How to Find the Right PhD?

Aparajita Mohanty

Every day there are numerous messages that are sent to me from students around the world to help them find a suitable PhD position. It`s not possible to reply to all the messages individually or go through all the CVs.

The most common things written in all the messages are they want a Phd position in a broad field such as Nanoscience or Biomedical engineering etc. The question that bothers me is how can someone do a PhD in an entire field of Nanoscience? I reckon, the most important and common mistake that most people do while seeking a research position is by not being specific. A PhD degree continues for 3 to 4 years in most part of the world and more than 5 years in rest of the world. A post doc position is usually offered for 2 years and then reviewed. So, a person is going to spend more than couple of years in doing a particular research once taken up. So you need to be extremely careful and choose only the projects that interests you.

Some of the most important things to consider before starting the marathon of application process-

Why do you want to do a PhD?

The answer to this question is very crucial for the future course of your life. PhD is just not an extended version of your master degree.  Do you want to do a PhD just because you have finished your master degree and it just feels right thing to do. Or you are fascinated by that Dr. in front of your name? Some people just assume that you are going to be offered a 5 figure salary by some industry at the end of your PhD. And another breed of people responds to this question by convincing themselves that they are intrigued by the scope it provides to learn things. But is PhD  the only way to learn new things? It takes a lot of hard work, sleepless nights, numerous hours alone in the lab and impeccable talent to survive with the leftover food.

It’s very essential for everyone to understand that Phd needs you to focus on a specific project which might not be interesting as your bachelor or master degrees. It’s highly possible to find your friends at the same position as you after your PhD in a company who learned new skills and experiences over the years. You might consider yourself an expert in a particular subject after your PhD but in reality to become an expert is rather a long process. You should only decide to go for a Phd when you think you have a proper answer to the above question.

Which topic you want to do a PhD in?

Great, now that you have decided to do a PhD the next question is how to choose the right topic for your PhD? Are you going to go with any topic that comes with a scholarship?  Many people try to find a PhD similar to their master thesis as they think it’s easy to show relevant experience. But the truth is a phd degree which might take 4 to 5 years to complete may the biggest threat to your mental health if not chosen carefully. A master thesis is just a 6 months’ work and is a very less time to assess your likability. It’s very important to understand what interests you.

I got a chance to discuss this matter with one of my close friend who happens to be the centre manager of doctoral programme of a very renowned university. As she puts it,


“As I work closely with the students I have made few observations over the period of time. There can be many reasons a student may leave the PhD in middle or change the supervisor or change the PhD topic.


  1.  If it’s an experimental student then at times they don’t get the desired project or the    supervisor so in this instance the students lose interest very soon and may not continue.
  2.  Some students do not read the PhD proposal properly or discuss it with the supervisor and end up either leaving or changing the supervisor – this leads to losing out a year or more of their career.
  3.  There are times when a student hasn’t thought very well prior to joining the course and after a year they do not want to continue – again the student needs to really know if they want to dedicate their time in academic or follow other pursuit. One should recognize the passion here.
  4.  I have seen that there are some students who just can’t decide and in the end they pick a wrong topic for PhD and get disheartened. 
  5. Some students quit PhD because of the stress and workload. “


You need to do a lot of research on line and literature review and understand the recent advancement in the area of your interest. Then you need to put in some effort to write a project proposal. While writing a proposal highlight well on the future impacts of your research. No one wants to spend resources just for the sake of research. Find out the industries who are currently involved in such research. Evaluate the commercialisation aspect of your project which will attract such business sectors. One need to keep in mind that PhD is not life time work and you should consider the feasibility of your project. Also you need assess well how much you would be able to complete in a limited time period.

How to find the right place?

So, if you are ready with a great idea and a feasible project proposal the next thing is to how to find the right place? How come some people find the project of their choice and some of us struggle to find that right one. To find the right post for yourself you need to start early and follow the simple steps.

  1. There are many online sites which advertises the PhD posts. Some of them are –


  1. FindAPhd
  3. Scholarship
  4. The international nanoscience community
  5. PhD


  1. Start contacting potential supervisors. The best thing to do is to start by contacting the researcher/authors of the papers you are reading as part of your survey. Most of the time if not sponsored by specific organisations, researchers do not advertise it widely enough to be noticed. They consider offer the place usually to their master students or any contacts willing to apply. So it’s the best idea to directly contact them and they can direct you to other supervisors or other projects if they see potential in you.


  1. Another best way is to contact the Industries working in the same field, especially if you are an experimentalist. If you have done enough survey about the topic I am sure you will be aware of the industrial problems associated in that particular field. If your proposal addresses any such issues or focus on technology advancement and commercialization, it’s easy to draw the attention of industries. They are mostly willing to sponsor such candidate with a proper IP agreement and even hire them after the completion of their projects.


  1. Apart from these, there are many Govt. sponsored projects in every countries for their nationals primarily. You need to constantly look for such opportunities and clear the tests required for such positions.


These are the basic points if you consider from the beginning, I am sure you will be able to find the right position.


If this article is helpful, please share. And let me know in the comment section below the topics you want me write about and if you have any other question you want me to answer.





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