Writing THE proposal

The proposal is a deal-breaker, a game changer if you want. This is the main part of your application. This is the main criterion of selection, the topic, the way you write it, how you present it, how you plan it, even your motivation and what type of person you are is transmitted through these 15 pages.
Never underestimate the power of writing, make sure you make an excellent impression and you convince your admission officers that you need to be in this program.
Here are some tips on how to stand out:

1. Be organized
Think of the fact that the admission officers and professors read hundreds of proposals a day and it’s very stressful and eventually even boring. Make their job easy and be organized, they are just ordinary people that have feelings, frustrations and the only way you will ever convince them is through your writing. Here’s an idea – I saw yesterday a comedy about an admission officer in Princeton (see below) think of someone like them when writing.

2. Pay attention to the guidelines
Check on their website, research on the internet and always read their instructions carefully. If the requirement is Times New Roman 12 with a 1,5 paragraph don’t do anything different, if they want 10-15 pages never write more than that. It’s very important to show them that you are attentive to details and that you play by their rules.

3. Ask for 2nd opinions
Take your time, ask a professor whose opinion you trust to proofread it and also ask a couple of friends what they think. It’s very important that your writing is comprehensible, that you make your message comes across in a clear and straightforward way. This is a very important task as you have to write a scientific material that is delivered in a way that even someone who doesn’t know anything about the topic is instantly captured by it. At the same time, be aware that you are not writing an article for the New York Times.

4. Be original
The main aspect of your PhD is creativity: you have to bring something new to the topic, you are expected to make your own contribution. Still don’t re-invent the wheel, be very careful and again take your time analyze, think, brainstorm and write, write, write.

5. Keep it short and simple
Don’t beat around the bush. Nobody likes to read the same idea in 7 ways; you here because you have something to say, right? And seriously the admission officers and professors neither have the patience nor the time to read the same thing over and over again throughout your proposal. Don’t use the fanciest words you found in the dictionary and never try to over-impress because it will be obvious for your readers that you are trying to hard: they can tell! Just keep it simple and relaxed.

Keeping the above in mind on the content, this is the structure your proposal should have:
1. First page: Title, author, date and place
First impression is the title, try to think of it in a way that attracts the interest of the reader and at the same time gives the hint towards the concepts and the questions in your research. Sometimes the title makes the difference so never ever underestimate the power of a good title.
2. Abstract
3. Content
4. Literature review/ State of the art
5. Research questions/Objectives
6. Methodology
7. Conclusions
Appendix: Research Model, Plan

Here are some useful links where you can find in detail how to write each part of your proposal.

http://moodle.une.edu.au/pluginfile.php/191/mod_resource/content/2/examples-phd-proposals.pdf

http://newdelhi.daad.de/mainFrame/home/guideline_research_proposal.pdf

http://sydney.edu.au/stuserv/documents/thesisproposal.pdf

http://www.southampton.ac.uk/sociology/postgraduate/research_degrees/apply/how_to_write_an_MPhil_PhD_research_degree_proposal.page

http://www.exeter.ac.uk/media/universityofexeter/webteam/shared/postgraduate/pdfs/A_Guide_to_Writing_your_PhD_Proposal.pdf

I recommend reading Prof. Dr. Qais Faryadi’s article from the American International Journal of Contemporary Research on How to Write Your PhD Proposal: A Step-By-Step Guide

http://www.aijcrnet.com/journals/Vol_2_No_4_April_2012/12.pdf

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How to apply for a PhD? Part 2

All right, so you found the programs you want to apply for, it’s time to get started on your applications. Please keep in mind that the entire application, selection and admission process may take at least 6 months so be sure to plan ahead.
Usually, these are the documents you will be needing for your applications:

– Exposé or proposal of the planned dissertation (a 15-20 pages ”sketch” of what you would like to research during your PhD.)
– Letter of application
– Letter of motivation a.k.a Statement of purpose
– 2-3 Recommendation letters (in my experience at least 2 have to be from your former professors)
– Curriculum Vitae (emphasizing your research/academic achievements)
– Master Degree (legalized copy or original)
– Master Degree Transcript of Records
– Bachelor Degree (legalized copy or original)
– Bachelor Degree Transcript of Records
– Language certificate (only required if you are applying for a program in another language other than your mother tongue)

Seems like a long list and lots of stuff to do, so where do you start? Try to choose the most simple, the easiest task or the one you like to most. That way you start on a positive note and you won’t loose your enthusiasm and motivation. It might take a while to get all of them done, surely the biggest amount of time will be dedicated to writing your exposé.

How to apply for a PhD? Part 1

We’ve cleared out and established a presumably strong motivation for signing up for a PhD challenge now let’s see how to do this. First thing you need to think about is that you may need around 6 – 10 months to search for scholarships, prepare documents and write your proposal. It might sound like a lot of time, but as you will find out the searching and applying might require some time and you need to prepare for travelling, interview and possibly also presenting your proposal in front of a committee.
As you get started, please have in mind that there are 2 types of programs: “the traditional PhD” and “the structured PhD”. Please see below the main characteristics.

Untitled

Great, so hopefully this has helped you decide whether you would like to pursue a traditional or a structured program and which one suits better your personal and professional life. Now you need to decide on your priorities; so think what is more important for you: what you want to research/study or where you would like to do this. During my application period I’ve come across some very interesting databases that might help you decide. Just select your options and click search, you’ll be having fun in no time.

US
http://www.hotcoursesusa.com/us/3-phd-doctoral-degree/database-management-in-usa.html
http://education-portal.com/database_phd.html

Europe
http://www.phdportal.eu/

UK
http://www.findaphd.com/

Germany
https://www.daad.de/deutschland/promotion/phd/en/13306-phdgermany-database/

You will probably find a lot of interesting programs, my suggestion would be to think of applying at least to 5 or so. I’ve noticed sometimes people prefer to apply only for 1 program, I suggest finding different funding solutions because you can never be too sure. It’s great if Plan A goes well, it’s even better if your Plan B goes well too, then you have more options.

Why should anyone write a PhD?

Surely one of the most important questions and the constant motivator throughout the process of writing your thesis is constantly keeping in mind the reason you started.
A fresh PhD graduate told me she has learned a lot from this experience and developed her presentation and research skills; has gained a lot of in-depth knowledge, has met and worked with great people. She told me she wrote her thesis because she would like to work afterwards either in Academia as a Post-Doc/Assistant Professor or in a company in the R & D Department as a Researcher/Method Specialist. Her advice was to keep in mind all the time the objectives you set for yourself at the beginning because the road can sometimes seem never-ending, there is no palpable outcome, that is not something you can actually measure and subjectivity is your biggest enemy. You will ”fight” with yourself, with others, you will be constantly criticized, sometimes strangled alone in a sea of concepts, research methods and you should be capable of managing this independently.
One of my friends, who is in his 3rd year of PhD, told me that not a day passes by that he does not ask himself why, even several times a day: he asks himself that when he goes in the morning to the university, when he receives feedback from the journals he submitted articles to, when he has writer’s block, when he has to revise his papers 10-12 times in a period of 2 months and especially when he goes home and thinks of all the papers he still has to write/read. So I asked, why are you writing this? He said his initial motivation was so he could later have a better position and a higher salary, now he’s just doing it because he cannot take it anymore and just wants to finish it already. In the end, he thinks PhD students exist so that professors can publish articles in the journals and build their academic/research reputation with cheap researchers.
Personally, I cannot think of anything else I would rather do: if the opportunity presents itself, if you have time and you want to invest in yourself don’t think twice and take it. I don’t believe this will make me a better, more capable person, surely I will acquire different skills and learn a lot and that matters. Having the work experience, I know what it means to be an employee in a multinational company, to work under tight deadlines and be constantly on the edge, always fighting to reach your target and going from the office straight home to bed because you don’t have the energy to do anything else. I have been dreaming of this for a long time but I never thought about it in a realistic way, I never thought I would go back to Uni… But here I am now. I plan to keep a part-time job and start my PhD in September. Sounds like a great plan.

Additionally, here are some interesting opinions and articles on what people think about PhDs:

– this article from The Economist on ”The disposable academic” is just great, wraps all the things you need to know
http://www.economist.com/node/17723223

– Thor May’s straightforward opinions and his experience from writing a PhD
http://www.academia.edu/1978293/Why_Write_A_PhD

– and to balance the score, Lucy Russel’s article in The Independent on why writing a PhD is still one of the most interesting and life-changing experiences
http://www.independent.co.uk/student/postgraduate/why-writing-a-phd-is-still-a-lifechanging-personal-journey-444247.html

So why should anyone write a PhD?
Hopefully the personal opinions I mentioned and the articles I referred to, gave you an overall idea on why people do this. So if you have the time and energy to invest in a 3-year project and if you have an opportunity to do so (e.g. receive a stipend) you should not hesitate.

Acceptance to Graduate School of Social Sciences

I still have trouble processing this information. I can’t believe it’s true as I have constantly been dreaming of this moment for the past year. So my over-enthusiasm burst into action in the context of receiving an official acceptance letter and daydreaming about how this PhD. experience will change my life.

Stories have been told, blogs and articles have been written and these are a few of the most interesting ones out there:

A PhD. students’ blog and his story on how the blog saved his PhD.

http://www.nextscientist.com/writing-science-blog-saved-phd/

Best PhD. website ever – especially if you’re a comics fan (like I am)

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php

An interesting article from The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/student/postgraduate/why-writing-a-phd-is-still-a-lifechanging-personal-journey-444247.html

Just a bit of reading before actually starting to lay out the main reasons why I want to write this blog. When referring to the literature on language and writing, there is a general functional distinction between language as action and language as reflection, what Halliday calls the pragmatic and mathetic macrofunctions of language (Halliday 1978). According to this writing has (1) the function of interpersonal action and (2) the function of individual reflection, it is a way of creating personal meaning, that is for oneself and at the same time for others. There are, however, also references to more specific uses and functions of writing such as: the memory supportive, the distancing, the reifying, the social control, the interactional, and the aesthetic.

For the purpose here, I would like to refer to this blog initiative as having 3 main functions:

1) Knowledge sharing function: planning to share knowledge, tips & tricks on scientific writing, literature review, methodology and presentation skills.

2) Social function: creating a network, documenting the experience of writing a PhD – connecting with other students, helping and learning from each other, sharing experiences (I would like to invite guest writers, people who like to share their PhD adventures).

3) Motivational function: in times of trouble finding a relief, writing about the difficulties that may arise and discussing different strategies of overcoming them.

Having written such an “Ars poetica”, a statement of purpose and motivation, I feel an overall pleasant state of mind, I feel as if I am embarking on a very exciting and extremely difficult journey to travel across a virtual continent with many “death traps”, high peaks and very dark waters, a 3 year experience that will surely change everything.

It’s like preparing and running a marathon, writing and performing an award-winning music album or movie, it’a long term effort that might even not be worth the while, right? Because in the end if it’s not awesome or not good enough it’s for nothing. How many people run the marathon, how many people play music or write movie scripts? A lot. But how many of them rank #1? Just a few. And if you’re not in the very few, you don’t count.

My purpose is to rank #1. My decision is to prepare simultaneously for running a marathon, this way have both sides of the story: the abstract, research proposal, questions and literature review and the more empirical, physical activity of running from A to B in a specific period of time. Mind and body control.