Final year Imperial PhD Student: AMA Watch

savvy_scientist
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Hey,

I'm a final year PhD student at Imperial. If anyone has any questions please ask away!

Also apologies if this isn't the best forum for this thread.
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NamjoonMedic
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what is your PhD in? How did u decide you wanted to do a PhD? also how are you because it must be a lot of pressure
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(Original post by NamjoonMedic)
what is your PhD in? How did u decide you wanted to do a PhD? also how are you because it must be a lot of pressure
Thanks for your question!

what is your PhD in?
Like a lot of PhDs mine is between several disciplines. It's a mix of bioengineering / medical engineering and materials science, with a particular focus on correlative medical imaging. The end goal is to regenerate damaged articular cartilage: a biological tissue in your articulating joints (knees, hips etc) which doesn't heal itself well. My part has been to image the natural tissue to figure out its mechanical properties (biomechanics) and then to work with colleagues to apply this to novel biomaterial scaffolds we're building to hopefully regenerate the tissue. It's good fun working on multi-disciplinary stuff, the team I'm working on has biologists, surgeons, mechanical engineers and materials scientists on it.

How did u decide you wanted to do a PhD?
Of my undergraduate degree the research projects were my favourite parts. It's easy to see how some people don't enjoy uni with lectures, tutorials and problem sheets: it can seem a bit disheartening when the best result you can achieve is the answer which the course leaders already know the answers too, it's not very exciting. On the other hand research to me is really exciting because you're at the cutting edge understanding new things. I should say I didn't start my PhD right after undergrad, I worked for a few years, first as a research assistant in different departments and for a little bit at a private engineering consultancy. My third year project supervisor did suggest a PhD but I didn't take him up on it and in fact didn't apply to any PhDs until after I graduated.

how are you because it must be a lot of pressure
I'm sure it varies a lot between groups, supervisors, departments and unis but genuinely no it's not been too bad. Me and a lot of people I know who are doing, or have done, PhDs have in a lot of ways found it easier than undergraduate. That's not to say you can slack off but if you're organised it doesn't need to be hell. I actually for a month kept track of how much I was working, it's a few years old but I'll PM you with a link. Last year I was the president of a student society and rarely work at the weekends. I think generally if you think of it like a job which you come in to every [week] day you're fine
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(Original post by savvy_scientist)
Thanks for your question!

what is your PhD in?
Like a lot of PhDs mine is between several disciplines. It's a mix of bioengineering / medical engineering and materials science, with a particular focus on correlative medical imaging. The end goal is to regenerate damaged articular cartilage: a biological tissue in your articulating joints (knees, hips etc) which doesn't heal itself well. My part has been to image the natural tissue to figure out its mechanical properties (biomechanics) and then to work with colleagues to apply this to novel biomaterial scaffolds we're building to hopefully regenerate the tissue. It's good fun working on multi-disciplinary stuff, the team I'm working on has biologists, surgeons, mechanical engineers and materials scientists on it.

How did u decide you wanted to do a PhD?
Of my undergraduate degree the research projects were my favourite parts. It's easy to see how some people don't enjoy uni with lectures, tutorials and problem sheets: it can seem a bit disheartening when the best result you can achieve is the answer which the course leaders already know the answers too, it's not very exciting. On the other hand research to me is really exciting because you're at the cutting edge understanding new things. I should say I didn't start my PhD right after undergrad, I worked for a few years, first as a research assistant in different departments and for a little bit at a private engineering consultancy. My third year project supervisor did suggest a PhD but I didn't take him up on it and in fact didn't apply to any PhDs until after I graduated.

how are you because it must be a lot of pressure
I'm sure it varies a lot between groups, supervisors, departments and unis but genuinely no it's not been too bad. Me and a lot of people I know who are doing, or have done, PhDs have in a lot of ways found it easier than undergraduate. That's not to say you can slack off but if you're organised it doesn't need to be hell. I actually for a month kept track of how much I was working, it's a few years old but I'll PM you with a link. Last year I was the president of a student society and rarely work at the weekends. I think generally if you think of it like a job which you come in to every [week] day you're fine
woah, thanks for the response! yeah could you pm that to me pls 😅

also that's so interesting! I'm currently doing my undergrad in immunology & microbiology, and don't want to do a PhD straight away. I think it's important to have time for personal development and to also build my experience in other areas - before i commit to a PhD.

I like that you enjoy what you're doing and it makes you happy. I really enjoy my subject but the pressure in my final year is high, which is expected of course, but I'd like to think a bit more before commiting myself to a masters or PhD.

again thanks for the reply! that was really useful to read.

follow up question... did u pick your PhD based on areas you found most interesting or what the closest uni to you offered? or both?
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savvy_scientist
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(Original post by NamjoonMedic)
woah, thanks for the response! yeah could you pm that to me pls 😅

also that's so interesting! I'm currently doing my undergrad in immunology & microbiology, and don't want to do a PhD straight away. I think it's important to have time for personal development and to also build my experience in other areas - before i commit to a PhD.

I like that you enjoy what you're doing and it makes you happy. I really enjoy my subject but the pressure in my final year is high, which is expected of course, but I'd like to think a bit more before commiting myself to a masters or PhD.

again thanks for the reply! that was really useful to read.

follow up question... did u pick your PhD based on areas you found most interesting or what the closest uni to you offered? or both?
No worries, I'm happy to help.

I think you've got a sensible approach. I know a few people who kind of fell in to doing a PhD because they were offered one by a lecturer from their undergraduate degree and since they didn't have any job offers they naturally took the PhD route. It's not a bad way to do it if you're committed but for sure some of them weren't necessarily doing it for the love of research. Getting some experience first is great and will never be a bad thing for any potential PhD applications!

I agree that final year of undergraduate is tough. As previously mentioned I didn't apply to any PhDs (or jobs for that matter) in my final year of undergrad because I was trying to focus on getting the grades I wanted. If you've got a living situation where you can do the same you don't need to rush in to anything.

did u pick your PhD based on areas you found most interesting or what the closest uni to you offered? or both?
Funding can be the main obstacle. It's not too difficult to find a supervisor, in an area you find interesting, to offer you a PhD: the difficulty is finding one who also has funding available! If you're self funded then I think most supervisors at most unis would be happy to take you on because you're well... effectively free labour. During the time I was working after undergrad I applied for three consecutive years:
Year 1: only applied to one supervisor at one uni (Imperial): got offered a place basically immediately but my funding application fell through
Year 2: Same as above to the same supervisor but this time once I was accepted the department passed my application around to other potential supervisors. I met with one, he had funding but I didn't take it: mostly because I couldn't understand a word he was saying.
Year 3: By this time I was getting a bit frustrated so branched out. I looked at other opportunities, got in touch with someone else at Imperial who by a stroke of luck worked with my previous potential supervisor and they were applying for a big grant together. I applied to work under both supervisors with the newest one (based in a different department) as my primary one. They won the grant plus I won a nice scholarship so accepted. The same year I applied to CDTs at Leeds and Oxford. My advice would be to cast a wide net, apply to several in areas you're interested in and see what comes back. Crucially remember that you're under no pressureto take something if you change your mind
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Reality Check
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(Original post by savvy_scientist)
Hey,

I'm a final year PhD student at Imperial. If anyone has any questions please ask away!

Also apologies if this isn't the best forum for this thread.
  • Was yours a four-year PhD with an integrated Masters in the first year?
  • Are you due to write up on time?
  • Will you change your bank card and chequebook to include 'Dr' at the earliest opportunity after the result of your viva/doing your minor corrections?
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savvy_scientist
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(Original post by Reality Check)
  • Was yours a four-year PhD with an integrated Masters in the first year?
  • Are you due to write up on time?
  • Will you change your bank card and chequebook to include 'Dr' at the earliest opportunity after the result of your viva/doing your minor corrections?
Was yours a four-year PhD with an integrated Masters in the first year?
Mine is just a normal PhD. I did apply for some CDTs (PhD + Masters) but decided against doing one, mostly because I was offered a direct PhD for something I was interested in. I already had varied experience and didn't fancy spending an extra year, plus I spoke to my supervisors and they reassured me I could sit in on any lectures of any course if I wanted to learn something: not that I did this in the end!
I was slightly scared of doing a CDT because I've heard of situations where lots of people in the cohort want to work with a small number of supervisors which then become oversubscribed and people don't get their first choices. Doesn't mean it would work out badly but it's not quite the same procedure as directly applying to work with someone where you know where you stand before you start there.
I do think CDTs are good, especially if you're transitioning to a new field and would benefit from some lectures and exposure to different research topics before choosing. Plus it's a rare opportunity to get paid to do a Masters!

Are you due to write up on time?
Imperial sets a hard four year deadline for students to submit their thesis. I've got funding for three years and five months so plan to submit at the end of my funding which is in... 3.5 months eek! I'm focussing on writing papers which can then get turned in to distinct chapters. This seems like the obvious way to do it and work with several people who've done it successfully. I'm most interested in getting publications and know I'd probably not write many up after I leave if I busy with other things. I had a paper accepted a few weeks ago and two others on the go at the moment so don't seem to be behind schedule but doesn't mean I don't have lots left to do!

Will you change your bank card and chequebook to include 'Dr' at the earliest opportunity after the result of your viva/doing your minor corrections?

Haha good question! Yes I think so, mostly for boring and practical reasons: from the little anecdotal reading I've done it potentially helps credit scores and mortgage applications. It depends a bit on whether I need to change my passport first because I only got a new one last week!
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wolfbat
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hey! i am currently looking to find a PhD at Imperial, so I've identified some potential supervisors by doing a search of their research interests that match mine and emailed them but never got a reply... I got my master's at a different university, so don't actually know anyone in the school

would you say this is the best way to organise a PhD, i.e. informally contacting professors directly via email? any suggestions on how to maximise chances of getting a reply? thanks so much
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mnot
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(Original post by savvy_scientist)
how are you because it must be a lot of pressure
I'm sure it varies a lot between groups, supervisors, departments and unis but genuinely no it's not been too bad. Me and a lot of people I know who are doing, or have done, PhDs have in a lot of ways found it easier than undergraduate. That's not to say you can slack off but if you're organised it doesn't need to be hell. I actually for a month kept track of how much I was working, it's a few years old but I'll PM you with a link. Last year I was the president of a student society and rarely work at the weekends. I think generally if you think of it like a job which you come in to every [week] day you're fine
Hi could you PM me a link too? (im just curious, ive just started an engineering PhD at Notts so would be an interesting comparison for me)

How often did you find it "stressful" Im still really just at the start but ive found one of the surprising things is i don't feel any pressure or stress atm (it almost scares me not having big deadlines every couple of weeks)

How did you find the transition from 1st to 2nd year, and was the work load a huge increase, everyone tells me the workload seems to exponentially climb as the months go on.

How balanced are your studies? I have continued playing for Uni sports teams and really enjoy having something competitive outside of academia to focus on, do you think this is viable to keep up through the whole PhD?

Any nuggets of advice that other people dont mention about PhDs to watch for?

Also with your Lit review, how much have you updated it year-to-year? how many words & references did you use? Did you use it to publish a "review style paper"?
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savvy_scientist
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(Original post by mnot)
Hi could you PM me a link too? (im just curious, ive just started an engineering PhD at Notts so would be an interesting comparison for me)

How often did you find it "stressful" Im still really just at the start but ive found one of the surprising things is i don't feel any pressure or stress atm (it almost scares me not having big deadlines every couple of weeks)

How did you find the transition from 1st to 2nd year, and was the work load a huge increase, everyone tells me the workload seems to exponentially climb as the months go on.

How balanced are your studies? I have continued playing for Uni sports teams and really enjoy having something competitive outside of academia to focus on, do you think this is viable to keep up through the whole PhD?

Any nuggets of advice that other people dont mention about PhDs to watch for?

Also with your Lit review, how much have you updated it year-to-year? how many words & references did you use? Did you use it to publish a "review style paper"?
Yeah I'll PM you a link. In answer to your questions:

How often did you find it "stressful" Im still really just at the start but ive found one of the surprising things is i don't feel any pressure or stress atm (it almost scares me not having big deadlines every couple of weeks)

Yeah I know what you mean about not having big deadlines regularly doesn't necessarily give a sense of urgency.
I personally meet with my primary supervisor every week which keeps things ticking over, something I've also found has helped is that I proactively ask for deadlines: so for example I have one set that next Monday I'll have a draft for a few sections of a paper complete. Without a deadline I wouldn't get much done. I don't really find it too stressful too often, yeah there are things which don't go right and bug me. I get stressed relatively easily but mostly it's over-reacting and I have to remind myself that we're in a fortunate position being PhD students compared to many other jobs!

How did you find the transition from 1st to 2nd year, and was the work load a huge increase, everyone tells me the workload seems to exponentially climb as the months go on.

Nah, no obvious difference for me. Are you doing a CDT with a combined masters or a straight PhD? For me (doing the latter) things haven't really changed massively through the course of the PhD in terms of work load. Maybe I'm too chilled out: I guess we'll find out when I attempt to hand in my thesis early next year!

How balanced are your studies? I have continued playing for Uni sports teams and really enjoy having something competitive outside of academia to focus on, do you think this is viable to keep up through the whole PhD?

I try to take having a good work-life balance seriously. It's great you're playing sports with the uni clubs and would recommend you keep it up. I've been in various committee positions including in my third year was president of a society: so probably less commitment than a sports team but still took a decent chunk of my time. The way I see it is that many people might work lots of hours (sometimes very unproductively) then spend lots of hours watching TV, I prefer to work smart, work the hours I need to (sometimes spread unconventionally) but also try to do more engaging things with my free time. It can be difficult to know what pace you should be working at, I find speaking to my supervisor for advice works well. Sounds like you have the right idea and I see no reason you can't keep it up through your whole PhD.

Any nuggets of advice that other people dont mention about PhDs to watch for?

My main one would be start writing your first paper early, I wasted months spending ages fine tuning every sentence before sending it to my co-authors for feedback. It makes sense to iterate quickly and at least check that you're on the right path before polishing it. Also the idea of publishing something can be scary if you've not done it before but as soon as you've done it you realise it's not so intimidating. I like it when supervisors recommend students to write a review article like you mention, especially in your first year, makes a lot of sense.
Besides that, obviously time goes quickly and make sure you make the most of other opportunities that came with staying on at uni (including the sports you're doing!).

Also with your Lit review, how much have you updated it year-to-year? how many words & references did you use? Did you use it to publish a "review style paper"?


Err....! So at Imperial we have a few checkpoints you have to clear to carry on doing the PhD: one is at 9-12 months in and I produced a 20ish page report for that and I haven't touched my lit review since then... that's probably about to catch up with me! I do have a few other documents floating around which have reviews as part of them, including basically a review article which I've not done much with. I'm expecting that besides formalising the intro and conclusions and slapping in some papers, being more rigorous with my lit review is the main thing besides writing papers I need to finish up. Thanks for reminding me and sorry I can't give a more solid answer at the moment, you can check back in with me in a few months if you want!
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mnot
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(Original post by savvy_scientist)
Yeah I'll PM you a link. In answer to your questions:

How often did you find it "stressful" Im still really just at the start but ive found one of the surprising things is i don't feel any pressure or stress atm (it almost scares me not having big deadlines every couple of weeks)

Yeah I know what you mean about not having big deadlines regularly doesn't necessarily give a sense of urgency.
I personally meet with my primary supervisor every week which keeps things ticking over, something I've also found has helped is that I proactively ask for deadlines: so for example I have one set that next Monday I'll have a draft for a few sections of a paper complete. Without a deadline I wouldn't get much done. I don't really find it too stressful too often, yeah there are things which don't go right and bug me. I get stressed relatively easily but mostly it's over-reacting and I have to remind myself that we're in a fortunate position being PhD students compared to many other jobs!

How did you find the transition from 1st to 2nd year, and was the work load a huge increase, everyone tells me the workload seems to exponentially climb as the months go on.

Nah, no obvious difference for me. Are you doing a CDT with a combined masters or a straight PhD? For me (doing the latter) things haven't really changed massively through the course of the PhD in terms of work load. Maybe I'm too chilled out: I guess we'll find out when I attempt to hand in my thesis early next year!

How balanced are your studies? I have continued playing for Uni sports teams and really enjoy having something competitive outside of academia to focus on, do you think this is viable to keep up through the whole PhD?

I try to take having a good work-life balance seriously. It's great you're playing sports with the uni clubs and would recommend you keep it up. I've been in various committee positions including in my third year was president of a society: so probably less commitment than a sports team but still took a decent chunk of my time. The way I see it is that many people might work lots of hours (sometimes very unproductively) then spend lots of hours watching TV, I prefer to work smart, work the hours I need to (sometimes spread unconventionally) but also try to do more engaging things with my free time. It can be difficult to know what pace you should be working at, I find speaking to my supervisor for advice works well. Sounds like you have the right idea and I see no reason you can't keep it up through your whole PhD.

Any nuggets of advice that other people dont mention about PhDs to watch for?

My main one would be start writing your first paper early, I wasted months spending ages fine tuning every sentence before sending it to my co-authors for feedback. It makes sense to iterate quickly and at least check that you're on the right path before polishing it. Also the idea of publishing something can be scary if you've not done it before but as soon as you've done it you realise it's not so intimidating. I like it when supervisors recommend students to write a review article like you mention, especially in your first year, makes a lot of sense.
Besides that, obviously time goes quickly and make sure you make the most of other opportunities that came with staying on at uni (including the sports you're doing!).

Also with your Lit review, how much have you updated it year-to-year? how many words & references did you use? Did you use it to publish a "review style paper"?


Err....! So at Imperial we have a few checkpoints you have to clear to carry on doing the PhD: one is at 9-12 months in and I produced a 20ish page report for that and I haven't touched my lit review since then... that's probably about to catch up with me! I do have a few other documents floating around which have reviews as part of them, including basically a review article which I've not done much with. I'm expecting that besides formalising the intro and conclusions and slapping in some papers, being more rigorous with my lit review is the main thing besides writing papers I need to finish up. Thanks for reminding me and sorry I can't give a more solid answer at the moment, you can check back in with me in a few months if you want!
Hi,

Thanks so much, this is amazing (similarly, your blog with a months schedule is also top quality).

This post is gods work (im sure many of us PhDs coming through can benefit from this, especially at the start whilst were still finding are feet..).

Im just a straight PhD, having done a masters already I would hate to go through all that again... I think your point about setting internal deadlines with supervisors is essential, dont think id manage without it.

Also your point about remembering how fortunate we are is so true, having done internships and a year in industry ive seen we have so much more freedom and responsibility for our work, which many people dont get till they are a quite few years into their career (if ever).
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Hi,

Thanks so much, this is amazing (similarly, your blog with a months schedule is also top quality).

This post is gods work (im sure many of us PhDs coming through can benefit from this, especially at the start whilst were still finding are feet..).

Im just a straight PhD, having done a masters already I would hate to go through all that again... I think your point about setting internal deadlines with supervisors is essential, dont think id manage without it.

Also your point about remembering how fortunate we are is so true, having done internships and a year in industry ive seen we have so much more freedom and responsibility for our work, which many people dont get till they are a quite few years into their career (if ever).
No problem, I'm happy to help. I definitely agree about not wanting to do a masters again though I can see the appeal for people changing to new disciplines. If you have any questions in the future please do fire away and good luck with the rest of your project.
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hey, sorry! not sure if you missed my reply above.

would you say contacting potential supervisors directly over email is the best way to organise a PhD at Imperial? I have a research area that I am interested in and I mentioned it in my emails targeted at professors that have similar interests, but those never got replied to. So was just wondering if there's something I can write to maximise my chances of my email being noticed? haha

and how did you manage to organise your PhD? did you target specific supervisors with interests similar to yours?

thank you so much!! sorry about the double post
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hey, sorry! not sure if you missed my reply above.

would you say contacting potential supervisors directly over email is the best way to organise a PhD at Imperial? I have a research area that I am interested in and I mentioned it in my emails targeted at professors that have similar interests, but those never got replied to. So was just wondering if there's something I can write to maximise my chances of my email being noticed? haha

and how did you manage to organise your PhD? did you target specific supervisors with interests similar to yours?

thank you so much!! sorry about the double post
I would ask to meet with them if possible (if you know they are in your research field and have/look for PhD candidates).

An email is ok, but emails get lost, get filtered etc. good researchers often get harassed in their inbox.

If you offer them a cup of coffee, you show you are serious, you can achieve so much more more in a 20 minute convo and establish a rapport. (obviously if its to a uni hours away from you, this isnt really an option and you need to start with the email).
-----------
I only "targeted" one supervisor, but he was in the area I was interested in, and I think it really helped building the rapport and giving him confidence in me as a candidate. At that point my potential supervisor really helped me out and guided me through the funding process (having someone in your corner in that respect helps massively)
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(Original post by mnot)
I would ask to meet with them if possible (if you know they are in your research field and have/look for PhD candidates).

An email is ok, but emails get lost, get filtered etc. good researchers often get harassed in their inbox.

If you offer them a cup of coffee, you show you are serious, you can achieve so much more more in a 20 minute convo and establish a rapport. (obviously if its to a uni hours away from you, this isnt really an option and you need to start with the email).
-----------
I only "targeted" one supervisor, but he was in the area I was interested in, and I think it really helped building the rapport and giving him confidence in me as a candidate. At that point my potential supervisor really helped me out and guided me through the funding process (having someone in your corner in that respect helps massively)
Thanks for your reply! Yeah a cup of coffee is not really an option as I'm living abroad atm lol

I think my "targeting" makes a lot of sense as both academics I contacted are authors of papers I have cited in my MSc thesis. I made some suggestions in my email about how I could take my research further and was hoping it would take their interest and show I am serious about the topic

I'll keep trying -- maybe I just need a punchier subject line to get noticed
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Mr Wednesday
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(Original post by wolfbat)
hey! i am currently looking to find a PhD at Imperial, so I've identified some potential supervisors by doing a search of their research interests that match mine and emailed them but never got a reply...

would you say this is the best way to organise a PhD, i.e. informally contacting professors directly via email? any suggestions on how to maximise chances of getting a reply? thanks so much
Direct contact is usually the best way to go, its the most immediate way of kicking off a conversation with potential supervisors and visiting the College. Did you include a CV and a short snappy description of who you are, where and what you are studying now and you specific research intersts ? If not, do that now.

Useful things to do in parallel are :-

Put in a formal application via registry, you would need to do this at some point anyway, it triggers requests for references, transcript etc.

Go here ...

https://www.imperial.ac.uk/study/pg/...ch-programme-/

Also look at the web pages for the research groups you are interested in working with. These will often identify the "local" PG admissions contact and emailing them and the head of group can also be useful as they should direct you to the most appropriate people based on your CV.

Best of luck.
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(Original post by wolfbat)
hey, sorry! not sure if you missed my reply above.

would you say contacting potential supervisors directly over email is the best way to organise a PhD at Imperial? I have a research area that I am interested in and I mentioned it in my emails targeted at professors that have similar interests, but those never got replied to. So was just wondering if there's something I can write to maximise my chances of my email being noticed? haha

and how did you manage to organise your PhD? did you target specific supervisors with interests similar to yours?

thank you so much!! sorry about the double post
Hey sorry yes I did miss your post, sorry about that!

You've been given some solid advice and I don't have much to add. You ask how I organised my PhD:
I emailed a potential supervisor, had a bit of a chat over email then came in for an informal chat with them. In fact, that was the extent of the interview process! In reality it wasn't completely plain sailing because there was a funding issue that year and in fact I applied two consecutive years but I won't labour on about that too much here.

Main advice I would give it to not give up or feel guilty contacting people, you might feel like you're bothering people but ultimately being determined and proactive are two important traits for being successful. If they're feeling awkward about saying no to you that is their issue for not addressing it head on. It sounds like you're really switched on recommend you take the stated advice to include your CV etc if you're not already. There was a very senior academic I was considering doing a PhD with, we'd exchanged some emails they showed some interest but the trail went slightly cold so I rang them a few times to chat: often I would apprehensively phone, find they were in a meeting so I offered to phone back but no they said it was fine to talk to me then! Slightly odd but it perhaps illustrates the point.

As soon as you do build a connection it's very true that having someone fighting your corner goes a very very long way.
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(Original post by savvy_scientist)
Hey sorry yes I did miss your post, sorry about that!

You've been given some solid advice and I don't have much to add. You ask how I organised my PhD:
I emailed a potential supervisor, had a bit of a chat over email then came in for an informal chat with them. In fact, that was the extent of the interview process! In reality it wasn't completely plain sailing because there was a funding issue that year and in fact I applied two consecutive years but I won't labour on about that too much here.

Main advice I would give it to not give up or feel guilty contacting people, you might feel like you're bothering people but ultimately being determined and proactive are two important traits for being successful. If they're feeling awkward about saying no to you that is their issue for not addressing it head on. It sounds like you're really switched on recommend you take the stated advice to include your CV etc if you're not already. There was a very senior academic I was considering doing a PhD with, we'd exchanged some emails they showed some interest but the trail went slightly cold so I rang them a few times to chat: often I would apprehensively phone, find they were in a meeting so I offered to phone back but no they said it was fine to talk to me then! Slightly odd but it perhaps illustrates the point.

As soon as you do build a connection it's very true that having someone fighting your corner goes a very very long way.
thank you for everyone's replies and being so helpful!!

savvy_scientist you mention funding. so did you eventually manage to source funding for research you proposed yourself or was it a specific project with funding already in place that was advertised? basically, what was the source of your funding (a scholarship, etc.)?

sorry I am still trying to find my way around this question, so may be very clueless! I know Imperial has the President's Scholarship open to everyone, but obviously sounds incredibly competitive. have you ever attempted applying for that? what kinds of funding do PhD students at Imperial typically have?

Thank you so much!!
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Mr Wednesday
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(Original post by wolfbat)
I know Imperial has the President's Scholarship open to everyone, but obviously sounds incredibly competitive. have you ever attempted applying for that? what kinds of funding do PhD students at Imperial typically have?

The IC Presidents scholarship is very attractive (its open to all nationalities, comes with assorted "extras") but is also EXTREMELY competitive. Candidates with a decent shot are typically in the top few % of their cohort from a very good university (think Princeton, Cambridge etc) and come with plenty of "extras" in the way of awards and possibly publications. The ranking process goes through several stages at the research group and then departmental level before going up to faculty for final review. There are three rounds per year and working closely with a potential supervisor to put a good proposal together is very important. They and their Head of Group will have a good sense of whether it's worth applying or not so best to discuss directly with a potential sponsor. IC staff are only allowed to have one active Prsidents PhD at a time to spread the benefit across College.

Apart from that, the majority of IC PhD Students are funded from a wide range of sources, including DTA (standard EPSRC or similar UK research council block allocation), CDT (dedicated 3+1 training cohort), CASE (joint RCUK + industry), iCASE (RCUK direct to industry), Industry only, charity or research council grant (not currently allowed by EPSRC sadly). There are also some international schemes that fund overseas students (usually their home Government) and occasional "niche" schemes, e.g. Anglo-French or similar that target specific themes set jointly by Government or a national lab. Very occasionally people self fund, but thats really not recommended in a STEM field as students really need access to additional travel and consumables funds along with their core bursary and fees.
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savvy_scientist
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(Original post by wolfbat)
thank you for everyone's replies and being so helpful!!

savvy_scientist you mention funding. so did you eventually manage to source funding for research you proposed yourself or was it a specific project with funding already in place that was advertised? basically, what was the source of your funding (a scholarship, etc.)?

sorry I am still trying to find my way around this question, so may be very clueless! I know Imperial has the President's Scholarship open to everyone, but obviously sounds incredibly competitive. have you ever attempted applying for that? what kinds of funding do PhD students at Imperial typically have?

Thank you so much!!
Mr Wednesday has already given a great overview so there isn't much for me to add.

For the questions you asked directly about my situation:

The first year I applied to the President's Scholarship but didn't get it hence my application came to a halt that year.

For the offer the year I actually started: both my supervisors were putting together a big grant application to one of the research councils which basically are government funded (EPSRC in this case). I was happy to do the project as per the application they were putting in but of course there were no guarantees they would be successful.
In parallel with that, my supervisor had heard of a new scholarship starting up that year: only funding for one student across College though, unlike the 50(?) President's Scholars each year. I had to send in my application and the department were to review it. It was handy because along with my own CV and cover letter I was effectively able to use a project outline my supervisors already had which made the application much more robust: this goes back to the earlier point about making a good rapport with staff!
I was lucky to get put forward as the strongest applicant to the department and eventually won it across College. I'm certainly no superstar, I went to a half decent uni for undergrad with a low 1st, I am sure what got it for me was my years working in research in the intermediate time and I had some journal articles in Q1 journals and a few conference awards: albeit not as a first author for many!
So in the end I had a scholarship, and my supervisors won their grant so it worked out great. Had they not won the grant I'd have been fine. Had they won the grant and I not won the scholarship I think there would have been funding for me through that. I never really pushed the boat out to tweak the project from their ESPRC application, there are a few things I wish I'd done differently (like going abroad for a bit) but otherwise am really happy with it.

Amongst the people I know:
Three I can think of are fully industry funded working on things of course the companies are interested in;
One has a departmental award (Dept Materials funds a small number of students for projects they propose)
A few are on special grants a few superstar clinicians get on a rolling basis;
A decent number are international and funding it "themselves"!
Two are President's Scholars
A few are in CDTs (therefore research council cohort)
The rest (~50ish%) are research council funded for grants the academic staff apply for

Mr Wednesday gave a great overview of funding, I wrote something elsewhere on the web about funding: sources and how much PhD students earn, I'll PM you a link. How is TSR with people sharing external links? Happy to post it here also if others find it useful but won't want to get told off!

Think that covers most of it, if you have further questions we're happy to help.
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