what you were planning. This is particularly important if you’re an international student – you could be in danger of violating the terms of your visa if you work full-time during the summer when you’re a registered student. It’s worth clarifying all of this before you start a course.

Talk to people

It’s important to think about what sort of organisation you want to work for in the future and where you want to work, as employers can have different attitudes to postgraduate study. A Masters or PhD is certainly a requirement for a career in academia and some other areas of work, and is often expected by overseas employers. However, many UK employers will treat a postgraduate in the same way as a graduate, so it’s important to do your research.

Have a look at current job adverts for the sorts of roles you want to apply to in the future. Do they specify that a postgraduate qualification is required? If so, is there a particular subject they prefer? Some industries may prefer practical experience over qualifications. There is also the option to study part time, or take a short course, which would allow you to get a qualification AND work experience at the same time.

You could also speak to employers at careers events to hear their perspective on further study, or contact them directly on LinkedIn.

Plan what to do alongside your studies

Make the most of your time as a postgraduate to gain the skills and qualities employers are looking for. Work experience during the summer will be difficult, but you could do something part-time during term-time. Why not attend events to gain an insight into the industry you’re interested in or to network. You could do some volunteering, which is a great way to gain skills but can be more flexible to fit around your studies.

If you’re not sure whether to do a postgraduate qualification or not, why not have a chat with one of our Careers Consultants? They can help you to clarify your thinking and talk through your options. Contact 020 7882 8533 to book an appointment.