I recently started getting loads of questions about applying for PhD scholarships to study in the UK and how I got my own scholarship. I think this is an interesting question and I decided to put this article together to share my experience.
So, I graduated from the University of Rome in 2014 and while doing my master, I had a hard time which made me question my decision to pursue a PhD in the first place. I didn’t want to stay in Italy anymore but my English was pretty poor. So the first thing I had to do was learning English. I then put all my stuff in a bag and went off to Ireland for 3 months where I attended an English school to learn the language. After that, I took, an English test to get a certification. As far as I am aware, there are two certifications that are recognised by the UK higher education system, the IELTS and TOFEL. To be able to start a PhD you need a score of 6.5/9 which is equivalent of a B2 level or upper intermediate.
After that, which was the easy bit, let me tell you about the long journey of finding a PhD. I probably sent 100 emails to ask whether there was any available position for PhDs. I looked at the website of every University which had a good School of Chemistry and specifically the ongoing research in organic chemistry. When I found something interesting, I sent my CV and motivation letter to the professor and asked if there was any available position in the lab. Most of the time, I didn’t get any answer. Very often, I was rejected and in a few cases, I got it through the interview stage, mainly on Skype because at that time I was still living in Italy.
I probably sent 100 emails to ask whether there was any available position for PhDs.
Basically, 3 universities in the UK and one in Germany were interested in my profile and at the end, I got only one offer from the University of Nottingham which I accepted. I was very negative about coming here at the start. I had been living in Rome for 6 years and my idea was to move and live in a big city such as London, Amsterdam or Berlin. So, initially, it was a big shock for me to find myself in a different setting like the one I was used to. Fast forward, after 4 years, I could have not been any happier for finding this opportunity.
Finding a scholarship was really hard for me, it took a long time to find something that was suitable as I didn’t want to move from my field of study that is catalysis to something different. If you are a bit more open-minded there are several opportunities to find a PhD scholarship in the UK nowadays. First of all, I would suggest looking for Centres for Doctorial Trainings. Differently, from a traditional PhD, where you do only research, these centres offer a big variety of professional training including science communication.
I got only one offer from the University of Nottingham which I accepted.
Some of the PhD positions are advertised on a website called findaphd.com and I lost count of all the PhD scholarships and fellowship opportunities I can across Twitter or LinkedIn. Sometimes it might be useful to go to some job/academic fairs and learn about opportunities that are offered by universities. Finally, if you really want to go and study abroad for your PhD, a very good way to introduce yourself to the university or professor you would like to work for is through the Erasmus programme or by asking for an internship. The Erasmus programme allows you to study in a European institution for a period of time that goes from 6 months up to one year and it comes with a scholarship. Alternately, you can see if your university or a particular professor has ongoing collaborations with a European institution and ask to spend a few weeks, like 6 or 8, there and familiarise with the environment and look for a potential supervisor while there.
Hope this helps! If you need more support or face-to-face guidance, feel free to email me.