When is a good time to contact potential PhD supervisors?

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toastandcoffee
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Hi there, I'm planning to apply for PhD in the coming application round (~September onwards), and I've asked around on when is a good time to contact potential PhD supervisors.

There are some who say that it's good to contact before June, because that's when many students start reaching out. However, I've seen people on forums and stuff saying that September onwards is a better time to contact because apparently that's when professors are more responsive?

Can anyone provide any advice on this? And also, do I have to have a very concrete proposal on first contact? I roughly have an idea on what I want to do, but I'm still in the process of refining my idea and I hope to run it by the potential supervisor as well. Thanks in advance!
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Keele Postgraduate
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(Original post by toastandcoffee)
Hi there, I'm planning to apply for PhD in the coming application round (~September onwards), and I've asked around on when is a good time to contact potential PhD supervisors.

There are some who say that it's good to contact before June, because that's when many students start reaching out. However, I've seen people on forums and stuff saying that September onwards is a better time to contact because apparently that's when professors are more responsive?

Can anyone provide any advice on this? And also, do I have to have a very concrete proposal on first contact? I roughly have an idea on what I want to do, but I'm still in the process of refining my idea and I hope to run it by the potential supervisor as well. Thanks in advance!
Hi toastandcoffee

There's no hard and fast rule about when to contact potential supervisors but generally I think it's preferable to contact them sooner rather than later as it gives them time to get back to you before your application deadline, as well as some time for you to discuss and develop your project with them before you firm up and submit your application.

Some things to bear in mind: most academics will, at the time of writing this, be snowed under a pile of end of semester marking so anything non-marking related might not get dealt with for the next few weeks. After that, many academics take some research/summer leave - so probably won't be checking their inboxes as frequently as they might during term time (although if they're on extended leave, they do usually have an out of office to let you know when they'll be back). All of which is a polite way of saying that if you do reach out, don't be put off if you don't get a response immediately, and give your chosen potential supervisors a couple of weeks to get back to you before following up.

In terms of your proposal, it helps to have a rough idea of what you want to work on (so that the supervisor can see whether they are able to support you with the PhD) but you don't need to have a full outline or specifics at this stage. For example, in English (my field), I had an idea of the era of literature I wanted to work in, some of the texts I wanted to look at, my central research question, and a rough idea of how that filled a research gap when I approached supervisors. I then worked with my supervisors to fine tune that into a full research proposal for funding purposes - established my exact texts, provided a chapter outline, worked one some more research questions etc. Having supervisor input into that refinement process really helped my proposal - and ensured that I could make a confident case for doing my PhD with those particular supervisors too.

Hope that helps!

Amy Louise
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toastandcoffee
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(Original post by Keele Postgraduate)
Hi toastandcoffee

There's no hard and fast rule about when to contact potential supervisors but generally I think it's preferable to contact them sooner rather than later as it gives them time to get back to you before your application deadline, as well as some time for you to discuss and develop your project with them before you firm up and submit your application.

Some things to bear in mind: most academics will, at the time of writing this, be snowed under a pile of end of semester marking so anything non-marking related might not get dealt with for the next few weeks. After that, many academics take some research/summer leave - so probably won't be checking their inboxes as frequently as they might during term time (although if they're on extended leave, they do usually have an out of office to let you know when they'll be back). All of which is a polite way of saying that if you do reach out, don't be put off if you don't get a response immediately, and give your chosen potential supervisors a couple of weeks to get back to you before following up.

In terms of your proposal, it helps to have a rough idea of what you want to work on (so that the supervisor can see whether they are able to support you with the PhD) but you don't need to have a full outline or specifics at this stage. For example, in English (my field), I had an idea of the era of literature I wanted to work in, some of the texts I wanted to look at, my central research question, and a rough idea of how that filled a research gap when I approached supervisors. I then worked with my supervisors to fine tune that into a full research proposal for funding purposes - established my exact texts, provided a chapter outline, worked one some more research questions etc. Having supervisor input into that refinement process really helped my proposal - and ensured that I could make a confident case for doing my PhD with those particular supervisors too.

Hope that helps!

Amy Louise
Hi Amy, thank you so much for your detailed advice! I will definitely try and reach out to them as early as possible. Cheers
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Keele Postgraduate
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(Original post by toastandcoffee)
Hi Amy, thank you so much for your detailed advice! I will definitely try and reach out to them as early as possible. Cheers
No problem at all and good luck with your PhD application! Hope you find some supervisors who can support the project and work with you on the proposal!

Amy Louise
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Manchester Metropolitan University
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(Original post by toastandcoffee)
Hi there, I'm planning to apply for PhD in the coming application round (~September onwards), and I've asked around on when is a good time to contact potential PhD supervisors.

There are some who say that it's good to contact before June, because that's when many students start reaching out. However, I've seen people on forums and stuff saying that September onwards is a better time to contact because apparently that's when professors are more responsive?

Can anyone provide any advice on this? And also, do I have to have a very concrete proposal on first contact? I roughly have an idea on what I want to do, but I'm still in the process of refining my idea and I hope to run it by the potential supervisor as well. Thanks in advance!
Hi toastandcoffee

I would recommend if you are looking to start your PhD in September, it is better to contact potential supervisors as early as possible. Many universities will have different start dates for their PhD study with different intakes throughout the year.

Different universities may have different application processes when applying for PhD study, therefore, I would recommend you double check for wherever you are interested in studying. However, usually, you would meet with a potential supervisor before you start your application and complete your research proposal/research thesis. This initial discussion is the perfect opportunity for you to talk about your project and ideas with a supervisor before moving forward. Try not to worry about having your ideas completely finalised and refined your supervisor is there to help and guide you!

Here at Manchester met, we have a free resource that has been developed by a group of current Manchester Met PhD students and it takes you through the process of PhD study. You may find it useful! ‘So You’re Thinking of a PhD?’

I would imagine you already have in mind where you would like to study for your PhD but just in case you can view all of our PhD subject areas here: https://www.mmu.ac.uk/study/postgrad.../find-a-degree

I hope some of this helps! Good luck with everything
Carly
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