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I got fully-funded PhD offers to both Oxford & Cambridge - here's my advice!

Hey everyone,

I'm currently a 3rd year DPhil student & Clarendon Scholar in Clinical Neurosciences at Oxford (originally from the United States). As I start preparing for my final year(!), I've been taking a lot of time to reflect on what a crazy ride it was to get here in the first place, and how much the community here helped me through the process.

Now, I want to give back! ☺️

Before I was able to get fully-funded offers to both Cambridge and Oxford in 2021, three years prior in 2017/18 I applied to 10 PhD programmes and got rejected to every single one without a single interview.

No one in my family has attended anything close to an ivy league, I hadn't attended one myself for undergrad, I didn't have any connections in the Oxbridge/ivy league world, and I was pretty lost.

Fast forward to 2021, and I got 7 PhD interviews in the course of 10 days (all in the UK), and ended up with fully-funded offers to my dream programmes in Clinical Neurosciences at Cambridge (through a Doctoral Training Partnership offer) and Oxford (through a Clarendon/Oxford-Oriel Basil Reeves scholarship).

Because I believe this process should be less mystifying and more accessible to all the brilliant people out there trying to get into their dream postgrad programme at Oxford and Cambridge to make their own positive impact on the world, I wanted to start a thread of all the advice I would have given to myself the first time I tried to apply. Hopefully, you can learn from my advice and mistakes, so you can make your own dream a reality!

I'm planning to post on this thread approximately 1-2 times every day with tidbits of advice to guide you this autumn. Feel free to ask questions along the way and I'll try my best to answer!

You got this!! πŸ’ͺ

Sincerely,
A girl who used to think Oxbridge was only a crazy dream

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Reply 1
First, let's start with a (not-so) little intro to who I am so maybe we could feel like this is a friendly chat over a cup of coffee, instead of an anonymous thread on the interwebs. If you get bored, just skip to the end for some takeaways to start haha 😊

-

So hey, I'm Claire! Like I said, I grew up in the United States - Michigan to be more precise - with my two sisters and parents.

When we were approximately 7 years old, my fraternal twin sister Maegan fell down one day on the playground and couldn't get back up. Unbeknownst to us, over the preceding 9 months or so, she was becoming progressively weaker in her limbs. On that day, she seemed to go from a perfectly healthy girl to totally paralysed from the waist-down in about 24 hours.

She would quickly become emaciated and, at one point, tetraplegic with a breathing machine on stand-by before she was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called CIDP (chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy). Essentially, the immune system identifies the nerves in the peripheral nervous system as a virus and tries to destroy them, with no definitive cause. At the time, Maegan was the second youngest person in the world to be diagnosed.

This would shape much of our childhood as she was wheelchair-bound for much of it and had to relearn how to walk over many years, with weekly physical therapy and IVIg infusions to boost her immune system. Amidst the chaos of not knowing what was going on and whether Maegan would be okay at any moment, I knew I wanted to contribute positively to research on her disease so that other families wouldn't have to suffer through what we did and what Maegan did.

I attended the University of Michigan for my bachelor's, initially to study chemistry, and ended up studying Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience with a 50/50 split focusing on broader neurobiology and cognitive science. I came from a part of Michigan where no one really leaves and we weren't able to travel growing up, so I endeavoured to spend as much of my undergrad as I could traveling and studying abroad. I left at age 19 to solo travel and work at an environmental conservation agency in Albania over a summer and got to study abroad in Austria and the Netherlands, plus an internship at the US Embassy in Berlin over a summer, before completing my bachelor's degree in Copenhagen, Denmark.

It was in Copenhagen in 2017 that I attempted to apply to PhD programmes for the first time, all in the US, to actually research Maegan's disease.

I had no idea what I was doing, it was a last-minute decision, and I rushed to put together applications and take the GRE over the autumn of 2017 while I lived in Copenhagen. Perhaps it was because I was spurred on by a Dane at the time who had no idea how PhD applications in the US work, or I have the most supportive parents, or perhaps I was a bit naive and arrogant at the time (probably a little bit of all of these), but I assumed I was a shoe-in for at least some PhD programme.

Well, when time stretched on and on and I hadn't heard a peep from any school I applied to, it became increasingly evident that I didn't get any interviews - and my dream of contributing to CIDP research for Maegan would die. My self-worth hit rock bottom and I fell into the first deep depression of my life.

(So if you've applied to PhD programmes before and didn't get in, I can relate to you and all the feelings surrounding that 1000%).

Over the next few years, I worked full-time in the Boston area. I tried a short stint as a research assistant at Harvard (and hated it), an even shorter stint as a financial consultant (a start-up that went under), traveled full-time across Central America and eastern Europe, and then back to Boston, this time to try out biotech as I wanted to be closer to patients/therapeutics and had always been interested in entrepreneurship. A few months into that, the pandemic hit.

I knew at that time I was really done living in the US (I had never felt I really belonged there) and wanted to start making a permanent life for myself overseas. I wanted to revisit a cause I was truly passionate about - helping to treat/cure CIDP - and so I pursued one of the only ways I knew how to keep living abroad: studying.

So, in the autumn of 2020, I overcame all of my self-doubts and fears and decided to try to apply for PhDs again, this time mostly in Europe with some master's programmes as back-ups. Oxford was the dream because I found the perfect supervisor researching exactly what I wanted to research, with a huge autoimmune neurology programme more generally in their Clinical Neurosciences department.

I was able to secure interviews in the beginning of 2021 at The University of Edinburgh, KCL, UCL, Oxford, and 3 interviews at Cambridge for PhD programmes, plus a master's interview invite for Neurasmus. That was probably the most stressful time of my life, but I got through it somehow! πŸ˜…

Then I waited - the hardest part. I'll still never forget the morning in early February when I woke up to an acceptance email from Oxford and the look on my parents' faces when I told them. There were a lot of happy tears shed. πŸ₯Ή

And then Cambridge emailed me too, telling me I was a top applicant and that they wanted to offer me a Doctoral Training Partnership. I had gone from 10 rejections without a single interview three years prior to both Oxford and Cambridge wanting me. It was surreal. Clearly, I had figured something out - the common pitfalls and mistakes to avoid when applying, experience needed, and how to navigate the application process - that made all the difference.

But that wasn't the end of the story.

As you all know, funding isn't guaranteed in the UK just because you get into a PhD - and I didn't have funding for my dream programme at Oxford. Oxford wanted to put my name forward in their department for internal university funding, but they stressed it's extremely competitive and difficult to get, and suggested I look elsewhere.

I was then informed in March that I didn't win funding at Oxford. I would either have to find some obscure funding source that was still available (which I foolishly hadn't started looking for until that spring), pay out-of-pocket (which wasn't an option), or give up my spot.

I spent every day over the next month scouring every corner of the internet, Rotary International, even the NIH, trying to find funding sources for my research to cure Maegan's disease. I barely saw or even spoke to my three housemates, friends, or family. It was... grim. I was losing hope but pressed on.

Then, the same day I got my COVID booster shot at Fenway Park in Boston, I came home, waiting for my (hopefully) future supervisors to submit their application materials for an NIH F31 grant. Suddenly all their communications dropped off and they stopped submitting their materials. Their emails got vague like they were backing out. I was freaking out!! I was about to lose my last hope of joining my dream PhD programme!!

Then, I received an email telling me I had been awarded a full Clarendon Scholarship. πŸ₯Ή My supervisors had been told a few days before but weren't allowed to tell me anything. It was official:

I WAS GOING TO OXFORD!!

-

If you've stuck with me this far and indulged my personal story, thanks. 😊 The point here is that your journey over the next year, even if successful, is likely to be FULL of ups and downs. The only certainty will be uncertainty. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It's a mental game as much as it is about the actions and steps you take. But I truly believe that if you are committed 110% to making your dream happen, you will make it happen - even if you or your family have never attended an Ivy League or had any friends in this academic world, like I hadn't.

It may not happen now, but I can promise you it will happen exactly when it's meant to. They say hindsight is 20/20, and I am so grateful now that I didn't get into a PhD back in 2017. Where I am now is such a better fit for me than those programmes in the US ever would have been. Trust in this process and believe you will end up where you need to be, because you will.

You got this. πŸ’ͺ

xx Claire
Reply 2
TOP 3 COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID

Hey everyone,

Today I want to share 3 of the most common mistakes made when applying to Oxford and Cambridge for postgraduate study (including ones I made the first time I applied), and lessons to learn so you can avoid doing the same!

1. Start Early, Really Early

One of the biggest mistakes I made during my first application cycle in 2017 was not starting early enough. Trust me, rushing through this process is a recipe for disaster. Start by researching your ideal schools, programmes, and potential supervisors. Begin drafting your personal statement and CV as soon as possible - now in late September is perfect. Time is truly your ally in this complex process.

(I've made my programme & application tracker spreadsheet that I used to get into Oxford and Cambridge back in 2020 freely available if anyone would find it helpful! It helps you keep track of your top schools, programmes, potential supervisors, deadlines, special requirements, and more, all in one place. This definitely made a HUGE difference for me my second time applying! 😊)

2. Think About Funding from Day One

I dont' have to tell you that Oxford and Cambridge are not cheap, to say the least. πŸ˜… As I stated above, when I applied in 2020, I hadn't given much thought to funding, and it almost cost me dearly. I was initially told I didn't win an internal scholarship and was left scrambling for external funding options. Thankfully, I was later awarded a Clarendon Scholarship, but you might not be so lucky (unfortunately the chances are not on most applicants' side). Start researching scholarships and funding options now, not after you get in.

3. Pay Attention to the Details

The devil is in the details, especially when it comes to Oxford and Cambridge applications. Each application has its own set of required documents and criteria. Make a checklist and keep track of everything. Double-check your CV, personal statement, and references. While AI tools like ChatGPT can help with spell-checking and proofreading (and I definitely encourage you to use them to do that!), they shouldn't be used to write your application materials. From what I've heard from admissions officers discussing so far this autumn, they will be able to spot this a mile away, and it's an instant red flag.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Feel free to ask any questions or share your own experiences and I'll try my best to answer! πŸ€—

Best wishes,
Claire
Reply 3
JUST START SOMEWHERE: THE FIRST 3 STEPS TO GETTING STARTED ON YOUR APPS & AVOIDING OVERWHELM

Hey again,

I know one of the first things many of us Oxbridge hopefuls face at the start of the application process is major overwhelm.

I remember feeling swamped by the sheer volume of information and tasks ahead of me in September of 2020. But, as they say, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." So, I want to break down the first three steps you can take to make this process more manageable and less stressful.

If I were to do it all over again, this is what I would start with:

1. Dive into Research

It may be stating the obvious, but before you even think about filling out application forms, you need to know what you're getting into. Dedicate some time - perhaps this coming weekend - to research schools, programmes, and potential supervisors that align with your academic and personal goals. Start by making a list; you can always narrow it down later. The aim is to get a good sense of what's out there and what resonates with you.

I say academic and personal goals because both are equally important in my eyes. You are not going to be happy at a school or with a supervisor who, at the end of the day, doesn't allow you to live the kind of life that you want in alignment with your values. Don't get the degree for the sake of getting another degree or because you don't know what to do after you graduate from undergrad except keep going to school. Certainly, people get into Oxford and Cambridge in these situations, but in my opinion not only does it not maximise your chances of acceptance, but it also doesn't set you up to achieve your broader life goals down the road. And that's what getting a postgraduate degree is really about!

Don't just try to get into Oxford or Cambridge for the sake of the name - truly apply there because it is the best option for you. (This will also make your application much stronger because reviewers will sense this in both your application materials and hopefully when you're granted an interview.)

2. Get Organised

Once you've done your initial research, you'll realise there's a lot of information to keep track of - programmes, deadlines, prerequisites, special requirements, and so on. I initially tried to manage over 20 different programmes and quickly felt overwhelmed. My solution? An application tracker spreadsheet. It helped me keep everything in one place and made the process far less daunting. I suggest filling this out as you research programmes to save time.

(By the way, I've made my application tracker spreadsheet freely available for anyone who might find it useful. It's the exact one I used to keep my successful Oxford and Cambridge applications on track. 😊)

3. Dedicate Time

The next step is to decide when you'll work on your applications. Deadlines in December and January will be here before you know it, so it's crucial to plan your time wisely. I found it helpful to consistently set aside time every day to work on my applications. For me, that meant waking up an hour earlier each morning before heading to my full-time job every single day (and I am NOT a morning person πŸ˜…). It wasn't easy, but the commitment paid off in the end.

I hope this was helpful! Feel free to ask any questions or share your own experiences, and I'll do my best to respond!

Best wishes,
Claire

P.S. For more tips and insights into the Oxford/Cambridge application process, I'm sharing advice on my Instagram too. πŸ€—
(edited 4 months ago)
Reply 4
Original post by clairebergjo
JUST START SOMEWHERE: THE FIRST 3 STEPS TO GETTING STARTED ON YOUR APPS & AVOIDING OVERWHELM

Hey again,

I know one of the first things many of us Oxbridge hopefuls face at the start of the application process is major overwhelm.

I remember feeling swamped by the sheer volume of information and tasks ahead of me in September of 2020. But, as they say, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." So, I want to break down the first three steps you can take to make this process more manageable and less stressful.

If I were to do it all over again, this is what I would start with:

1. Dive into Research

It may be stating the obvious, but before you even think about filling out application forms, you need to know what you're getting into. Dedicate some time - perhaps this coming weekend - to research schools, programmes, and potential supervisors that align with your academic and personal goals. Start by making a list; you can always narrow it down later. The aim is to get a good sense of what's out there and what resonates with you.

I say academic and personal goals because both are equally important in my eyes. You are not going to be happy at a school or with a supervisor who, at the end of the day, doesn't allow you to live the kind of life that you want in alignment with your values. Don't get the degree for the sake of getting another degree or because you don't know what to do after you graduate from undergrad except keep going to school. Certainly, people get into Oxford and Cambridge in these situations, but in my opinion not only does it not maximise your chances of acceptance, but it also doesn't set you up to achieve your broader life goals down the road. And that's what getting a postgraduate degree is really about!

Don't just try to get into Oxford or Cambridge for the sake of the name - truly apply there because it is the best option for you. (This will also make your application much stronger because reviewers will sense this in both your application materials and hopefully when you're granted an interview.)

2. Get Organised

Once you've done your initial research, you'll realise there's a lot of information to keep track of - programmes, deadlines, prerequisites, special requirements, and so on. I initially tried to manage over 20 different programmes and quickly felt overwhelmed. My solution? An application tracker spreadsheet. It helped me keep everything in one place and made the process far less daunting. I suggest filling this out as you research programmes to save time.

(By the way, I've made my application tracker spreadsheet freely available for anyone who might find it useful. It's the exact one I used to keep my successful Oxford and Cambridge applications on track. 😊)

3. Dedicate Time

The next step is to decide when you'll work on your applications. Deadlines in December and January will be here before you know it, so it's crucial to plan your time wisely. I found it helpful to consistently set aside time every day to work on my applications. For me, that meant waking up an hour earlier each morning before heading to my full-time job every single day (and I am NOT a morning person πŸ˜…). It wasn't easy, but the commitment paid off in the end.

I hope this was helpful! Feel free to ask any questions or share your own experiences, and I'll do my best to respond!

Best wishes,
Claire

P.S. For more tips and insights into the Oxford/Cambridge application process, I'm sharing advice on my Instagram too. πŸ€—

Hi Claire! Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring story. I just wanted to ask how soon should I submit my application? I'm 90 percent done with it and I'm certain I'll be done by next week but will it be too soon to submit? September isn't even over yet
Reply 5
Original post by Tobytobias
Hi Claire! Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring story. I just wanted to ask how soon should I submit my application? I'm 90 percent done with it and I'm certain I'll be done by next week but will it be too soon to submit? September isn't even over yet


Woww, you're way ahead of the game, way to go! Can I ask what programme(s) you're applying to? It's really important to have contacted and spoken with your potential supervisors ahead of your application submissions. Have you already done this? If not, I highly recommend doing that before you submit. It will increase your chances of acceptance quite a bit if your prospective supervisor knows who you are and wants you to do research/work under them already.
Reply 6
Original post by clairebergjo
Woww, you're way ahead of the game, way to go! Can I ask what programme(s) you're applying to? It's really important to have contacted and spoken with your potential supervisors ahead of your application submissions. Have you already done this? If not, I highly recommend doing that before you submit. It will increase your chances of acceptance quite a bit if your prospective supervisor knows who you are and wants you to do research/work under them already.

I'm applying to the Masters in Architecture program but I haven't contacted potential supervisors yet but I've done research and I picked a suitable one out but I didn't know we had to contact them before hand. Can I ask how I should contact them? If I'm sending an email, how should I frame it? thanks a lot.
Reply 7
Original post by clairebergjo
Woww, you're way ahead of the game, way to go! Can I ask what programme(s) you're applying to? It's really important to have contacted and spoken with your potential supervisors ahead of your application submissions. Have you already done this? If not, I highly recommend doing that before you submit. It will increase your chances of acceptance quite a bit if your prospective supervisor knows who you are and wants you to do research/work under them already.

Also, do you think submitting too early would affect my chances of getting in, in any way?
Reply 8
Original post by Tobytobias
I'm applying to the Masters in Architecture program but I haven't contacted potential supervisors yet but I've done research and I picked a suitable one out but I didn't know we had to contact them before hand. Can I ask how I should contact them? If I'm sending an email, how should I frame it? thanks a lot.


That's good you've chosen a suitable one. For a lot of the graduate programmes you don't necessarily have to reach out to a supervisor if they don't explicitly say so in the instructions to apply, but I highly recommend it - it is really going to boost your application chances!

For reference, I didn't talk to supervisors my first time applying when I got 10 rejections, but I did my second time, and it made all the difference. The professor I spoke with at Cambridge didn't end up even being my final prospective supervisor in the end for compatibility reasons, but because we spoke beforehand and he got a positive impression of me, he talked me up a LOT at my interview and, from the sounds of it when I was in contact with the departmental contacts in charge of admissions and funding afterward, made the difference in my getting offered full funding. Partly because of him, I was told I was a top applicant for the entire department. This is why I believe speaking to potential supervisors beforehand is so crucial.

Think about if you were on the admissions committee. Who would you rather pick: a student with a strong application, PLUS their chosen supervisor has already spoken with them and given the go-ahead that the student is a good fit for them; OR a student with an otherwise strong application, but their chosen supervisor has never heard of them and therefore their compatibility/ability to work together is a big question mark? I think you'd probably pick the former! The idea here is to make it easy for Oxford/Cambridge to say yes. 😊

I'm glad you asked about how to contact them because this is definitely something I didn't figure out the first time and certainly makes the difference with whether or not they reply and you get a meeting! A few quick tips:

β€’

Keep it respectful and succinct. These people are BUSY. 😊 They don't have time to read an essay. Be clear, to the point, express your interest and wanting to set up a meeting, and keep it at that. Make it easy for them to reply.

β€’

Especially for a research degree, make sure you've read 1-2 of their most recent papers. Mention your interest from reading one of those recent papers, including a specific point from it that interested you (to show you've done your research), to segue into your interest in working with them.

β€’

Send from your most "prestigious" email. Not everyone has this option, of course, but an institutional or company email is always going to be better than a personal one. At the time I applied, I was taking an online master's course at Johns Hopkins, so I sent all of my interest emails to supervisors from that email. They definitely paid more attention to these even compared to my friend who sent from her University of Michigan email! (I recognise this isn't fair at all but is unfortunately the way academia/the world works.)

β€’

Queue up the email to send at noon. This is often going to be their lunchtime so they therefore have downtime to check their emails. This was such a clever hack I got from a postdoc at Columbia and it really worked!



Since it's pretty early to be reaching out to potential supervisors, you don't need to stress about this yet. I'd say starting mid-October is appropriate. I'll actually be making and releasing a free video training on application tips, including how to reach out to potential supervisors, in mid-October if you'd like me to let you know when I release it! Feel free to message me your email address and I can keep you in the loop when I release my videos that way too (or follow me on Instagram if that's your style). 😊

Hope this helps!
Claire
Reply 9
Original post by Tobytobias
Also, do you think submitting too early would affect my chances of getting in, in any way?

Regarding this, not at all! If anything it's great that you're so proactive and ahead of the game - great qualities for a future Master's student. 😊 Unless otherwise stated for your programme, admissions is not on a rolling basis, so they will review your application with all the rest after the application deadline, regardless of when you submit it.

I understand the desire to pull the trigger now and submit since you've already finished your application, but I would urge caution. If you're really serious about your application getting accepted and you haven't gotten guidance from someone who's gotten admitted before, there may be a lot of minor tweaks that need to be made to your application materials that could make all of the difference (speaking from experience).

Over the next month or two I'm going to be releasing a lot more free tips on this thread, my Instagram, email newsletter, and video trainings along with some in-depth guides and templates that should bring you a ton of value, so please do keep following along if you decide not to submit yet!

Best wishes,
Claire
Reply 10
Talking to a potential supervisor for a masters will not make any difference at all.

(For reference, I am an academic who has also read at Oxford)
(edited 4 months ago)
Reply 11
Original post by gjd800
Talking to a potential supervisor for a masters will not make any difference at all.


It could make a difference, or it could not. Personally, I'd rather do more than what's needed to secure my chances than not do it, and wonder if that would have made the difference if later I got rejected.
Reply 12
Original post by clairebergjo
It could make a difference, or it could not. Personally, I'd rather do more than what's needed to secure my chances than not do it, and wonder if that would have made the difference if later I got rejected.

It won't. The application procedures for PGT courses are not setup this way, not even at Oxon.
(edited 4 months ago)
Reply 13
Original post by gjd800
It won't. The application procedures for PGT courses are not setup this way, not even at Oxon.


Wasn't sure if Tobytobias was applying to a PGT course or a research course, because there is a Master of Architecture course at Cambridge that involves research including a 1,500 word research proposal for the application. So yes, obviously my advice is more applicable to a research course. If not helpful for Tobytobias, hopefully it's helpful for someone else!
(edited 4 months ago)
Original post by clairebergjo
That's good you've chosen a suitable one. For a lot of the graduate programmes you don't necessarily have to reach out to a supervisor if they don't explicitly say so in the instructions to apply, but I highly recommend it - it is really going to boost your application chances!

For reference, I didn't talk to supervisors my first time applying when I got 10 rejections, but I did my second time, and it made all the difference. The professor I spoke with at Cambridge didn't end up even being my final prospective supervisor in the end for compatibility reasons, but because we spoke beforehand and he got a positive impression of me, he talked me up a LOT at my interview and, from the sounds of it when I was in contact with the departmental contacts in charge of admissions and funding afterward, made the difference in my getting offered full funding. Partly because of him, I was told I was a top applicant for the entire department. This is why I believe speaking to potential supervisors beforehand is so crucial.

Think about if you were on the admissions committee. Who would you rather pick: a student with a strong application, PLUS their chosen supervisor has already spoken with them and given the go-ahead that the student is a good fit for them; OR a student with an otherwise strong application, but their chosen supervisor has never heard of them and therefore their compatibility/ability to work together is a big question mark? I think you'd probably pick the former! The idea here is to make it easy for Oxford/Cambridge to say yes. 😊

I'm glad you asked about how to contact them because this is definitely something I didn't figure out the first time and certainly makes the difference with whether or not they reply and you get a meeting! A few quick tips:

β€’

Keep it respectful and succinct. These people are BUSY. 😊 They don't have time to read an essay. Be clear, to the point, express your interest and wanting to set up a meeting, and keep it at that. Make it easy for them to reply.

β€’

Especially for a research degree, make sure you've read 1-2 of their most recent papers. Mention your interest from reading one of those recent papers, including a specific point from it that interested you (to show you've done your research), to segue into your interest in working with them.

β€’

Send from your most "prestigious" email. Not everyone has this option, of course, but an institutional or company email is always going to be better than a personal one. At the time I applied, I was taking an online master's course at Johns Hopkins, so I sent all of my interest emails to supervisors from that email. They definitely paid more attention to these even compared to my friend who sent from her University of Michigan email! (I recognise this isn't fair at all but is unfortunately the way academia/the world works.)

β€’

Queue up the email to send at noon. This is often going to be their lunchtime so they therefore have downtime to check their emails. This was such a clever hack I got from a postdoc at Columbia and it really worked!



Since it's pretty early to be reaching out to potential supervisors, you don't need to stress about this yet. I'd say starting mid-October is appropriate. I'll actually be making and releasing a free video training on application tips, including how to reach out to potential supervisors, in mid-October if you'd like me to let you know when I release it! Feel free to message me your email address and I can keep you in the loop when I release my videos that way too (or follow me on Instagram if that's your style). 😊

Hope this helps!
Claire

Thanks so much Claire! You've been of great help. I'll definitely try and reach out to the supervisor but I think I'll take my time to read more of his works and structure my email properly. Thanks once again.
Reply 15
Wow, this was great to read and I'm glad everything worked out for you!

I'm applying for a master's in maths and was wondering how you went about getting your references. I've got two referees so far (personal tutor and project supervisor), but I'm struggling to find a third referee.

I did some maths volunteering work under someone who knows me well, but they themselves are not related to the field. Do you think this person would be a suitable referee? What about asking one of the module lecturers? If not, who would you recommend?
Original post by Super73
Wow, this was great to read and I'm glad everything worked out for you!

I'm applying for a master's in maths and was wondering how you went about getting your references. I've got two referees so far (personal tutor and project supervisor), but I'm struggling to find a third referee.

I did some maths volunteering work under someone who knows me well, but they themselves are not related to the field. Do you think this person would be a suitable referee? What about asking one of the module lecturers? If not, who would you recommend?


Module lecturers are fine. For Maths they only want to know about your mathematical ability, there's no wider, holistic evaluation.
Original post by Tobytobias
Thanks so much Claire! You've been of great help. I'll definitely try and reach out to the supervisor but I think I'll take my time to read more of his works and structure my email properly. Thanks once again.


Can't speak for Oxford, but at Cam for MPhil, there's no value in reaching out to Supervisors. For PhDs, yes, then reaching out to a Supervisor is of value to both of you. Frankly at MPhil level, the dissertation element is sufficiently basic that most academics in the Department can supervise and there's no real need for a specific subject fit. Many departments simply don't respond to MPhil supervision questions - there isn't time. Especially, don't do it until at least the middle of October, when term has settled down.

Nearly all Cam MPhils are part taught, part research and require a dissertation proposal as part of the application, but are technically considered 'taught'.
Reply 18
Original post by threeportdrift
Module lecturers are fine. For Maths they only want to know about your mathematical ability, there's no wider, holistic evaluation.

Thanks very much for chiming in about Maths! I would say from my own experience that someone who can speak in the most "scintillating," exceptional language about you but isn't in a field directly related to yours is much more valuable than someone in your specific field who writes a simply average reference letter that doesn't stick out. However, I'm not in Maths so I can't speak to this for sure.

My reference letters were from:


β€’

Lesser-known associate professor in Copenhagen with whom I wrote a systematic review (brain neuroscience, not my field of immunology/peripheral nerve).

β€’

Lesser-known/unknown adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins who taught one semester of a master's degree I started there - his letter that I got to see after was exceptional despite us not knowing each other that well, but I was a top performer in his Molecular Biology course.

β€’

Big-name PI in MS research (so again, related but not directly my field) for whom I worked for 1 year as an undergrad research assistant but didn't really know I existed despite my work (he left me off a paper I should have been on so I believe one of his PhD students I worked with helped convince him to write the letter as some sort of consolation, but I could be wrong).

β€’

Current (at the time) supervisor in industry who sometimes praised my work but also micromanaged and had a lot of managerial and personal issues - this was not a good call in retrospect to ask her for this letter.


I used only the first three letters for all of my UK applications, but used the fourth for US applications that required four recommendation letters.

As a result, I got 7 interviews across top programmes in the UK, including 3 at Cambridge and 1 at Oxford. In contrast, I didn't get a single interview in the US (just as well).

I can't know for sure that it's that fourth letter that made or broke my applications, but I know it was far from being an exceptional letter of recommendation. It's because of this personal experience I say it's more important to have an excellent letter from someone in a less related field/not a "big name" than an average letter from someone in your field.
Reply 19
OXBRIDGE APPLICATION TIMELINE, DEMYSTIFIED

Following up on our discussions on this thread so far, I wanted to post a simple timeline to follow for completing your applications this fall. There's a lot to get done and I remember feeling pretty overwhelmed not knowing what to do when, especially since I was unfamiliar with the Oxford/Cambridge world. This is the exact timeline I followed for my successful applications.

NOTE: Some parts of this will be relevant only to research degrees and not taught degrees. I'll point these out. For applications due in January instead of December (like a lot of Cambridge applications are), you can shift this by a month.

πŸ‚ September: The Research Phase πŸ‚

Late September: If you haven't already, research your top schools and programmes. Keep track of them as you go (you can do this with my free application tracker spreadsheet to keep all the programmes, deadlines, special requirements, and more organised in one place, if it's helpful 😊). Then, narrow down your list to about 10-15 programs. This is the point where you should also start identifying potential supervisors at each institution.

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πŸŽƒ October: The Preparation Phase πŸŽƒ

Early October: Begin filling out the basic application information for each program, starting with the one that has the earliest deadline. This might sound simple but it will help you get the ball rolling, avoid overwhelm, and overcome "blank page syndrome" with an empty application portal. Also, start reading 1-2 papers recently published by your potential supervisors (for research degrees).

Mid-October: Work on crafting your academic CV and start reaching out to potential supervisors (see discussion above with some quick tips for reaching out). Your CV is often your first impression, so make it count!

Late October: Draft your personal statements and start asking for references. Choose people who know you well and can provide strong recommendations (also see our discussion above about some aspects of this process).

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🍁 November: The Final Stretch 🍁

Early November: Speak with potential supervisors (most applicable for research-based programmes). Having these meetings is crucial to increase your chances of acceptance! (I include why and how this made the difference between rejection and acceptance for me above.)

Mid-November: Write your research proposals (if applicable) based on your conversations with potential supervisors. Make sure they align with your chosen programmes. Work on any scholarship personal statements, both within your program applications and for external scholarships.

Late November: Polish your entire application. Don't wait until the last minute; you never know what hiccups you (or the university/application portal) might encounter.

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πŸ”Ή Throughout: Funding πŸ”Ή

Research scholarships and start applying as soon as possible. Every bit of funding helps! I wish I hadn't left this until after I got in. It left me scrambling with a lot of undue stress. I was extremely lucky to win internal funding in the end, but unfortunately this won't be the case for most people. I spent every waking moment of March scouring the internet for every possible funding source after I was accepted and told I didn't win funding at first. In this case, don't be me. 😊

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I hope you find this timeline helpful! Keep on the lookout as I'll be sharing more tips over the next months, as well as some other helpful resources I'm working on right now like the exact email and CV templates I used to get into Oxford and Cambridge, personal statement and supervisor meeting guides, some free video trainings, and more!

You got this,
xx Claire

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