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Preparing a PhD proposal while working full time

I am planning to undertake a PhD in English literature in autumn 2024, and as such I am currently preparing a research proposal. I am also working full time, in a job that has nothing to do with my research topic or literature in general (I have not been in academia since completing my master's almost a decade ago). I recently had a call with a prospective supervisor, who was very enthusiastic about the proposed project and advised me to read as much as possible to strengthen my proposal. I am already reading a lot (the author's works, biographies of him, works by his contemporaries, academic literature, etc.) but I am concerned that I should be doing more. It feels very challenging to fit in any additional time for reading and research alongside my job and the general demands of life, but I also want to make sure I have a strong proposal to maximise my chances of securing funding. I would be interested to hear if anyone else is or has been in this position, and how you balanced preparing a proposal with other life commitments. It would also be useful to get a sense of approximately how many hours one should dedicate to preparing a proposal, though I appreciate that's very much a "how long is a piece of string" question! Any advice would be appreciated.
Hi!

Your proposal matters in terms of getting in, but may not bear much resemblance to what you do next. https://thesiswhisperer.com/2016/08/24/how-to-get-into-a-phd-program-2/ might be a useful resource.

I'll admit - I was working full time and finishing my Masters dissertation while writing my proposal, and I look back on what I eventually submitted with horror. My supervisor said it was 'undercooked' but let me in anyway. And that was good enough - I am due to submit in a month :smile:
Original post by PlainsOfCement
I am planning to undertake a PhD in English literature in autumn 2024, and as such I am currently preparing a research proposal. I am also working full time, in a job that has nothing to do with my research topic or literature in general (I have not been in academia since completing my master's almost a decade ago). I recently had a call with a prospective supervisor, who was very enthusiastic about the proposed project and advised me to read as much as possible to strengthen my proposal. I am already reading a lot (the author's works, biographies of him, works by his contemporaries, academic literature, etc.) but I am concerned that I should be doing more. It feels very challenging to fit in any additional time for reading and research alongside my job and the general demands of life, but I also want to make sure I have a strong proposal to maximise my chances of securing funding. I would be interested to hear if anyone else is or has been in this position, and how you balanced preparing a proposal with other life commitments. It would also be useful to get a sense of approximately how many hours one should dedicate to preparing a proposal, though I appreciate that's very much a "how long is a piece of string" question! Any advice would be appreciated.


It's a research proposal, not a research piece and you've either got a good research question or you haven't. So don't over think it. Once you've read a few books (3 or 4) around the subject and your research question holds good and still seems worth exploring, then just put the proposal together, which is just a paper about the logistics of the future research. Once you've read a few books, it's a weekend's work. Put it via your proposed Supervisor first to get feedback, but the question is at the core, and if that is good and the logistics work, you are done. There's only so much 'strength' you can put into a proposal. Remember, there's a greater than 50% chance you will change something substantial in the first year of your PhD anyway.
Reply 3
I applied for funding twice - once whilst working fulltime and the second during a gap between jobs. The first was unsuccessful unfortunately but I did get funding the second time.

You're definitely on the right track, having started so early and already being in contact with a supervisor, as contacting supervisors can often be a timeconsuming process re. waiting for replies. If you have time and this is realistic for you, I'd recommend seeking out another supervisor at a university connected with another consortium as an option in the event that funding doesn't work out for you at your first choice, although I understand that this means putting together another application.

One thing I would really recommend is actually logging into the portal for your funding application as soon as it is opened and looking at the way their form is structured to make sure you're application is actually answering the right questions. Usually the portals open around October, and you may also be able to access a document providing guidance on exactly how the consortium wants you to answer each question. I didn't do this the first time I applied and really regreted it. I logged into the portal last minute and realised I needed to format my application in an entirely different way to how I had for my application to the university itself, and wasted a lot of time here. I'd also recommend getting your application off to the university itself as soon as you can - admissions for actual PhD places aren't as competative as the funding applications, so you want to be putting more attention into the funding application.

Obviously it depends on your schedule and how you like to work, but it might be worth putting a day/half a day a week towards this application? Funding cycles are unfortunately very intense and, with deadlines being just after Christmas, also come at a very inconvenient time! I think I wrote 13 drafts of my application in total, although this was over two years. The year I was succesful, I probably wrote 8 drafts? My application didn't always change massively between drafts, but I sent the latest version of my draft off maybe monthly to my potential supervisors for their feedback. I also started working on it in September, so would say you're well on track! Consortiums may also run a workshop for potential applicants which I'd really recommend going along to if you can. It was on a Saturday, if I remember correctly, and I only went the second year I applied but really do believe the advice I got there was a significant factor in me getting funding.

Best of luck with the funding process!
Reply 4
Thank you all for your comments and advice - much appreciated!



Thanks for sharing - the issue of not having access to a university library is something I've been grappling with too. Fortunately I don't live far from London, so I've been making a few trips to the British Library to access materials in their reading rooms - not ideal but I'm lucky to have this option.

Original post by oswalds
One thing I would really recommend is actually logging into the portal for your funding application as soon as it is opened and looking at the way their form is structured to make sure you're application is actually answering the right questions. Usually the portals open around October, and you may also be able to access a document providing guidance on exactly how the consortium wants you to answer each question. I didn't do this the first time I applied and really regreted it. I logged into the portal last minute and realised I needed to format my application in an entirely different way to how I had for my application to the university itself, and wasted a lot of time here. I'd also recommend getting your application off to the university itself as soon as you can - admissions for actual PhD places aren't as competative as the funding applications, so you want to be putting more attention into the funding application.


This is a great suggestion, thank you - I'll definitely do this. Reassuring to hear I'm on the right track timing-wise! :smile:
Reply 5
Original post by threeportdrift
It's a research proposal, not a research piece and you've either got a good research question or you haven't. So don't over think it. Once you've read a few books (3 or 4) around the subject and your research question holds good and still seems worth exploring, then just put the proposal together, which is just a paper about the logistics of the future research. Once you've read a few books, it's a weekend's work. Put it via your proposed Supervisor first to get feedback, but the question is at the core, and if that is good and the logistics work, you are done. There's only so much 'strength' you can put into a proposal. Remember, there's a greater than 50% chance you will change something substantial in the first year of your PhD anyway.


I really agree with this. My research proposal took me an hour, I'm not even joking,

The funding proposal was a different kettle of fish and was much harder. But I still only spent 1 afternoon on it.

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