Is it possible to get into a PhD with a 2.2 BSc and a distinction at MSc?

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Diamond Crafter
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My question is, is it at all possible to get into a PhD studentship with a 2.2 in BSc Biochemistry and a distinction in MSc Cancer and Molecular Biology?

I really want to do a PhD and I have been applying for the past year now however I seem to be unsuccessful in getting a studentship. I can't afford to self fund which means I need to be looking at the titles offering funding with the PhD. Due to these being very competitive I feel like my 2.2 in my BSc is letting my down majorly and my distinction at MSc is being overlooked. I know the PIs love a great academic track record but I don't know how to convey my aptitude any more than I already have in my personal statements/cover letters (which has already been re-edited and looked at by 5 different academics and professionals in the field).

I was doing voluntary research at my local university with a professor, trying to keep my research skills up to date and just getting my CV bulked up and learning some new techniques. However, with the recent COVID pandemic the university is now shut too and I feel like there's no way for me to push forward.
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Mr Wednesday
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Possible, but unless you can provide a really compelling explanation for the 2:2, e.g. serious medical issues at BSc that were fixed / overcome during the MSc then it's unlikely I am afraid. That 2:2 really does not mark you out as PhD material without something really major to counter it. Your competition will be students with both a 1st class undergrad + Distiction at MSc, and a fully funded PhD studentship is a rare and precious time limited £100k investment for the supervisor, so people tend to be seriously risk averse when recruiting.
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PhoenixFortune
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(Original post by Diamond Crafter)
My question is, is it at all possible to get into a PhD studentship with a 2.2 in BSc Biochemistry and a distinction in MSc Cancer and Molecular Biology?

I really want to do a PhD and I have been applying for the past year now however I seem to be unsuccessful in getting a studentship. I can't afford to self fund which means I need to be looking at the titles offering funding with the PhD. Due to these being very competitive I feel like my 2.2 in my BSc is letting my down majorly and my distinction at MSc is being overlooked. I know the PIs love a great academic track record but I don't know how to convey my aptitude any more than I already have in my personal statements/cover letters (which has already been re-edited and looked at by 5 different academics and professionals in the field).

I was doing voluntary research at my local university with a professor, trying to keep my research skills up to date and just getting my CV bulked up and learning some new techniques. However, with the recent COVID pandemic the university is now shut too and I feel like there's no way for me to push forward.
PhD funding is ridiculously competitive in most contexts, so a 2:2 is not going to be helpful there. I know myself from having a 2:2 and a MA distinction, that my 2:2 prevented me from being a 'fundable' student, even with glowing references and a great interview. The person who got the funding I applied for had straight top tier classifications across the board, which automatically made my application pale in comparison. A lot of time, your application will be filtered out automatically at the initial stages for not meeting the minimum requirements (2:1), regardless of how good the rest of your application is.

You never know, you may get lucky and find an organisation willing to fund you, but it might be more through networking than submitting applications.
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QuentinM
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(Original post by Diamond Crafter)
My question is, is it at all possible to get into a PhD studentship with a 2.2 in BSc Biochemistry and a distinction in MSc Cancer and Molecular Biology?

I really want to do a PhD and I have been applying for the past year now however I seem to be unsuccessful in getting a studentship. I can't afford to self fund which means I need to be looking at the titles offering funding with the PhD. Due to these being very competitive I feel like my 2.2 in my BSc is letting my down majorly and my distinction at MSc is being overlooked. I know the PIs love a great academic track record but I don't know how to convey my aptitude any more than I already have in my personal statements/cover letters (which has already been re-edited and looked at by 5 different academics and professionals in the field).

I was doing voluntary research at my local university with a professor, trying to keep my research skills up to date and just getting my CV bulked up and learning some new techniques. However, with the recent COVID pandemic the university is now shut too and I feel like there's no way for me to push forward.
As mentioned above, PhD funding is VERY hard to come by these days (and this will likely only worsen with this pandemic hitting charity funding). I had a 2:1 at BSc and Merit during Masters, and despite some interviews (which admittedly I didn't do well in at first), it took me 3 years to get a position. Admittedly I didn't have the resources for the first year or two after my masters finished to volunteer in a lab, so when I could do this (which I did starting last year) that was huge for me.

My first bit of advice would be when applying for positions, contact the people advertising them with any questions you have and send over your CV to ask them if you think you might be a suitable fit. I started doing this late into my applications and really helped identify which PI's wouldn't want me before I even applied.

Second bit of advice might be a bit difficult nowadays in a post-pandemic world, but carrying on volunteering in a lab and trying to network might be your best bet. This is how I got my position a few months ago-I worked in a neuroscience lab I previously applied for a PhD for several months, and being in that setting I was made aware of people applying for different bits of PhD funding. My PI during that volunteering was very helpful, pushed me into developing the skills I will use in the PhD, so by the interview time there were literally no other people on Earth with the experience in the specific skills we would use during the project (which were pretty unique to our lab), so regardless of my academic record there was almost no way they could turn me down. If you have someone applying for funding and you already work for them in some capacity, its a big coup for you.

An alternative to this might be pursuing research technician/assistant jobs for several months, maybe a number of years, so you can really boost the experience angle in certain techniques. Both of these strategies could also see you contributing data to papers and being a published author, which I was asked about constantly during my applications (suggesting to me they thought it was a big win for me if I had that-and I didn't back then).

Feel free to PM me with anymore questions, as I have been through a somewhat similar (though not completely identical) situation
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mike23mike
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(Original post by Diamond Crafter)
My question is, is it at all possible to get into a PhD studentship with a 2.2 in BSc Biochemistry and a distinction in MSc Cancer and Molecular Biology?

I really want to do a PhD and I have been applying for the past year now however I seem to be unsuccessful in getting a studentship. I can't afford to self fund which means I need to be looking at the titles offering funding with the PhD. Due to these being very competitive I feel like my 2.2 in my BSc is letting my down majorly and my distinction at MSc is being overlooked. I know the PIs love a great academic track record but I don't know how to convey my aptitude any more than I already have in my personal statements/cover letters (which has already been re-edited and looked at by 5 different academics and professionals in the field).

I was doing voluntary research at my local university with a professor, trying to keep my research skills up to date and just getting my CV bulked up and learning some new techniques. However, with the recent COVID pandemic the university is now shut too and I feel like there's no way for me to push forward.
A lot matters on where you did your UG and Masters. If they were top tier unis then that will help. If they were not then immediately that will count against you - regardless of whether you achieved a distinction or not.

An alternative is to secure a job with a company and get on their sponsored PhD programme. I know the NHS sponsors people. A friend with a degree in History began working for the NHS and is now being sponsored to study for a Masters in Psychology so it is possible. Better than working for free in a lab.
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QuentinM
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(Original post by mike23mike)
A lot matters on where you did your UG and Masters. If they were top tier unis then that will help. If they were not then immediately that will count against you - regardless of whether you achieved a distinction or not.

An alternative is to secure a job with a company and get on their sponsored PhD programme. I know the NHS sponsors people. A friend with a degree in History began working for the NHS and is now being sponsored to study for a Masters in Psychology so it is possible. Better than working for free in a lab.
I see this "top tier unis" comment frequently and honestly I'm not sure I agree with it. I'm about to join a lab where I know fellow PhD students went to "worse" universities than me on rankings lists, but their experience working in the lab already counted massively to them securing the position. There are also plenty of people in my lab that are from abroad, and I couldn't tell you how prestigious their universities are in almost all cases.

One thing I didn't mention as well is that some PI's will support people in PhD's part-time if they take a paid position as a research technician, although from my understanding this isn't as common and is a big undertaking.
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PhoenixFortune
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(Original post by QuentinM)
My first bit of advice would be when applying for positions, contact the people advertising them with any questions you have and send over your CV to ask them if you think you might be a suitable fit. I started doing this late into my applications and really helped identify which PI's wouldn't want me before I even applied.
I did this when I applied to a research council for funding, and while I wouldn't say 'don't email and ask', I personally found that it wasn't particularly helpful. I emailed the RC lead at my university, and they assured me that a distinction at MA level was highly likely to compensate for my 2:2 -- however, they were advising based on my profile alone; they had no idea who the competition would be, so were providing a very isolated perspective, and this ultimately gave me false hope which I would have preferred not to have.

I found that my supervisor was 100% on board to accept me, but the research council wasn't, which was ultimately the deciding factor.
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QuentinM
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(Original post by PhoenixFortune)
I did this when I applied to a research council for funding, and while I wouldn't say 'don't email and ask', I personally found that it wasn't particularly helpful. I emailed the RC lead at my university, and they assured me that a distinction at MA level was highly likely to compensate for my 2:2 -- however, they were advising based on my profile alone; they had no idea who the competition would be, so were providing a very isolated perspective, and this ultimately gave me false hope which I would have preferred not to have.

I found that my supervisor was 100% on board to accept me, but the research council wasn't, which was ultimately the deciding factor.
Useful perspective. I think when I was doing it, I wasn't looking for this level of feedback, just whether I would be rejected immediately if I didn't meet their requirements for qualifications/experience (for example, if they required experience in a particular skill/skills, but this wasn't that clear in their project description). I only did this to PI's, I should mention. In this sense, it can help you avoid applying for somewhere that you will have no chance of getting in. But yes, as you say, until they see who else has applied they can't compare you to them.
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Helloworld_95
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Have you asked the professor you were working with about potential positions and funding? A referral can go a long way in academia.

I'm kinda surprised that you were allowed to do voluntary research at your university, I know at both of mine academics weren't allowed to touch that with a ten foot pole, everything had to either be part of a dissertation or paid.
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mike23mike
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(Original post by QuentinM)
I see this "top tier unis" comment frequently and honestly I'm not sure I agree with it. I'm about to join a lab where I know fellow PhD students went to "worse" universities than me on rankings lists, but their experience working in the lab already counted massively to them securing the position. There are also plenty of people in my lab that are from abroad, and I couldn't tell you how prestigious their universities are in almost all cases.

One thing I didn't mention as well is that some PI's will support people in PhD's part-time if they take a paid position as a research technician, although from my understanding this isn't as common and is a big undertaking.
Professors are passionate about their research. If a student from an unknown uni applies but they have experience of working with a particular instrument or have experience of a particular scientific technique then absolutely they will jump the queue. In general, the top tier unis have the best research funding so have the best equipment so - as a rule - their students have been trained on this top of the line equipment so should be well placed to secure research posts.
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QuentinM
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(Original post by mike23mike)
Professors are passionate about their research. If a student from an unknown uni applies but they have experience of working with a particular instrument or have experience of a particular scientific technique then absolutely they will jump the queue. In general, the top tier unis have the best research funding so have the best equipment so - as a rule - their students have been trained on this top of the line equipment so should be well placed to secure research posts.
I also don't agree with this last point. My first two degrees were from University of Bath (a top 10 uni) and University of Exeter (just outside top 10). Bath's biology department is literally the oldest building on campus (over 50 years old) and most of the equipment I used may have been there since it opened. Never got trained on anything high-tier at Exeter either (many of the labs there filled with pretty old equipment too). Generally they barely train undergrads or even masters students on fancy machinery for their short projects, if anything they try to avoid it, so I would seriously doubt whether any PI would assume I must have been trained on the best equipment purely because I went to two decent UK universities previously. If anything my work recently (and the PhD I'm about to start) is in a top 30 university, the "worst one" I've worked at, but I've used (and will continue to use) far more cutting edging equipment and methods for research.

Honestly if there were any signs a PI used the universities I went to as a marker for how good I was, rather than my actual experience I gained at said universities, I'd probably try to avoid those PI's because using irrelevant factors like that in decision making is completely illogical
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mike23mike
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(Original post by QuentinM)
I also don't agree with this last point. My first two degrees were from University of Bath (a top 10 uni) and University of Exeter (just outside top 10). Bath's biology department is literally the oldest building on campus (over 50 years old) and most of the equipment I used may have been there since it opened. Never got trained on anything high-tier at Exeter either (many of the labs there filled with pretty old equipment too). Generally they barely train undergrads or even masters students on fancy machinery for their short projects, if anything they try to avoid it, so I would seriously doubt whether any PI would assume I must have been trained on the best equipment purely because I went to two decent UK universities previously. If anything my work recently (and the PhD I'm about to start) is in a top 30 university, the "worst one" I've worked at, but I've used (and will continue to use) far more cutting edging equipment and methods for research.

Honestly if there were any signs a PI used the universities I went to as a marker for how good I was, rather than my actual experience I gained at said universities, I'd probably try to avoid those PI's because using irrelevant factors like that in decision making is completely illogical
I am disappointed to read that some of the top unis are not preparing the country's scientists better. I did not study at Bath or Exeter so I cannot comment on their equipment. Its misleading since in the website for Bath their 4th reason for studying biology at Bath was their boast that students would be "taught by top researchers with top facilities" and goes on to brag about the 'Milner Centre for Evolution'. If all you had was a petri dish and a microscope then shame on Bath for misleading prospective students and giving you such a poor experience.

Going back to the OP, it seems the only issue is their getting a 2.2 rather than a 2.1 for not getting a PhD place. Going to a top uni is not a factor, getting a distinction in their Masters did not help either so, by means of deduction Watson, it must be their 2.2. Shame.
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QuentinM
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(Original post by mike23mike)
I am disappointed to read that some of the top unis are not preparing the country's scientists better. I did not study at Bath or Exeter so I cannot comment on their equipment. Its misleading since in the website for Bath their 4th reason for studying biology at Bath was their boast that students would be "taught by top researchers with top facilities" and goes on to brag about the 'Milner Centre for Evolution'. If all you had was a petri dish and a microscope then shame on Bath for misleading prospective students and giving you such a poor experience.

Going back to the OP, it seems the only issue is their getting a 2.2 rather than a 2.1 for not getting a PhD place. Going to a top uni is not a factor, getting a distinction in their Masters did not help either so, by means of deduction Watson, it must be their 2.2. Shame.
I'm not sure if this is on me for not being clearer but I never said I had such a poor experience at Bath or Exeter. Quite the opposite, I worked with loads of great researchers doing brilliant research in their fields. I would say its very common amongst all science courses at any university that if you recently got a piece of equipment worth several hundred thousand, maybe £1+ million, you aren't going to let undergrads play around on it without supervision, supervision that simply can't be given by PI's because they have so many other commitments. I can't speak for you but I'm sure if you went and bought, say, an incredibly expensive car with ridiculous insurance bills to cover it, you wouldn't let someone who has never driven a car before learn to drive on it.

I'm just interested what lead you to say which university your degree is from is used in any way by researchers when hiring staff, in my experience this is very far from the case (in fact I can't say I've ever seen this be used)
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Diamond Crafter
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(Original post by QuentinM)
As mentioned above, PhD funding is VERY hard to come by these days (and this will likely only worsen with this pandemic hitting charity funding). I had a 2:1 at BSc and Merit during Masters, and despite some interviews (which admittedly I didn't do well in at first), it took me 3 years to get a position. Admittedly I didn't have the resources for the first year or two after my masters finished to volunteer in a lab, so when I could do this (which I did starting last year) that was huge for me.

My first bit of advice would be when applying for positions, contact the people advertising them with any questions you have and send over your CV to ask them if you think you might be a suitable fit. I started doing this late into my applications and really helped identify which PI's wouldn't want me before I even applied.

Second bit of advice might be a bit difficult nowadays in a post-pandemic world, but carrying on volunteering in a lab and trying to network might be your best bet. This is how I got my position a few months ago-I worked in a neuroscience lab I previously applied for a PhD for several months, and being in that setting I was made aware of people applying for different bits of PhD funding. My PI during that volunteering was very helpful, pushed me into developing the skills I will use in the PhD, so by the interview time there were literally no other people on Earth with the experience in the specific skills we would use during the project (which were pretty unique to our lab), so regardless of my academic record there was almost no way they could turn me down. If you have someone applying for funding and you already work for them in some capacity, its a big coup for you.

An alternative to this might be pursuing research technician/assistant jobs for several months, maybe a number of years, so you can really boost the experience angle in certain techniques. Both of these strategies could also see you contributing data to papers and being a published author, which I was asked about constantly during my applications (suggesting to me they thought it was a big win for me if I had that-and I didn't back then).

Feel free to PM me with anymore questions, as I have been through a somewhat similar (though not completely identical) situation
Thank you so much for this, this was very helpful indeed! With regards to asking questions and sending CVs, I was already doing this and most PhD supervisors would just answer my questions (which was helpful) but then direct me to apply through the application system. No mention of whether my application would be immediately filtered out. I understand why they do it so as to remain neutral I suppose but a pain for me.

Secondly, with research technician/assistant jobs, I applied to a few RA and medical laboratory assistant jobs at my local hospital in the departments for immunology/blood centres which would have been perfect. I kept being rejected so I went down there once to ask (I like getting answers XD) why my applications were unsuccessful and they said that they were looking for someone with only a A-Levels/BSc really because my MSc indicated to them that I wasn't likely to stay and as soon as a better paying job came along or a better position, I would probably leave which would be a waste for them. So I was overqualified. However that job would have helped on my CV. Furthermore, I'm looking for jobs at the moment as research technicians and most of the ones I can find are to do with Quality Control in food flavourings or composite materials testing/packaging. This seems like a far cry from my molecular biology background so I keep wondering if it's worth going into these as will the skills gained provide any weightage to my PhD applications at all?

I will try to pursue some networking opportunities with the professor I was working with pre-lockdown. I did find a few cancer orientated researchers who seemed quite interesting but funding will be a big issue as this university doesn't do funded studentships.

I just feel like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place at the moment.
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QuentinM
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(Original post by Diamond Crafter)
Thank you so much for this, this was very helpful indeed! With regards to asking questions and sending CVs, I was already doing this and most PhD supervisors would just answer my questions (which was helpful) but then direct me to apply through the application system. No mention of whether my application would be immediately filtered out. I understand why they do it so as to remain neutral I suppose but a pain for me.

Secondly, with research technician/assistant jobs, I applied to a few RA and medical laboratory assistant jobs at my local hospital in the departments for immunology/blood centres which would have been perfect. I kept being rejected so I went down there once to ask (I like getting answers XD) why my applications were unsuccessful and they said that they were looking for someone with only a A-Levels/BSc really because my MSc indicated to them that I wasn't likely to stay and as soon as a better paying job came along or a better position, I would probably leave which would be a waste for them. So I was overqualified. However that job would have helped on my CV. Furthermore, I'm looking for jobs at the moment as research technicians and most of the ones I can find are to do with Quality Control in food flavourings or composite materials testing/packaging. This seems like a far cry from my molecular biology background so I keep wondering if it's worth going into these as will the skills gained provide any weightage to my PhD applications at all?

I will try to pursue some networking opportunities with the professor I was working with pre-lockdown. I did find a few cancer orientated researchers who seemed quite interesting but funding will be a big issue as this university doesn't do funded studentships.

I just feel like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place at the moment.
I wouldn't bother with hospital ones as it usually requires a specific/accredited biomedical degree to do proper medical testing etc.

Keep looking through research tech positions and you'll find some cancer ones taking place at universities, these are the ones you would be best suited to (and would help you out most).

If they would immediately filter out your application because you didn't meet their grade requirements, they would tell you (I've been told bluntly by some PI's how "vastly under experienced" I am for some roles). In this case if you aren't getting to interview its because other, better candidates are coming along
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mike23mike
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(Original post by QuentinM)
I'm not sure if this is on me for not being clearer but I never said I had such a poor experience at Bath or Exeter. Quite the opposite, I worked with loads of great researchers doing brilliant research in their fields. I would say its very common amongst all science courses at any university that if you recently got a piece of equipment worth several hundred thousand, maybe £1+ million, you aren't going to let undergrads play around on it without supervision, supervision that simply can't be given by PI's because they have so many other commitments. I can't speak for you but I'm sure if you went and bought, say, an incredibly expensive car with ridiculous insurance bills to cover it, you wouldn't let someone who has never driven a car before learn to drive on it.

I'm just interested what lead you to say which university your degree is from is used in any way by researchers when hiring staff, in my experience this is very far from the case (in fact I can't say I've ever seen this be used)
I work in a Business School so my experience may be different from working in Engineering or Science Schools. I have sat on interview panels for lecturer positions and its all discussed - what degree they did, from where, what papers they have produced, the quality of the journals they have been published in, what research grants have they secured etc. Similarly for PhD posts, what degree they did and where they studied does play a part - as well as the quality of their written proposal. It could be totally different for the sciences and that is why I am scratching my head to understand what the selection criteria might be if a Distinction at Masters is not good enough to at least get an interview.

Since I work in the social sciences I don't know if knowledge of specific equipment is a factor in the decision-making process,
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