I had my PhD VIVA about a year ago. For almost the same time I have been an assistant professor in the Dubai Campus of my alma mater. Taking on this new job has also given me the opportunity to talk to other people that are interested in enrolling into a PhD programme at our university. A common question that I get is: are there any strategies that can help my application succeed/stand out? This post is about my reflection on this topic.
Apart from the minimum things such as reading the application requirements and writing a research proposal, many universities encourage prospective students to contact potential supervisors before making a formal application. This point I believe is usually disregarded by several applicants, yet I consider it to be very important to succeed in your PhD application and save you time by applying to the places where you are most likely to succeed. Knowing the research interest of the academic staff of the university that you are applying to will also give you an indication of whether the university can allocate you an expert in the field that can supervise you throughout this process. When I was applying for my PhD, this barred several universities that I was interested in as they did not have anyone that specialised in my field of research (i.e. digital marketing and social media). So my first advice would be: do verify if there is someone in the faculty of the university you are interested in that publishes in the area you want to do research.
A step further is to be even more proactive and get in touch with them. If you are applying to a local university it would even be a better idea to arrange a face-to-face appointment with them. This will not only allow you to make yourself remembered by the person that is most likely to be asked if s/he can supervise you, but also you may as well get valuable guidance that can help refine your research proposal even more before you submit your application. There are no excuses if the university is in another town and country, as current ICT tools can make a meeting feasible if you charm your way into one.
Finally, do try to spend some time reading at least a couple of the most recent publications of your potential supervisor and see if you can find points of convergence. Speaking to someone that is interested in your work and research area can be an exciting and stimulating thing to do, even for the most busy professor. Make sure to speak their language: research gap that you expect to fill in with your PhD and your interest in getting publications throughout the process.
Picture by rawdonfox under CC license.