By Dalia Gala
Applying for a PhD – or DPhil, which is Oxford’s unique way of referring to a doctoral degree - can be daunting. If you are considering applying for a DPhil at Oxford - or if you are in the process of filling in your applications – congratulations, you took the first step, namely – you believe you have a chance to get in!
A year ago I was in the same position – frantically scrolling through programmes, looking at their application requirements, and wondering how I am going to get all the documents together. And there were a lot of documents. I was applying for two programmes – DPhil in Biochemistry, and DPhil in Interdisciplinary Bioscience. Both applications were due in early January, and both were to be filled in through Oxford’s own application portal. The form has several pages; I had to fill in my personal details, education history, specify the laboratory and project I was interested in. Later, the application asked for three references from my former supervisors, a personal statement describing my motivation to undertake a DPhil (between 500 words for some programmes and as many as three pages for others!), and my detailed CV, no longer than two pages.
You’re probably thinking – 'that is a lot of paperwork!' Don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be. The most important pieces of advice I have are:
1. Start early
2. Ask for references as early as possible
3. Contact your prospective supervisors before applying.
Firstly, you need time to think about what to describe in your personal statement, and how to compose your CV. But remember - you can always finish your own parts days before the application is due, but a referee might need longer than that to send your reference – and make that reference stand out! Contacting your prospective supervisor is a great way of gauging what the admission panel might be looking for in the personal statement – and a great way for you to check whether this group is somewhere you will be happy to work for the next 3 or 4 years. It is important to make sure your personality and style of work fit with the rest of the laboratory – because DPhil can get stressful and intense fast!
And a final piece of advice – put all your achievements in your CV, you never know if someone on the panel or in the admissions office has a soft spot for violin players, debaters or cyclists! Of course, include your relevant experience first and make it stand out – but don’t remove activities just because you deem them “irrelevant”. Make a separate small section for those and be proud of your achievements and passions – these are what makes you “YOU”!