How to Get a PhD
A PhD, short for Doctor of Philosophy, may help you secure a position as a college or university pro
1. Complete an undergraduate degree in a broad field
To qualify for a PhD program, you will need a solid record of undergraduate coursework from a reputable university. This degree should demonstrate your potential for both advanced coursework and independent research. In general, you need to maintain a high GPA and develop a good working relationship with your instructors.
Generally, its recommended that students interested in pursuing advanced degrees should develop a wide skillbase during their undergrad. In other words, while you may ultimately be interested in studying Zoology, an undergrad degree in basic Biology might provide you with a diverse base that youll be able to narrow in your future studies.
Many universities offer majors designed to funnel you into an advanced degree. Prelaw majors and Premed majors are two notable examples of this. Talk to your academic advisor about your interest in pursuing a PhD after you graduate, if youve yet to select a major.
2. Develop a close relationship with at least one faculty member
Finding one or more faculty members who will mentor you, guide your development, and assist you in finding the right program for you can be the difference between finding your way into a good Ph.D program, and struggling. Youll also need several letters of recommendation to apply to graduate programs, making these contacts essential.
A good way to develop a relationship with a professor is to take multiple classes with her and join her lab, or research team. Go to office hours, introduce yourself, and express your interest in advanced degree work. Most professors are more than happy to work with a talented student who shows a sincere interest in their work.
Its also a good idea to forge relationships with graduate students at your school. Speak to graduate students and faculty about their experiences at the school, even if you plan on going elsewhere for your advanced degree. Many will be happy to let you know about the advantages and disadvantages of studying for and obtaining a Ph.D. It can be a great way to get insider information and get ahead of the game.
3. Obtain experience in the field with a research internship
In many fields, hard science in particular, securing a summer internship as an undergrad can do a lot to make you stand out on your applications. If you can get experience assisting in the biology lab, or doing field work with the other geologists, or even assisting a professor grade surveycourse tests, youll be one step ahead in the academic field.
Workstudy programs in your field of interest can also be extremely attractive of graduate applications. If youre studying English, try to secure employment in the Writing Lab, rather than the cafeteria to give yourself an edge and valuable experience.
4. Make contacts in your field
Become involved in your academic departments club or honor society if one exists. If not, speak with your advisor or department chair about starting one.
National and regional conferences, such as the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), allow dedicated undergrads the opportunity to rub elbows with experts and contribute to the discussion.
5. Start researching graduate programs in your junior year
Graduate school applications will be due sometime during the winter or spring of the academic year, for admittance the following fall semester. In other words, the autumn semester of your senior year is most likely too late to start looking at programs, compiling your application materials, and getting them in on time. Start early and dont miss out.
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Look for programs with a good reputation, but give more weight to the faculty and the research interests of the other graduate students at prospective schools. What youre looking for in an advanced degree program is camaraderie and common ground, not an arbitrary ranking on some prestigious list.
The applications are expensivesometimes $50 or $80 dollars eachso you wont be able to apply to all programs. Try to select a range of programs to apply to: choose a few big dream schools with great facilities and prestigious faculty and lots of competition to see if you cant get in. Apply to smaller programs that youd also be happy attending. Apply to as many as you can afford to give yourself the best chance.
For some fields, a masters degree will be a more appropriate subsidiary or even terminal degree. At worst, a masters degree can be an excellent primer for the graduate school life, especially if teaching assistantships or fellowships are available.