When do you need to have decided on a PhD topic by?

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Theoverrated
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I’m about to go into 3rd year of a maths undergraduate course and I’m thinking of doing a PhD in a couple of years.

I’m wondering on two things - Firstly, if I’m to start a PhD in (say) September 2022, when would I need to have decided on a rough topic to do a PhD in (e.g if a were interested in doing a PhD in fluid mechanics - when would this needed to be decided by)?

I’ve looked at Oxford and Cambridge and their PhD deadlines for applications for maths are roughly January of the same year in which you intend to start - does this mean that universities generally require a general idea of what kind of PhD topic you want to look at by then (or even the specific thesis you want to do)?

Secondly - do you think that an MSci integrated masters at my current university (a good Russell group, but not COWI) or a MSc elsewhere is more highly regarded and better preparation for a PhD?

Thank you
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Keele University
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(Original post by Theoverrated)
I’m about to go into 3rd year of a maths undergraduate course and I’m thinking of doing a PhD in a couple of years.

I’m wondering on two things - Firstly, if I’m to start a PhD in (say) September 2022, when would I need to have decided on a rough topic to do a PhD in (e.g if a were interested in doing a PhD in fluid mechanics - when would this needed to be decided by)?

I’ve looked at Oxford and Cambridge and their PhD deadlines for applications for maths are roughly January of the same year in which you intend to start - does this mean that universities generally require a general idea of what kind of PhD topic you want to look at by then (or even the specific thesis you want to do)?

Secondly - do you think that an MSci integrated masters at my current university (a good Russell group, but not COWI) or a MSc elsewhere is more highly regarded and better preparation for a PhD?

Thank you
It might work slightly differently for STEM subjects (I'm a Humanities PhD student) but as a general rule of thumb you'll need to have a fairly thorough idea of your research topic when you apply for a PhD programme, or to a PhD supervisor - and certainly if you're intending to apply for funding.

When I applied for my PhD, I had to give a 1,500 word description of my proposed research topic (including title, rationale, research context, aims, research question and a rough structure/outline of the proposed thesis). I also had to give a rough idea of my timeline, an explanation of institutional match (why I should do my PhD where I was doing it) and a brief bibliography.

This probably sounds TERRIFYING to you right now (it did to me when I first started thinking about a PhD!) but there's a few things to remember. First, you'll probably have a much better idea of what topics interest you and what you want to research further once you've completed your Masters year. Secondly, you can start with a very rough idea of a PhD topic and then approach potential supervisors to discuss and help you to refine your ideas and your application - my own application had input from at least 4 tutors/supervisors and went through about 15 drafts before submission to the funding body! Finally, you're not then committed to your research topic exactly as outlined - PhD's change during the research and writing of them and some deviation/variation from the initial proposal is often permitted (changes in structure, methodology etc), as long as it can be justified that it still meets the same broad aims and fills the same rationale.

With regards to choosing a course to prepare you for your PhD, my main piece of advice would be to look at supervisors/tutors and their research interests. Whilst you want a course that provides appropriate research training and has engaging content, you also want to be working with supervisors/tutors who are interested in what you're interested in, and at a university that has staff doing research in your area of interest.

Hope that helps!

Amy
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