Do Universities ever reach out to offer their graduates PHD positions?

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TheOnlyIzzy
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So I’m on a STEM Msci course at a Russel group university, just completed a 10 week research internship with the uni but staying on until its finished, and am top of my course.

I’ve been told by a few lecturers they’re expecting me to do a PhD. Do universities ever reach out to offer their best students PhD’s, or would I have to to apply myself?

(Not to sound cocky, just interested) Thank you!
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Reality Check
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(Original post by TheOnlyIzzy)
So I’m on a STEM Msci course at a Russel group university, just completed a 10 week research internship with the uni but staying on until its finished, and am top of my course.

I’ve been told by a few lecturers they’re expecting me to do a PhD. Do universities ever reach out to offer their best students PhD’s, or would I have to to apply myself?

(Not to sound cocky, just interested) Thank you!
What do you mean by 'reach out' - a very American phrase? Are you asking if universities basically 'give' their students PhDs, bypassing a competitive process? If so, the answer is very much 'no'. No decent university would restrict a PhD candidate field like this.

That's a different thing from a university encouraging one of their students to apply for a project - and of course, if you're a known quantity, you've got a good advantage in the recruitment process. But it is still going to be done via open competition.
Last edited by Reality Check; 2 weeks ago
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mnot
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(Original post by TheOnlyIzzy)
So I’m on a STEM Msci course at a Russel group university, just completed a 10 week research internship with the uni but staying on until its finished, and am top of my course.

I’ve been told by a few lecturers they’re expecting me to do a PhD. Do universities ever reach out to offer their best students PhD’s, or would I have to to apply myself?

(Not to sound cocky, just interested) Thank you!
Sort of.

Professors will encourage applications, tell students they would support & encourage an application with the idea they will supervise. This happened to me, in my experience it happens informally i.e. in a call or meeting of some kind, I had engaged with the supervisor at the end of lecture we had a meeting about the field and the supervisor asked me to have a second meeting where they introduced the idea of me applying for a position within their research group.

It was managed well, informally with no pressure on me. The only thing the supervisor said was after I had agreed I was applying to be honest and upfront with my other applications in industry or academia (which I thought was fair enough). I still had to do the full PhD application and funding rounds like everyone else though.
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Reality Check
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(Original post by mnot)
Professors will encourage applications, tell students they would support & encourage an application with the idea they will supervise. This happened to me, in my experience it happens informally i.e. in a call or meeting of some kind, I had engaged with the supervisor at the end of lecture we had a meeting about the field and the supervisor asked me to have a second meeting where they introduced the idea of me applying for a position within their research group.
That was pretty much exactly the same thing as I had - the preliminary stuff was all quite informal, and I knew the group from both undergrad and a friend who was postdocing there. The actual 'applying' part was as formal as if I were applying as an external candidate, but I suppose my application was easier because I'd been able to get answers to all the initial questions about the project and the group informally well before the interview, so I could mull them over and probably go into more/higher detail in the interview as a result.
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medicphd
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If you're doing your project/dissertation in a lab that has funding for a PhD or that has a new PhD project starting and they like you they'll encourage you to apply. But you won't get a uni randomly reaching out to their top performing students. You would have had to engage with the lab somehow, usually for your dissertation. And then, like mentioned above, you'd still have to go through the whole process.
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QuentinM
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(Original post by TheOnlyIzzy)
So I’m on a STEM Msci course at a Russel group university, just completed a 10 week research internship with the uni but staying on until its finished, and am top of my course.

I’ve been told by a few lecturers they’re expecting me to do a PhD. Do universities ever reach out to offer their best students PhD’s, or would I have to to apply myself?

(Not to sound cocky, just interested) Thank you!
In the case of STEM PhD's it wouldn't be the university per se. Typically for STEM PhD's, the Principal investigators (PI's) will apply for funding for a project and either when they are successful (or alongside the application for some types of funding) they'll advertise a project for a student.

What I would say is likely is your supervisor from your masters may:
1) encourage you to apply to a project they are advertising over the next year (something I ended up doing, kinda)
2) Encourage you to apply to a project with a colleague int he same department/building (in which case you probably get a good recommendation from a close colleague)
3) Encourage you to apply to a project potentially at a different university/department which you should still be qualified for, usually if your supervisor has some connection with the person advertising that project.

I would say though that I think there is a big misconception about intelligence and PhD's. A lot of the work I do on my own project I would say doesn't require a huge amount of intelligence, it's only recently that I've found a way to incorporate some form of creativity and exploration in. Likewise a lot of the people I work with are also not the most intelligent people I've met (although they are pretty close). The big qualities you need are perseverance in the face of adversity
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Plagioclase
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I think it's important to understand that there are broadly two ways that a PhD can be funded in STEM (ignoring self-funded):

  1. Directly from a PI (supervisor) from a research grant they will have won that includes funds to finance PhD project(s)
  2. From a competitive fund such as a DTP (Doctoral Training Partnership) or CDT (Centre for Doctoral Training)

In the first case, it is effectively the PI's choice who receives the PhD funding so, in principle, they could directly hand it out to a talented graduate they have experience working with and know would be good for the job. However, this would be extremely unusual and I have personally never heard of this happening to anybody (regardless of how exceptional the candidate is). A PI doesn't really have anything to gain by bypassing an open recruitment stage.

In the second case (which is increasingly becoming the norm in STEM), the PI is only able to decide who they nominate for funding, but the funding itself is won by the candidate through a competitive process. So for projects that are funded through a DTP or CDT, it isn't possible for a PI to bypass a formal application process.

So in short, it is pretty much unheard of for universities in the UK to 'give' a funded PhD position to graduates. I'd also add that although it's certainly a plus to your application, your previous research experience (including any publications and/or conference talks) will probably be more important than your ranking in your year when it comes to PhD applications. This is because, as mentioned by QuentinM above, carrying out a successful PhD is more about initiative, resilience, project-management, and independence, than academic ability.
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medicphd
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(Original post by QuentinM)
I would say though that I think there is a big misconception about intelligence and PhD's. A lot of the work I do on my own project I would say doesn't require a huge amount of intelligence, it's only recently that I've found a way to incorporate some form of creativity and exploration in. Likewise a lot of the people I work with are also not the most intelligent people I've met (although they are pretty close). The big qualities you need are perseverance in the face of adversity
This. I think people think that if they've done well in their undergrad or masters that means they'd do well in a PhD. The reality is however that both require very different skills. Undergrad and taught postgrad courses are largely about understanding your subject and being able to memorise various things. A PhD needs you to be creative - you're trying to find things that no one has described before, and you create your own ideas.

The way you study from GCSE -> Masters is pretty similar, however a PhD is a completely different way of studying in that it's not really about studying - it's research.
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