Following my previous post, these are a few core skills that I found vital when applying for a PhD. While the list below reflects my personal experience, I believe it might be a good starting point for other aspiring candidates. That said, others may need different skill sets (and even strategies that are different from what I have shared) to make their PhD application successful.
1. Formulating a research idea
While it might sound like stating the obvious, formulating a clear research idea is key to a successful application. You will need to narrow down a research gap, critique current theories or approaches or methods, and articulate your position through a new research idea.
2. Searching and networking for information
Knowing where you can apply and where to get funding from, what you need to prepare, when the deadlines are, and how you should submit the application are all crucial. You also need to find effective ways to gather information on where you can do your PhD. Doing some in depth online research is the norm, but attending conferences or talking to people are other great ways of obtaining relevant insights.
In my particular case, I tried all the above mentioned approaches. However, I found the most relevant news through a Facebook post. Some programs and projects (like mine) do not publicise and circulate their information widely, and so you really have to cast the net wider and network with people.
3. Writing an effective research proposal
It is important to emphasise that this document will let your supervisors and those processing your application know what you are going to do. I have outlined the structure of a thesis proposal in this guideline, but you should check all requirements carefully before applying.
That said, while a proposal is important, your research ideas can change as you progress. Professors are aware of this. As a matter of fact, they will expect you to improve and refine your proposal throughout your PhD. Therefore, treat the proposal as a proof of your competencies by showing your critical and analytical thinking. Do not let the fear of not knowing enough intimidate you or constrain you while preparing the proposal. After all, it is about the potential of the research project; no proposal will ever be perfect.
4. Communicating effectively with all key stakeholders
I can’t emphasise this enough, but effective communication with all stakeholders is as important to your success as your GPA and research proposal.
It is therefore vital to communicate with your potential supervisors, funding/admission officers, and university administrators in a timely, polite, and confident manner. More often than not, they will try to help you should there be any issues during your application process. For example, if you need to submit a document late or have had a personal issue that might have affected your application, do communicate with them and always try to offer an alternative solution. During your admission interview, act confident and try to create rapport with your interviewers. Pay attention to details; do not forget to thank them, and follow up with them on your application the way you would do when applying for a job.