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The most efficient way to look for a PhD?

  1. Jan 5, 2015 #1

    I am applying to different PhD offers but I am very slow and sometimes become quite desperate about it. I would like to know from your experience what is the most efficient way to succeed in this research.

    Usually, I get lost when I read recent papers and it is hard to understand the topic. So sometimes I ask for precisions directly by email and I get hundreds of pages to read because the professors send me PhD theses and other big documents. Do you think it is the best approach? The problem is that I may have to focus on only one offer during a long time if I want to read, understand everything and make sure I enjoy the topic. So if I am not selected, I start again with a new one but it is not easy to apply to several offers in parallel.

    On the other hand, I can apply and go deeper into the topics later. But it has also big drawbacks. So what would be your opinion?

    Thank you in advance.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 5, 2015 #2


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    What did you do before?
    Where (which country) do you look for PhD programs?

    Usually, detailed knowledge of the topic in advance is not necessary for a PhD position. It helps if you worked on something related before, of course.
  4. Jan 5, 2015 #3
    Before, I have studied applied physics and I have a master degree. I do not wish to do my PhD in the same university, so that I am looking for offers almost everywhere, but mainly in Europe (that's already a lot!).

    I apply to topics related to quantum physics, condensed matter physics and nanoscience. I have some (little) experience but they are quite general fields, so it never really matches the skills recommended for the PhD projects.
  5. Jan 5, 2015 #4


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    To my knowledge there's no way around doing a lot of reading.

    At this point in your education, what you should be finding is that when you're looking around, there are topics that you want to learn more about. You may not understand everything you read about, but you should be finding that there are some topics that you keep gravitating towards. If you find that picking up a thesis in a particular area is a major chore, then that may be a flag that area is not for you. A thesis, though daunting because of the number of pages you have to get through, is likely going to be an excellent introduction to the field because it should contain an introduction with a current (as of the thesis) literature review, an overview of the main concepts in the area, and an in-dpeth report on the type of projects that you can expect to be working on.
  6. Jan 5, 2015 #5
    Thank you for your answer. In fact, when I started to look for a PhD, I rushed and said: "Let's find something as fast as possible." but I have the same feeling that I should read a lot on several topics now. I am comfortable with the idea, the only problem will be to be unemployed for such a long time.

    So you would advise me to read and even let offers behind if I did not have time to get into the topic before the deadline? After some months, I should have read enough about the topics that mainly interest me? Because so far, it has been quite superficial. When I read and a deadline for application approaches, I have to stop reading and reflect on writing motivation letters with only a poor knowledge of the field. Then when I am done, it happens again with another offer (in a different area) and it keeps going at infinity so that I never really dig enough into any topic. In the end I feel I am wasting time because I could have read a lot more if I had not applied and had spent all my time into physics and understanding, instead of scattering my activities.
  7. Jan 6, 2015 #6


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    That is okay. The worst case is a negative response, that is still better than not applying at all: It gives you the opportunity to ask why you did not get accepted, that can help with future applications.
    You can read more about the topic when you get an interview, and you'll learn the specialized knowledge if you get the PhD position.

    In terms of getting an interesting PhD position, looking for the right places and making good applications there is the best way to spend time. Reading tons of different papers and theses in various areas can be fun, but it won't help much in that respect.
  8. Jan 6, 2015 #7
    Thank you for your answer, mfb. I agree with you, so far I have tried to look for very good laboratories and I have taken care to write nice motivations letters. I have already been interviewed after, even if most of my applications were rejected at the first stage (but I did not think to ask why). The problem arises with the interview, I usually know much too less even when I read a lot about the topic some days before... I apply to PhD in areas of physics in which I have never done any internship and it becomes hard to justify my choice and talk about the field in details (during the interview).
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