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bright spark

there are too many choices - how do I make any decisions?

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Hi!

 

So, some background - I'm in the last year of my biochemistry degree in the UK, and I want to do a PhD. I have done some research, visited a couple of places, and spoken to some academics. However my list of PhDs still extends past one page.

 

I want to be at a top university for what I'm interested in (structural biology, membrane proteins) and I want a project which encompasses as many things I like as possible. However, I also want to be realistic, in that I might not get a place on a program at Oxford/Cambridge, and I need back ups. But do I need back ups to my back ups?

 

Also, should I apply to things that are outside of my strongest interests? I'm easy to please and like lots of things, but I don't know at what point I'm spreading myself too thin.

 

Basically I'm confused and would appreciate some guidance from anyone who has done graduate study/helped people make those decisions!

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well, i only have a master's right now but if i get full time employment at uni, i'll be doing a phd. for me, it's easy because there aren't any options in architecture and urban planning - there's only one PhD program :P

 

but i would definitely advise against doing a PhD outside your strongest interests - i think it's something that's hard even while you're doing something you really really love, and when it's something you're kinda 'meh' about i think it would get impossible. my brother has a PhD in mathematics and he's always been into maths and loves it and is crazy about it...but he still found it hard.

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Definitely pursue your interests--especially in something that is incredibly hard to attain, I wouldn't want to work that hard for something that while might be interesting, it isn't something that you might feel is worth it afterwards, and honestly that would be the worst feeling imo.

Definitely have back ups, don't fret about having too many back ups, however. Have your top choices, have a few 'well this wouldn't be awful' choices, and then have a couple back ups or more 'sure things' type of ordeals.

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As Far as having back up's - Always! I've only obtained my Bachelor's degree in history but at some point hope to go and get a masters so I do keep looking up differnt program and schools. I don't know anything about the UK school system being an American, but I feel that this suggestion works no matter where you live, or frankly whatever level of higher education you are seeking. I'd reccomend this for graduating high school seniors as well.

 

Pick your top 3 schools - apply to all of them. Pick at least two schools that have a higher acceptance rate, (assuming you are applying to more prestigious schools) that may or may not be your top picks and apply to those as well. Then have one back-up plan in your pocket, a school you have connections with (Previous degrees, Someone you know works there etc.) where your chances of getting accepted are high and apply there as well. This way you can hope to get into one of your top picks but have other options if you don't that won't set you back a million steps on obtaining your Phd

 

As for your interest areas, I'd recommend staying within what interests you. As Kris stated above, it's hard enough work when you are interested in your field of study, it will only be more difficult if you try to tackle something less intriguing to you.

 

Hope this helps and wishing you the best of luck on earning that degree!

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So, I have no experience with your initial request, but I can offer something on the flip side. It may not be helpful to you, but I do believe it could help someone in the future. I have not yet gotten to finish college. I went for, wait for it: Physics, Graphic Design. Business Management, and MIS Management. I wish that I'd gone back for Physics and finished with a master's and/or higher in Astrophysics at Oxford. That was always my dream. Alas, I have a spawn now, so that's not possible right now, or really for quite some time (financially speaking, as well as making time). I guess my point is that you should do what your gut and your heart tell you. They tend be pretty understanding of what you really want, if you may not. Best of luck!

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Heeeey!

 

So I'm currently a first year PhD student, having started in September, so I kind of know what you're going through.

 

What these guys said above about having a (or several) backups is incredibly important, particularly if you're looking to do your PhD in a specific area. 

 

I think if you are looking to do it at a specific university, it's best to contact the lead supervisor. Me being a massive nerd of all Neurosciences (and having never done a Masters), I matched requirements on paper for Cambridge University's PhD program. Which sounds wonderful, right? Anyway, I contacted the supervisor via email, asking more about it, because my background is in Optics and this project was on Ophthalmic Neuro (which is linked in a way), and I mentioned I had the degree entry requirements and additional work experience as an optometrist. He went on to tell me the project would heavily involve molecular sciences (definitely not my cup of tea!), but my point is, find out what the supervisors expect of you first and find out what kind of team you would be working with (do you have a secondary supervisor just in case? Do they have good links to a lab or hospital? Is any work currently being carried out in a similar research field? etc)

 

If I'd gone on to apply, and been accepted, I would have hated it because I despise molecular level science but I never would have been aware of how in depth it would be had I not queried it. Your PhD has to be in an area of interest for you as you'll be researching and contributing something brand new to the field of research, and 3-5 years full time in a lab/office is actually a very long time. On top of that, it will end up becoming your specialism - people will ask you to present your research, to lecture, to get involved in conferences, to collaborate in further research in the same field. Essentially if you don't like it, and can't stand it, your whole career is likely to still be heavily influenced by it unless you have a career change. So choose something that interests you because reading a thousand or more journals on a subject you aren't keen on will really make the PhD harder than it already is. 

 

And also, good luck! 

Edited by Kirjava

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Ahh thanks everyone ❤️

 

Application deadlines are looming/have loomed, and I think I have made good choices mainly. Hopefully enough that I'll be able to get a good place somewhere I'll enjoy :)

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