How not to write a PhD proposal

by Jeanette Sakel

From time to time, we are approached by students via email wishing to study for their PhD with us. When a proposal looks good and fits in with our research interests (and, crucially, staff availability), we interview the candidates.

Quite a lot of proposals never make it to interview stage. What do they do wrong?

They seemingly write one generic email and send this email to many different institutions. How can we tell? Well: the email is addressed to Dear Sir/Madam. That’s a very bad idea. I feel disengaged at this stage, and may not read on (suspecting that this is a mass-junk email to all institutions offering PhDs in Linguistics, which is often – but not always – true).

Make the email relevant to the institution you are targeting. I.e. talk about what it is in our research that you are interested in. Why would we want YOU as our student – and why would you want to be OUR student?

I recently received an email with another issue that just does not look good: In this email the attachments read:

  • CV 2014
  • Modified PhD proposal 2015

As we are now in 2016, this person must have been trying (unsuccessfully) to become a PhD student for 2 years. Not a good sign. Surely there would have been an update to the CV since 2014? Did they maybe forget to change the name of the CV document?

Also, the ‘modified’ PhD proposal rings alarm bells. Not only is it from last year (2015), but the original proposal was probably not up to scratch. Again, a change in the document title could solve this issue.

I have to say that in this particular case, I did not open the attached Word documents. Who knows, they could contain a virus for all I know. All I received was a generic email.

 

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