how to get a phd
Complete an undergraduate degree in a broad field
. To qualify for a PhD program, you will need a solid record of undergraduate coursework from a reputable university. This degree should demonstrate your potential for both advanced coursework and independent research. In general, you need to maintain a high GPA and develop a good working relationship with your instructors. Generally, its recommended that students interested in pursuing advanced degrees should develop a wide skillbase during their
Develop a close relationship with at least one faculty member
. Finding one or more faculty members who will mentor you, guide your development, and assist you in finding the right program for you can be the difference between finding your way into a good Ph.D program, and struggling. Youll also need several letters of recommendation to apply to graduate programs, making these contacts essential. A good way to develop a relationship with a professor is to take multiple classes with her and join her lab, or re
Obtain experience in the field with a research internship
. In many fields, hard science in particular, securing a summer internship as an undergrad can do a lot to make you stand out on your applications. If you can get experience assisting in the biology lab, or doing field work with the other geologists, or even assisting a professor grade surveycourse tests, youll be one step ahead in the academic field. Workstudy programs in your field of interest can also be extremely attractive of graduate applicat
Make contacts in your field
. Become involved in your academic departments club or honor society if one exists. If not, speak with your advisor or department chair about starting one. National and regional conferences, such as the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), allow dedicated undergrads the opportunity to rub elbows with experts and contribute to the discussion.
Start researching graduate programs in your junior year
. Graduate school applications will be due sometime during the winter or spring of the academic year, for admittance the following fall semester. In other words, the autumn semester of your senior year is most likely too late to start looking at programs, compiling your application materials, and getting them in on time. Start early and dont miss out. Look for programs with a good reputation, but give more weight to the faculty and the research int
Take the Graduate Record Examinations General or subject test
. Many programs require scores from the GRE to admit you to the graduate school, while others (many liberal arts degrees) will waive this requirement. While most Masters programs only require the general test, which is like an advanced version of the SAT, some Ph.D programs will require that you take the subject test, which is given in several sections, including biology, literature, and other fields. Its a much more difficult test than the general
Secure letters of recommendation from people familiar with your work
. The best recommenders will be distinguished former professors, contacts who can attest to your commitment, work ethic, and who also know the field youre applying to intimately. Often, your undergraduate and graduate professors and advisers will have a better handle on the specific information the admissions committee wants than would a supervisor from outside the academic world. Its important to ask for these letters as early as possible, prefera
Write a statement of purpose
. This should describe what you have already done in your field and what you hope to accomplish with your doctoral research. Good letters will describe who you hope to work with as your research supervisor and the reasons you want to work with that person. Your research program should be in an area that has not been previously researched, or has been underrepresented in the literature. If youre planning on applying to lots of schools, it can be a t
Assemble your application packets and submit them by the deadline
. The graduate school will list the basic requirements for admission, and each program will likely list supplementary documents, including writing samples, portfolios, or other materials that you should submit to the program by a particular deadline. Look for this information on the graduate studies website for the particular university. Most application packets require the following materials:a completed application form Undergraduate and graduate
Apply for teaching or research assistantships
. A general rule of thumb is that advanced degrees should always be free. When youre doing your research, apply to programs that offer full funding, or at least offer opportunities to secure funding in exchange for teaching responsibilities. Most Ph.D programs offer some kind of assistantship to pay your way through the years of your doctoral program, with the added option of research assistantships directly tied to your own research. Applying for
Choose a major professor and committee
. You want an advisor familiar with your area of research who can direct you when needed and have resources and connections you can draw on. Tenured professors have access to more grant money, equipment, and connections, while nontenured professors are more personally available for assistance and advice. Choose people who you can work with, and who share a common research interest, as well as people you get along with personally. Personal differenc
Submit a plan of study
. For most fields, a plan of study is submitted to the graduate school and the degree program within the first year of your studies. The plan with be submitted to the Department Chair, who will either accept it as is or suggest revisions. Obtain the Plan of Study form from the graduate school office, if one is provided.
The names and signatures of your committee members
. The names and signatures of your committee members, the program director, and the student. Youll also need your student ID number and other personal information.
A brief statement of your academic and research goals
. This will typically be a supercondensed version of your research question or thesis statement, probably no more than 50100 words.
A list of the required courses
. A list of the required courses youll take over the next two years, listing course number, title, department, and instructor, as well as the semester you intend to take the course. Most programs require around 12 hours of required coursework for an advanced degree.
A list of the elective courses you ll take
. A list of the elective courses youll take, with corresponding course numbers, titles, departments, and instructors, as well as the semester you intend to take the course. Most programs require somewhere between 20 and 30 elective hours for an advanced degree.
. When youve passed your preliminary examinations, your coursework will change to independent research and dissertation work, but youll still be registered for a course with a course number and a particular number of credit hours, with your major professor or thesis chair as the instructor. This information will also need to be included on the plan of study form.
Complete the requisite coursework
. Most programs require somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 hours of departmental coursework, while others require more or less, depending on the field. As with most advanced degrees, youll likely need to pass all your courses with at least a B, or better. In graduate school, the course load is usually somewhat less than the undergraduate degree, because of the intensity of the coursework and other research or teaching responsibilities. A full load
Complete your written examination
. Typically, this will occur sometime at the end of your second year of course work, and will be prepared by your committee. The content of the written examination will depend not only on your field of study, but on your particular research interests and academic needs. Think of it as a test particularly tailored to you. The written examination, sometimes called the prelim, will typically be submitted to the department chair by your major professor
Begin performing research and collecting data
. The goal of the PhD is to complete independent research. Its your first chance to be an academic pioneer, exploring an untapped field, researching new layers of a particular topic, and putting your stamp on the conversation happening in your field. Its also a great opportunity to get deep into a topic that excites and interests you. Choose a research topic that gives you genuine pleasure, and choose something that youre willing to spend several y
Explore the literature in your research field
. A large part of your research process should be devoted to exploring the conversation thats already happened around your topic. You need to perform literature reviews to find out what experiments have been performed breeding drosophilia, and what has been written about women in silver age comics. Find an unexplored angle or aspect of the research.
Perform your own experiments
. When you find out that, despite the interesting observations of some researchers, a compelling connection doesnt exist yet between drosophilia and ongoing attempts to mutate cancer cells, you may well have found an avenue for your experiments. If the critical literature is significantly silent on the topic of Wonder Woman, youve got something to write about. As you complete your coursework and add complexity to the topic in which youre interested
Prepare a doctoral dissertation thesis
. Your doctoral dissertation is the written culmination of your research interests, to be completed over the course of multiple research semesters. The dissertation should provide the answer to the research question you set out to explore. These are typically booklength projects that will need to be submitted to your committee, defended orally, and approved to be awarded your doctorate.
In the humanities
. In the humanities, several semesters following your coursework and preliminary examination will be devoted to completing the research involved with your interests. During this time, youll be expected to periodically update your committee on your progress, providing them with literature reviews and outlines, depending on your arrangement. You may also be expected to publish supplementary papers periodically in academic journals.
In the sciences
. In the sciences, youll spend your postprelim semesters doing lab work, or other field work depending on your field of study. The time will be spent collecting data and performing experiments to move your research forward, to be collected in the dissertation, and probably published in peerreviewed journals.
Prepare for the oral defense of your dissertation
. After youve written and submitted a dissertation to your committee, youll be expected to defend it in a semipublic forum. This usually takes the form of an interviewstyle questionandanswer session, though youll generally be privy to the questions your committee will ask. Most defenses are cordial affairs, not debates, though you should expect to be pressed and argued with regarding your methods, your conclusions, and other aspects of your work. T
Apply for departmental grants or additional appointments
. Many PhD programs will fully fund every student admitted into the program, through some combination of teaching responsibilities or research assistance completed in conjunction with the coursework. Full funding means that any tuition fees will be waived, and youll be awarded a stipend to cover your living expenses, anywhere between $13,000 and $30,000, depending on the location of the school and the nature of the program. Other programs assist st
In the hard sciences
. In the hard sciences, money is allocated to provide different labs, projects, and individuals money on a competitive casebycase basis. To apply, youll typically write a detailed proposal of your research goals and submit it to the department.
Apply for private research grants
. Most departments acquire funding from a variety of sources, public and private, and its common to bypass the department and go outside if youve got a particularlyattractive research topic. The Whitehall Foundation commonly provides research grants to scientists, while the NEA and the Poetry Foundation offer a variety of grant funds to artists and writers. Talk to your major professor about applying for private money.
Consider crowd funding options
. Increasingly, academics are taking their projects to the people, especially for innovative research topics. If youre pioneering a new approach to artificial intelligence, or another flashy topic thatll look good in a 2 minute video, start a kickstarter, Rockethub, or Petridish.org profile to take your research to the people and work outside the institution.
Balance your budget
. While getting $13,000 dollars for attending school may sound like a lot of money, keep in mind that youll probably be working in excess of 40 hours a week, attending courses full time, and covering your own rent, food costs, and other expenses. Likewise, many PhD programs only fund during the school year, making parttime employment a common occurrence among PhD students, especially during the summer months.
Avoid petty competition and departmental rivalry
. Academic departments can be competitive and cutthroat environments. With everyone competing for the same grants, awards, and respect, it can get ugly fast. Try your best to stay out of departmental politics, and make an active effort to reach out to others and collaborate. Put your head down and do your work. No matter how smart you may be, how great a teacher, or researcher, you will need the help of others in your research.
Balance teaching responsibilities with research and coursework
. While your research and dissertation are your primary focus during your doctoral studies, make sure youve developed a healthy balance between all your responsibilities. If youve never taught before, it can be difficult to find the time to spend on completing the research you want to complete, when youve got a stack of fifty papers to grade, lesson plans to prepare, and a student in tears at your office door. Dont Try to do everything at once. Bec
Be tenacious and display initiative
. The average PhD takes between 5 and 10 years to complete. You have to be prepared to commit the time and energy, throwing yourself into the deep end of the academic pool. Its not something to rush through, but it is your chance to put your stamp on the field thats captivated you. During the time you spend working on your doctorate, youll face a variety of challenges. The labs funding may be cut. You may lose grant money. Your paper may get reject
. Despite the reputation of academics as absentminded Professors, getting a PhD takes an ordered mind. Learn to prioritize tasks and relegate lesscritical chores until later. Do one thing at a time. Break large jobs down into smaller manageable tasks that you can complete and move on.