Advice on applying to do a PhD: Annual PostgraduateStudentships PhD funding fair

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    Who has some top notch advice on applying to do a PhD?

    What types of things did you have to consider, how did you research the opportunities available?

    Did you return to the same university as your undegrad or move on?

    How are you finding your PhD, looking back now do you have additional pearls of wisdom for those considering one?


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    For those thinking about postgraduate study what kinds of questions do you have?

    Share them here

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    Some of you might or might not be aware of the PhD Funding Fair which is happening in London on 6th December.

    There is lots of information here. You have to apply to attend and it's an excellent opportunity given the number of universities attending. The added bonus is that you can also talk to current PhD students about how they're finding postgrad live and pick up tips and advice.

    The fair covers a broad range subjects - arts and humanities, law, management, social sciences and a range of science and engineering subjects.

    Universities in attendance include:


    I'll also be there in the PhD Student Peer to Peer Advice Room - so if you come along please come and say hello :wavey:

    If you're looking for funded opportunities make sure you check out returnmigrant's thread here too
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    I hereby bagsy the first spot :danceboy:

    This is a muso perspective :musicus:

    What types of things did you have to consider, how did you research the opportunities available?
    Things I had to consider:

    1. How my project would be received by people (it's very interdisciplinary, to the point that it sits within the fringes of lots of subjects but comfortably in none. It's kinda Marmite like that :eek: ): not just prospective supervisors, but their departments. Would I fit into the research profile there? Is it an interdisciplinary-friendly environment? Would people 'get' me, or try to shoehorn me into their research interests/agendas? :ninja:

    I actually applied to one Music Dept and one Media, TV and Film Studies dept, coz I was that unsure about what kinda department I'd be better off in :lol: In the end, I returned to my music roots, and I'm really glad I did. Not to say it's without its challenges, though...

    Choosing one's supervisor and one's department is hugely important, and this must be done carefully and thoroughly :yep:

    2. Funding opportunities. It was always gonna be unrealistic that I'd get funding but hey: if you don't try you never know

    3. Proximity to home: as a disabled student who needs to live within the family home, there was only so far away I could realistically apply

    In terms of how I researched the things, it was almost entirely through the Internet. I wasn't too bothered about seeing what the campus was like, so I just did lots of Googleing and getting recommendations off friends as to who might be good people to work with. Over the years (I took two academic years out between finishing MA and starting PhD), I've contacted quite a few different potential supervisors, for two completely polemic projects. Some people were interested in working with me, whereas others had more reservations/hesitations.

    Did you return to the same university as your undegrad or move on?
    I moved on. My undergrad institution refused to have me back (I applied and was rejected without interview. My then-dissertation supervisor had to break the news to me. It was hilarious :lol: ) :rofl: At the time I was pissed off and somewhat hurt by this but in retrospect, I'm SO relieved I didn't stay. It wasn't the right place for my research, or for me to do postgrad studies :nah:

    I also moved between Masters and PhD. People often ask me why I didn't just stay at my Masters institution. I haven't got a good reason, other than the years I was applying, there were no studentships for Music at all :nope: Again, this turned out to be a good thing, with hindsight. Coz I am far happier and better supported at current institution than I would have been at my MA institution.


    How are you finding your PhD, looking back now do you have additional pearls of wisdom for those considering one?
    It's not without its difficulties, of course, but I am genuinely really enjoying my studies! I am fortunate enough to have an amazing supervisor, and a great disability team at uni, and the two groups interact with each other, which is handy and helpful. I feel like I have room to breathe, in that my supervisor is very flexible, but she's always got her foot on the pedal, if that makes sense?

    Looking back, my advice would be as follows:

    1. Be quite sure of your project before contacting supervisors. You don't have to know or have read everything. But I don't think I helped myself by having two potential, completely contrasting projects on the go around the same time :nope:

    2. If you are a disabled student, investigate and contact the disability office BEFORE accepting an offer. Having a good team in place and knowing what provisions there are and having them in place early on, can make all the difference.

    3. When trying to narrow down supervisors, it would probably help to read some of the work of each potential one. I never bothered doing this and so realised sometimes a bit too far down the line that X would want me to do Y, or that A would only work with me if I worked in B way/with C methodology. Plus it's just generally good to read their stuff, so you get a sense of them as a researcher and what input they could/would have into your project! I still haven't read any of my supervisor's stuff. Not that it's related to my stuff, but it's just kinda polite to and if I had done, I would have further cemented my decision to work with her :yep:

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    Happy to see this on here. I helped with that fair a few times while I was a PhD student and generally it's a great experience and you get to meet a load of prospective students and share your experience

    I'm actually running a 'starting your PhD' workshop at my uni for our new PhD students.

    What types of things did you have to consider, how did you research the opportunities available?
    For me funding was the main thing. As a non-EU international student there was no way I could afford to study without funding. I didn't have to worry about location. I just wanted to be where was best to do what I wanted to do research-wise and get the most out of the experience in terms of skills. I was pretty flexible about the topic of research as I was more interested in gaining specific lab skills. Your PhD doesn't necessarily define your career in my field. I was also keen on taking on a project that didn't have a very heavily specified research plan so that I would have the freedom to develop my own (also a very important skill for an independent research career).
    I exclusivley used findaphd.com. I checked it every week on a Monday or Friday and spent the week/weekend applying.

    Did you return to the same university as your undegrad or move on?
    I moved on which is always something to aspire to if you have the option as you don't want to stagnate and want to show that you've spent time in different labs and working with different people. My undergrad uni didn't have funding for me in the end so it wouldn't have worked out.

    How are you finding your PhD, looking back now do you have additional pearls of wisdom for those considering one?
    I actually enjoyed my PhD. I spent the first 3 months reading, learning new techniques and setting up the project. I spent the rest of that year gathering initial data and working out where the project could go. I spent the next year and a half gathering and analysing all my data. I spent the last 6 months writing up, applying for postdoc funding and setting up my first postdoc project (I was staying in the same lab for my first postdoc). The viva was tough but fair and took about 3 hours (pick your examiners wisely!).

    Spend some time developing your reading and writing skills and get feedback on your work. Organise your references from early on (use a ref manager!). Ask for help when you need it (including for mental health issues and stress) and take breaks but don't procrastinate. Don't forget the bigger picture and ask the question 'so what?'. Develop an open and honest relationship with your supervisor and manage each others' expectations from early on. Back up your work! When you're coming to the end, make sure you know when enough is enough. Your thesis doesn't have to be perfect and chances are that no one apart from you, your supervisor(s) and your examiners will read it. Develop skills outside of research (teaching, outreach, public engagement, commercial to name a few).

    She-Ra I've now realised this last bit is more for people starting their PhDs. Should I edit? What do you think?
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    Happy to advise on anything biomedical PhD wise. Will update later.
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    (Original post by She-Ra)
    Who has some top notch advice on applying to do a PhD?

    What types of things did you have to consider, how did you research the opportunities available?
    Oh my days, what a question! Let me ask this one back to you, what type of things did you consider when you were looking for your undergrad course/uni? Some of the things to consider will remain the same as the considerations for your undergrad, but some of your circumstances and priorities will have definitely changed.

    At Undergrad, one of my main considerations was the prestige of the University, since over 60 Universities did the course. However, I did sub-categorise these into Campus vs. City and then just picked the top 5 campus Universities on the list. When it came to choosing my PhD, University prestige played only a small factor - the now main deciding factor was the relevance of research. In my mind, it's much better to accept a PhD project as Oxford Brookes that's relevant to your interests than it is to go to Oxford University and do something irrelevant.

    My next consideration was approachability of supervisors. Once I'd decided on an area of research, it was time to shoot off as many emails under the sun to as many potential supervisors as possible. Even if you find the perfect supervisor, will (s)he have the funding to be able to take you on? Are his/her circumstances going to change soon so that they won't be able to have a student for 3/4 years? I got many emails saying "would love to have you, but can't because no money/losing job/moving abroad" and the like.

    However, of the emails I did get back, they all seemed to have the same trend - "I need you to try and apply to this funding body for this project grant". What's even better is the movement of funding from individual grant applications to the "Doctoral Training" umbrella. Once I'd got emails from supervisors saying "apply through this Doctoral Training Programme", I started to research these DTPs (aka DTCs and CDTs), and found them a much better focus of my time. The process is pretty much the same as Undergrad - apply centrally to the University, get interviewed, get offered a place. You don't need to have any ideas about specific research projects, just a general area and supervisors at the University that are vaguely related! On a DTP, you're in control of your own money, and so you can go with any supervisor you like since the supervisor doesn't need to fill in any grant applications. This was much less scary to me than approaching supervisors with project proposals and going through grant applications, especially since it was my final year at Undergrad.

    My next consideration was my partner. She wasn't a consideration when applying to my Undergrad, since she wasn't a part of my life! Since the relationship was 2 years strong, and I could definitely see it continuing into the foreseeable future, I had to taylor my applications based on distance from her. In the end, we did end up going to completely geographically separate places and try LDR. But we decided that sucked, and are now both commuting miserably long distances every day, but it's definitely worth it. But that's a separate story!


    Did you return to the same university as your undegrad or move on?
    I moved on. I considered staying, but I heard time after time after time that getting as much varied experience as possible is the way forward. Naturally, if you do an undergrad at Oxbridge, then staying there for a PhD is probably a wise choice, however


    How are you finding your PhD, looking back now do you have additional pearls of wisdom for those considering one?
    Just one: Consider whether a PhD will actually help your future employment opportunities.

    I'm getting to the age now where I'm beginning to realise there's more to life than 24-hour academic study and work. Doing a PhD is a huge time commitment, and commits you to the student lifestyle for another 3-4 years. The pay is dreadful so you can forget luxury holidays, running a car, expensive extracurricular activities. But you can also forget adult-ing for a bit. No mortgage provider will even hear your case out, and a lot of private landlords are very dodgy about taking the 'stipend' as an income.

    However, should the long-term benefits outweighs the long-term costs, then it's an incredible challenge well worth undertaking!
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    What types of things did you have to consider, how did you research the opportunities available?

    I basically went on "find a PhD", shortlisted those and then made intial enquiries. The ones that replied with "go for it" got an application.

    I considered a couple of factors:
    1) I need full funding (but I'm in STEM so that was okay)
    2) I have a stats degree so I'm actually eligible for a lot of random PhD positions, anything that's mostly data analysis so I had to make sure I wasn't being too narrow (i.e. not looking at just maths departments).
    3) I got a 2:1 so I had to pick realistic unis / departments (in maths a 2:1 is often not considered competitive).
    4) I'm disabled so I needed to move near a pre-existing support network and somewhere that was keen to help disabled students.

    Did you return to the same university as your undegrad or move on?

    St Andrews was very keen for us to move on (unlike my new uni where everyone and their mum seems to have done their undergrad here ). So it wasn't really a question. I think unless your department is truly exceptional in your specific field of interest it's best to broaden your horizons.

    How are you finding your PhD, looking back now do you have additional pearls of wisdom for those considering one?

    I haven't been doing mine that long but make sure you like your supervisor. Read their work and make sure you mostly agree / find it compelling. However, I feel this can be down to luck as you don't get a lot of opportunity to see if your personalities gel. Just if you start to think "no I wouldn't get on withthem" in the interview that's a bad sign.

    Try and get to know a variety of postgrads and some of them will hopefully turn into friends. I'm struggling with this at the moment. Don't be afraid to look outside your department! Make sure to build casual friendships with your office mates but don't worry if they don't turn into something deeper.

    Use reference managing software (I like Mendeley) and file sharing (like dropbox). You'll most likely work on a desktop in the office but also want access on your normal laptop. I synched my Firefox browsers as well which was helpful. Make lots of folders on your computer, bookmarks and e-mails, you are going to be inundated with stuff and you need to keep it organised. Also back everything up. If you download dropbox there will be two copies of your files one physically on your computer and one in their servers. If you put this on a hardrive once a week you should be pretty safe.

    If you're in maths learn LaTeX and use it, it is the best typesetting option for you. A lot of people write PhD's in word, which is fine, but if you're doing anything with a lot of equations you'll be better off with LaTeX. It's more similar to a coding language which gives you a lot of flexibility. This book is very helpful. That link is to the free PDF I bought a physical copy as well. There's a follow up specifically for PhD work which describes how to use the bibliography package (you'll need that).

    If you struggle to stay organised try something like habitica which is like an online to do list with habits, daily tasks and a generic to-do list. Also get a diary: lectures, workshops, meetings, etc will all appear in your inbox constantly and you need to keep track.
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    Thank you monkyvirus - how did you go about securing the funding or was it already a funded project?

    Some postgrads - especially those that are doing a PhD have mentioned to me that sometimes they feel pretty lonely in comparison to uni life as an undergrad. How do you find it day to day?

    (Original post by Reality Check)
    Happy to advise on anything biomedical PhD wise. Will update later.
    That would be brilliant! Thank you
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    (Original post by She-Ra)
    Thank you monkyvirus - how did you go about securing the funding or was it already a funded project?
    On Find a PhD it tells you the funding status and I only looked at fully funded ones. In STEM nearly everyone does a pre-existing project (rather than approaching supervisors speculatively) and a lot of those already have funding secured.

    On the topic of funding, universities are kind of disorganised... Moreover, because your stiped isn't a wage per se you can experience delays in payment to start with. Basically have a back up (someone who you can borrow money off, room in your overdraft, or something like that). In my case a funding mix up didn't change the amount or how I was paid it was simply an internal issue that would be sorted out later and I still got my money. However, I was pretty lucky it didn't result in serious delays.

    Some postgrads - especially those that are doing a PhD have mentioned to me that sometimes they feel pretty lonely in comparison to uni life as an undergrad. How do you find it day to day?
    I was a pretty lonely undergrad :P

    I have depression and anxiety which people find hard to deal with. Universities are more keen to help but I find my peers say stuff like "the university has counselling" if I say anything about feeling anxious or depressed, which is kind of dismissive. It's the assumption that despite ridiculous waiting times no one around you needs to support you because services exist. Equally a lot of people tell me not to mention it in case I make people uncomfortable and I just feel like saying "I have anxiety, your existance makes me uncomfortable so could you stop doing that?". But that's because I've reached the belligerent stage of my recovery :P

    The office is torture for me, but for most I think it's just a little frosty. I'm in a very small office (3 people) so it feels weirdly intimate but the others did their undergrad here so I can't really make friends with them as they already have complete lives...

    I've reached the stage where I can introduce myself and go to things like group mental health workshops, networking events, etc which helps. But you really have to put the work in to make friends. My neurotypical extroverted buddy described making friends as an uphill battle at his PhD, so I think everyone struggles.

    In comparison to undergrad, I used to spend 50% of my day in a friend's flat. We had our group and we all hung out at that one flat. As a postgrad everything is far more planned and you have to sugest things to do and deal with a lot of rejection or flakiness.
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    (Original post by monkyvirus)
    I was a pretty lonely undergrad :P

    I have depression and anxiety which people find hard to deal with. Universities are more keen to help but I find my peers say stuff like "the university has counselling" if I say anything about feeling anxious or depressed, which is kind of dismissive. It's the assumption that despite ridiculous waiting times no one around you needs to support you because services exist. Equally a lot of people tell me not to mention it in case I make people uncomfortable and I just feel like saying "I have anxiety, your existance makes me uncomfortable so could you stop doing that?". But that's because I've reached the belligerent stage of my recovery :P
    I'm sorry to read of how your mental health impacts you and has been received by peers But ngl (maybe I'm just a terrible person), that bit in bold proper cracked me up :rofl: Largely coz I recognise a lot of myself in that sentence :angel:

    Thanks for teaching me a new word (belligerent) and for being so open, so that you can inspire me and others :yep:

    :hugs:
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    (Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd)
    I'm sorry to read of how your mental health impacts you and has been received by peers But ngl (maybe I'm just a terrible person), that bit in bold proper cracked me up :rofl: Largely coz I recognise a lot of myself in that sentence :angel:

    Thanks for teaching me a new word (belligerent) and for being so open, so that you can inspire me and others :yep:

    :hugs:
    Thanks! I think once you finally accept your symptoms you can get a little ticked off that no one else can accept them... I feel one day I'll acheive the zen state where I accept my symptoms but I understand and forgive people who struggle with them (unless they're actually mean about it). But that's a lot of wisdom for a twenty-something!
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    (Original post by monkyvirus)
    Thanks! I think once you finally accept your symptoms you can get a little ticked off that no one else can accept them... I feel one day I'll acheive the zen state where I accept my symptoms but I understand and forgive people who struggle with them (unless they're actually mean about it). But that's a lot of wisdom for a twenty-something!
    Yeah, I hear you. It's my bday on Sunday (turning 28 :eek: :shakecane: :yay: ) and I still haven't got there
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    I think whether you're lonely or not is very dependent on your personal circumstances as the journey to a PhD and through it is very personal. It can be a bit more difficult for people who work from home or are not part of a lab or group. I've always been the sort of person to have a small group of close friends and that doesn't bother me. As an undergrad I had that in my first two years and then went off to do a year in industry while my friends graduated. I came back and made new friends in my final year and joined a lab group for my project so was fine. When I started my PhD I had friends outside of my work as my lab group was a very toxic environment and I encountered my first (and last!) bit of racism in the UK (I've been here almost 10 years now). These non-PhD friends supported me through my PhD, a close family members' death and the breakdown of a long-term, long-distance relationship and got me back on my feet in time to meet my fiance and get my PhD.

    I think the moral of my story is you don't need to be Ms/Mr Popular but having a small close group of friends who know and love you for you is key
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    Research Council funding is painfully competitive and the months/years spent chasing it can be soul destroyingly frustrating. 'Project' funding (ie. a predefined title, not 'open call') is less competitive, so even if the title isnt exactly right, go for it. Always (yes, always) contact the supervisor before you actually apply - 'This is my background ....., is this the sort of academic profile you are looking for' etc - it will get you mega-brownie points and makes the supervisor actually look for your application.

    Be a bit adventurous and look outside the normal funding sources - and keep an open mind. There is plenty of funding out there (yes, honestly) you just have to be very tenacious and look outside the usual sources. Many, many Unis in northern Europe are English speaking at postgraduate level - Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Belgium in particular. They employ PhD students on a salary (so you have all the perks of being employed such as sick pay, pension rights etc). And also look at Canada, Australia and New Zealand. You have major advantages in their eyes - English speaking and from a compatible academic system. Whilst I appreciate that some people can't just drop everything and go overseas, for others this can be a life changing moment. You get to do your PhD, and you get the opportunity to live a different life for 3 or 4 years. Frequently this can open up whole new areas of research, professional networking, and future employment opportunities.

    And please, put any 'Uni snobbery' away. The newer Universities have some highly specialised research groups and are in many areas, world leaders. Despite what school-leavers think, 'which Uni' has precious little meaning at post-grad level. You will not be looked down on for having a PhD from what you might otherwise think of as a 'lesser' Uni - what matters is that your research has a value and is interesting, not the name on the certificate. If your research area is a bit obscure or isnt 'fashionable', but there is funding at a non-RG Uni, look very seriously at that possibility and put all your preconceptions away. They same goes for getting a Research Assistant job between UG/Masters and PhD - this adds enormous weight to any future PhD application as you have 'research experience' and your research ideas re. your own research are usually more developed and more interesting. If this means going to another Uni, another part of the UK, or even another country, be open-minded and grasp the opportunity.

    I compile a listing of the funding opportunities and research assistant positions I come across - in a sticky at the top of the PG board. I update it every few days with new studentships/jobs from all over the world. I have no idea if anyone does actually apply or gets an offer, but certainly people look at it (over 200,000 views .....). If it means someone gets a chance to fulfil their PhD dreams, I'm glad.

    Good luck - and don't stop applying. If you want it badly enough, you wont mind how long it takes you to get that offer/funding.
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    Is anyone else going to the PhD Funding Fair which is happening in London on 6th December? I'll be going to help out, let me know if you'll be there and come and say hi :wavey:

    I'll be there with The Student Room in the PhD student peer to peer advice room
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    (Original post by She-Ra)
    Is anyone else going to the PhD Funding Fair which is happening in London on 6th December? I'll be going to help out, let me know if you'll be there and come and say hi :wavey:

    I'll be there with The Student Room in the PhD student peer to peer advice room
    I used to do the peer-to-peer advice room every year. Sadly I'm not a PhD student anymore. It's a lot of fun and you get to meet loads of people and help them. Have fun
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    (Original post by returnmigrant)
    Research Council funding is painfully competitive and the months/years spent chasing it can be soul destroyingly frustrating. 'Project' funding (ie. a predefined title, not 'open call' is less competitive, so even if the title isnt exactly right, go for it. Always (yes, always) contact the supervisor before you actually apply - 'This is my background ....., is this the sort of academic profile you are looking for' etc - it will get you mega-brownie points and makes the supervisor actually look for your application.

    Be a bit adventurous and look outside the normal funding sources - and keep an open mind. There is plenty of funding out there (yes, honestly) you just have to be very tenacious and look outside the usual sources. Many, many Unis in northern Europe are English speaking at postgraduate level - Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Belgium in particular. They employ PhD students on a salary (so you have all the perks of being employed such as sick pay, pension rights etc). And also look at Canada, Australia and New Zealand. You have major advantages in their eyes - English speaking and from a compatible academic system. Whilst I appreciate that some people can't just drop everything and go overseas, for others this can be a life changing moment. You get to do your PhD, and you get the opportunity to live a different life for 3 or 4 years. Frequently this can open up whole new areas of research, professional networking, and future employment opportunities.

    And please, put any 'Uni snobbery' away. The newer Universities have some highly specialised research groups and are in many areas, world leaders. Despite what school-leavers think, 'which Uni' has precious little meaning at post-grad level. You will not be looked down on for having a PhD from what you might otherwise think of as a 'lesser' Uni - what matters is that your research has a value and is interesting, not the name on the certificate. If your research area is a bit obscure or isnt 'fashionable', but there is funding at a non-RG Uni, look very seriously at that possibility and put all your preconceptions away. They same goes for getting a Research Assistant job between UG/Masters and PhD - this adds enormous weight to any future PhD application as you have 'research experience' and your research ideas re. your own research are usually more developed and more interesting. If this means going to another Uni, another part of the UK, or even another country, be open-minded and grasp the opportunity.

    I compile a listing of the funding opportunities and research assistant positions I come across - in a sticky at the top of the PG board. I update it every few days with new studentships/jobs from all over the world. I have no idea if anyone does actually apply or gets an offer, but certainly people look at it (over 200,000 views .....). If it means someone gets a chance to fulfil their PhD dreams, I'm glad.

    Good luck - and don't stop applying. If you want it badly enough, you wont mind how long it takes you to get that offer/funding.
    From someone who's received a Welcome trust studentship I can say that this is excellent and accurate advice.
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    (Original post by She-Ra)
    Is anyone else going to the PhD Funding Fair which is happening in London on 6th December? I'll be going to help out, let me know if you'll be there and come and say hi :wavey:

    I'll be there with The Student Room in the PhD student peer to peer advice room
    Is it really bad that I'm tempted just to turn up to be like ZOMG THAT'S SHE-RA :gah: :hi: :excited:



    :getmecoat:
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    (Original post by alleycat393)
    I used to do the peer-to-peer advice room every year. Sadly I'm not a PhD student anymore. It's a lot of fun and you get to meet loads of people and help them. Have fun
    Have you got any advice on how students can make the most of the fair and that room?

    (Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd)
    Is it really bad that I'm tempted just to turn up to be like ZOMG THAT'S SHE-RA :gah: :hi: :excited:



    :getmecoat:

    I would love to see you We should meet for coffee one day :heart:
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    (Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd)
    Is it really bad that I'm tempted just to turn up to be like ZOMG THAT'S SHE-RA :gah: :hi: :excited:



    :getmecoat:
    Yes, she is rather fab.
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    (Original post by She-Ra)
    Have you got any advice on how students can make the most of the fair and that room?
    All the PhD students introduce themselves before the room goes 'live' so prospective students should pay attention and make sure they know who they want to talk to and about what. It helps to go in with specific questions rather than expecting the PhD students to just talk. They should make sure they get time to talk to who they want to and not be shy. The room can get quite busy so groups may form around the PhD students so prospective students should speak up and make sure they get their questions answered.
 
 
 
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