Tips on how to apply for PhD studies

Kuva: Riitta Supperi

Applying for a PhD programme in a different country or university can feel scary or challenging. If you are interested in applying for PhD studies at Tampere University and you don't know where to start, this may interest you.

There are different reasons to stay in the university where you have done your previous studies: your network, you know the faculty, professors and arrangements, and also bureaucracy… but there are many good reasons to choose to carry out your PhD studies in a different county and/or university: the desire of a challenge, the prestige of the university, expertise in a field, the facilities, etc…

Most international PhD students coming to Tampere have no previous connection to our university and feel a little bit lost at first because they don’t know how to apply, who to contact or how to find a supervisor. Although the paperwork may seem very similar to MA studies, the procedure is totally different. For that reason, I decided to write some general tips that you don’t find in the “official” guidelines and helped me during my application. These tips do not apply for everyone, as the application process varies from programme to programme, but they may help you consider the steps you need to take. If you have other tips, experiences or suggestions, do not hesitate to write in the comment section.

  1. Find a topic

This is without any doubt the most important step. In some countries, PhD students are not required a working title, topic or research plan when applying for a PhD programme. This is not the case in Finland. You’ll definitely need both a title and a research plan.

  1. Write a research plan and an academic CV

If you want to apply at Tampere University, you need a research plan. My advice: start now. Writing a research plan before contacting your (future) supervisor will help you find the right supervisor and demonstrate certain knowledge on the topic. The particular details of what the research plan should contain depend on the programme (check your faculty’s webpage for a more detailed description) but generally, these guidelines tend to be adaptations of the guidelines that the Academy of Finland publishes every year. If you are required an academic CV for your application, you can find some guidelines on the webpage of the Academy of Finland as well.

  1. Find a supervisor

Once you know your topic, you have a preliminary draft of your research plan and your academic CV, you should find a supervisor. If you don’t know anyone studying/working at Tampere University, you should check the university’s webpage and find out who works in the programme you are interested in. Find a professor with similar research interest than yours and write them an email. In this email, you should tell who you are, where you come from, what you want to study, why you want to study and why you were considering this particular person as the supervisor of your PhD dissertation. If you get a YES at this stage, the rest is a piece of cake because following your supervisor’s advice will help you get through the process without too many headaches. But, bear in mind that some supervisors may want to meet you before accepting. If you are living in Finland, your prospect supervisor may want you to come to Tampere to meet you in person. If you are living abroad, you may be asked to arrange a skype meeting. Don’t freak out, it’s a normal procedure.

During this meeting, you may be asked about your interest on the topic, your motivation to do a PhD and your funding.  Funding in your application may play an important role, especially in the humanities where funding opportunities are scarce. If your funding is covered, no worries. If, on the other hand, you have no secured funding, you may consider joining a research group. Some of them have some funding and hire PhD students to work on their thesis while working on the project. This is perfect for those who want to focus on their research without the constant worry of applying for funding from foundations and institutions. The negative side is that sometimes you cannot choose the topic, as these are already fixed.

  1. Learn about application period and apply

After this, all the hard work is done. Learn about the next application period, read carefully the instructions, follow your supervisor’s advice and don’t forget to submit your application on time.

Good luck and hope to see you soon!

Text: Mónica Sánchez Torres, PhD student

Photo credit: Riitta Supperi/Keksi/Team Finland