student life

PhD – A guide on how to find your PhD position

Be clear about your priorities

The most important thing you need to know if you are looking for a PhD position is what you want to be working on in the future. Try to figure out what fascinates you and what skills you want to learn in the next couple of years. This can be rather broad – I knew that I wanted to work with brain imaging data, genetic data and psychiatric disorders. Search for positions accordingly.

Activate all resources

There are many ways to look for a PhD position. The most helpful one in my opinion is to ask people from your current lab and especially your current supervisor. They will know all important groups in the field and write your reference letters. Also talk to the career service centre at your University. They will assist you in writing a good CV and motivation letter. 

Don’t settle for the easiest option

If you like your current lab and think that you will achieve your goals within this group – great! However, doing your PhD in a different lab will give you new perspectives, foster new collaborations, introduce you to new methods, it will look great on your CV and you might get the chance to spend some time abroad. This usually comes with more organisational problems but I think it’s worth it. 

Find a great supervisor

One of the most important people in the life of a PhD student is his/her supervisor. They decide on which projects you will be working on, introduce you to other scientists in the field, help you progress, evaluate your findings and finally recommend you for post-doc positions. If you can, visit the group and talk to lab members in person. This gives you an idea of how you might fit in and a broad approximation of how happy other PhDs are with their supervisor. 

Don’t give up and keep looking

Searching the perfect PhD position can be very frustrating. You will spend a lot of time looking for positions, applying and probably receive several rejections. Don’t get too fussed about it. Some Universities will turn you down and others won’t. This usually does not tell much about your qualifications. 

Reach for the stars

Always be courageous! Everyone questions their competence and qualifications. Try to focus on your potential and highlight your strengths. If you find an interesting PhD position at a prestigious University, which seems out of reach, try anyway. You might be lucky and end up in Cambridge.

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Author: Eva-Maria Stauffer