How to Apply For A PhD….Serkan’s Story (part 6)

Hello and WELCOME to PsychAssist. This weeks guest article is another one from Serkan Avlik. This time he comes with a slightly clearer view of what he would like to do in the future and as you can guess from the title, he’s thinking of going down the PhD route. This is his account of how to you psychology graduates can do this also.

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For a while, I’ve been perusing my long-standing ambition of doing a PhD. Of course, given my lack of knowledge about the Doctorate (e.g. application, funding, duration, career prospects), I began by searching for credible information. Uncle Google wasn’t a great starting point- anecdotal advice on student forums, alleged ‘PhD’ webpages asking for paid memberships and little beneficial material buried under heaps of search results. So, I inevitably turned to my University tutors. As usual, they were amazing with listening to ‘Serkan’s’ concern and offering him advice (#GoHerts!). See? This is what I truly value! If educators embrace the personalities of learners and vice versa, far beyond titles of ‘Dr, ‘Prof’, ‘student’ or ‘alumni’, then strong relationships develop that push the learner to fulfill their potential (hey Vygotsky?).That’s how it’s been for me during my academic studies and I aim to keep it this way. Anyhow, there were two take-home messages from our lengthy conversations. First, “Get out of your comfort zone.” Second, be cautious of self-funding a PhD unless you’re wealthy. Yup.


“I’ve decided to break out of my comfort zone”

 Serkan Avlik (2019)


Devising a novel research question is the beginning of a self-funded (or in some cases, funded*) PhD application. Subsequently, one will test this hypothesis and other emerging themes in multiple investigations. If you prefer being on the safe side, I’d recommend building on themes in your BSc/ MSc Psychology project. Perhaps do a brief literature search on your project area/s to gain insight into recent debates or gaps in studies. If you wish to take a risk like me, then ANY DOMAIN OF PSYCHOLOGY can be studied. After all, isn’t that why they bang on about acquiring robust statistical and research skills at University? Well, let’s paaarrtttaaayyy!!!! Get out Scopus, PubMed, Google Scholar, and a million other search engines to read anything Psychology related for hours and hours! No- please don’t do this because I did. As fun as it initially is, you end up feeling lost and overwhelmed by the diversity of content. An efficient method of proceeding, from my experience, is to literally enter a few search terms relevant to a Psychological topic which gives you a buzz and gradually narrowing the search criteria. Once you identify a concept/ argument/ limitation/ gap that deserves further scrutiny, jot it down, read around it and repeat this process until you have a list of say, 4-6 points. Keeping a list as opposed to clinging onto a point will encourage you to be open-minded and establish relationships amongst ideas, both of which will be useful when agreeing on a final PhD proposal with a supervisor.


“…dig out those responses from academics you’ve emailed your CV to and ask supervision from!”

Serkan Avlik (2019)


Now let’s assume that you’ve formulated a creative PhD idea, the next stage is to request supervision from an academic at an institution of interest. Despite exploring new avenues in most life domains, studying at a different University wasn’t a change that I’d ever fully considered. After weighing the pros and cons, however, I’ve decided to break out of my comfort zone…but eeerm, here’s more considerations. How do you decide where to study? I feel like the anxious 18-year-old me again YET THIS TIME APPLYING FOR A DOCTORATE! There’s the obvious location, living expenses, University League Tables and duration of the study to pick ‘n’ mix. Moreover, how easily can you ‘pick’ a compatible supervisor that you can collaborate with for a minimum of 3 years (full-time study versus up to 6 years of part-time study)? Until recently my ‘reach-out-to-this-tutor’ criteria have been curiosity with their work, online research profiles/biographies and descriptions of PhDs they’ve supervised. Unfortunately, I failed to acknowledge that these criteria don’t assess the approachability, genuineness, availability or enthusiasm of a tutor. Nevertheless, these are all major elements of compatibility in my books. Fine.

For those ladies and gentlemen intending to do a PhD, dig out those responses from academics you’ve emailed your CV to and ask supervision from! Believe me, they provide a nice first impression of tutors. For example, how quickly did they reply? Unless there’s a legitimate reason, I’d be hesitant of any contact beyond a 2 to 3-week delay. Or has a tutor addressed most, if not all your queries? Yes? Awesome as it shows they’ve made time for you! Even more, have they conveyed positivity towards your PhD idea? If so, that’s a welcome you might want to follow-up with an initial meeting to discuss further. Finally, have they offered honest yet considerate views of your CV? If yes, then that’s constructive feedback for future PhD applications even if the current one is unsuccessful. That being said, on one instance I was left with mixed feelings about a strange email from a relatively blunt academic. I’ve posted it on LinkedIn so feel free to check it. Many thanks to those of you who have reached out, shared your stories and inspired me! In sum, I’m at the very early stages of a PhD journey and will continue to write things that I learn along the way. Regardless of the events that transpire, I’m going to push forward. To the naysayers: if you think I’m finished with research, you don’t know that I’ve just started.


*Various funded PhDs appear to have hypotheses built into them whilst others offer a broad scope (e.g. perception and memory) enabling successful applicants to test their own questions.



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