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Top Ten Mistakes to Avoid During the Pre-Doctorate Journey (PhD, DBA, EdD, Mphil)

Dr Ioannis Pantelidis, director of doctoral studies at the University’s Doctoral College, has compiled his top tips to avoid when considering a PhD, based on his many years advising his own prospective PhD students and from the students themselves who have taken on the PhD adventure.

  1. Doing a PhD because of powerful others (and not because of you) – Dr Pantelidis advises that before you start your PhD, the number one reason for doing it has to come from you. Full-time PhD study will take a minimum of three years, and part-time study will take six to seven years, and this is a long time to be doing something that someone else wants.
  2. Not having an area of study that you are passionate about and passionate about researching – Dr Pantelidis notes that without your passion, this can allow others to dictate what you are researching. You may come across funded PhD’s where the area of study is somewhat dictated, but you still need to have passion for the subject area or at the very least the context of the subject area. Even in a funded project, your director of studies or your supervisor will expect you to be the leader of your project, and carry out your studies willingly and independently.
  3. Not researching a good university with good admin and supervisory teams – A lot of people get stuck on rankings – and rankings do involve some research element, but it is worth remembering that most of the rankings you see consider the undergraduate experience, do not assume that this is a clear representation of what is happening at PhD level. Things that Dr Pantelidis advises to look for is evidence that supervision teams are good and that they have good completion rates (you can search a university name and completion rates). It is also advisable to look for universities with a doctoral college. Not all universities have a doctoral college like the University of Brighton, and so PhD students are fortunate to benefit from an organized unit that really looks after their students. Doctoral colleges are often for successful in securing funding for the students and their projects. Also, the admin staff should not be underestimated in your institution decision. Admin staff are problem solvers, so don’t forget to cultivate those relationships and keep up your communications with them.
  4. Not researching the university processes – Dr Pantelidis notes that he gets lots of questions about scholarships and application processes, but he suggests that you don’t go to your potential supervisor with questions that are already readily available, because this gives the impression that you don’t know how to research. Find out as much information about the PhD as you can before your application and certainly before your interview.
  5. Being charmed by the reputation of a grand professor – A well known name in your field of research may be appealing, but their status may also mean that they are not as readily available for PhD candidates. When researching a potential supervisor’s profile, they will normally have some information on previous PhDs they have supervised, and you should check if there has been a relationship between them, have they published papers together? These are small indicators that can tell you whether the relationship continues post-PhD. A good mentor/mentee relationship should continue.
  6. Not planning finance – Will you be securing funding? If you are going to self-finance, have you thought about all of the possible expenses that might materialise? Dr Pantelidis often finds that students reach a point in their research project and they get stuck because they can’t pay the fees or buy necessary kit. You need to think about other expenses that are not PhD related, such as moving countries and affording living expenses. Postgraduate scholarships are available for international students and more information on them can be found on our dedicated scholarships page.
  7. Not treating the PhD as a full-time job – Dr Pantelidis recommends treating a full-time PhD like a full-time job and to be putting in the hours each week that a full-time role would normally demand, 40-45 hours. But even for part-time PhD students, who are probably working a full-time job, then the PhD is and feels like another full-time job. Not giving the time required to studying means that it will take you longer to finish your PhD, and once your PhD is finished you will be able to enjoy having the time to write books, journal articles, attend conferences and more.
  8. Not using the interview and the early interactions with the potential supervisor as early warning signs – These signs could be positive or negative. If you email a supervisor and they take a long time to get back to you, that supervisor might not be the best one for you. It might also be that they have too many students to supervise.
  9. Passing the interview and not starting your work early – Sometimes students will do well and pass the interview stage but then they procrastinate as they think they have many years left to complete the PhD. Most universities do have systems to help you with what you have to submit and when, and staged approaches where you have interactions with your supervisor, but it is still up to you as the student to keep pushing yourself.
  10. Not networking with research teams and taking advantage of all of the extras – The reason why you go to university to study for a PhD is for the expertise – not just of the supervisory team but everything else that happens in that research community. You should try to integrate with the community, network with them, go to seminars. Especially for part-time students, it is easy to forget that there are so many great things you could be doing and learning that will enhance your PhD experience, as well as you personally as a researcher and thinker.

Bonus tip – don’t take the machine gun approach – Sending out lots of applications to PhD programmes without tailoring them and without reaching out to potential supervisors. If you have a strong proposal, you may hear back from supervisors, but this is not the best approach. Take a structured approach to contacting universities to make sure you can find a supervisor that would be a great fit for you.

You can watch Dr Pantelidis’ full video below.


doctoral collegePhD

Olivia Weatherill • February 15, 2021

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