First of all, all credit goes to Shannen, the blog editor for suggesting the title of this unique blog post! Indeed, after we talked about it, I was wondering to myself – like Shannen, how many other undergraduates are curious to know about the academic lives of doctoral students, and above all, how to successfully secure a PhD position!
Let’s first break down the multiple steps of getting into a PhD program:
- Get some work experience!!! This is very important despite the number of times you might have heard it. After having completed your undergraduate studies, do not jump right away in a graduate program however tempting it might seem. You might get into the PhD program, but you will certainly be at a disadvantage when it comes to developing essential skills such as time and crisis management, meeting deadlines, and working in teams. Let me tell you – being a doctoral student is a full-time job! So, the more you are prepared, the better will be the outcomes of your studies. Plus, it looks good on your resume and you would have something to write in your Statement of Purpose.
- Be prepared for the application process at least one year before you actually do apply to each doctoral program. Do not take the application process lightly as it gets stressful over time. It is best to figure out when will be the most appropriate time to take your GRE exams, TOEFL and IELTS tests, and getting your transcripts evaluated (for international students).
- Write and re-write your Statement of Purpose (SoP) again and again. One can never nail this important part in one try itself. Most often, it takes more than one year or months for applicants to write their SoP. I am not kidding! Most importantly, have a fresh pair of eyes go through your SoP each time you write a new draft. There is no right way about writing an excellent SoP, however, it demands a lot of introspection on your part, planning and PATIENCE. Your SoP should reflect a perfect fit with what you have already achieved and the graduate department or school to which you are applying. Common research interests with professors are also critical because no one will want to end up in place where you do not have support to expand on your research ideas.
- Be on good terms with past professors, teachers and employers. Simply because one needs solid and genuine recommendation letters which will showcase your strengths in different spheres. Keep track of application deadlines since many professors, due to their hectic schedules, do not remember when they have to submit your letters. It is ultimately your responsibility to ensure those letters are turned in at the right time.
- Get into contact with professors or faculty members at the graduate school you are applying to. Do not write generic emails to a bunch of them as this strategy will backfire. Instead, make it a must to personalize each email addressing your interests and kindly request their advice.
- Work on your resume and curriculum vitae. Speaking of which, the Office of Career Services in the School of Public Health provides excellent advice on how to make your resume, curriculum vitae and cover letters stand out. You could find more information on this link.
After getting through all these steps, ending in a doctoral program of your choice is indeed a big feat! However, after this major accomplishment, you should not rest on your laurels. The great work remains yet to be done!
As a first year PhD student, the greatest advice which I can give is to network inside your department and outside as well as from day one. This would be extremely helpful especially if you are looking for research positions or partnerships with organizations which might help you in getting your research foundations laid for your research project. As it is the case at IU and other universities, you would need to carefully select courses which would help in the advancement of knowledge in your specific major and minor. Very important is to select research-based or methods courses as these will be instrumental in gaining insights into how to apply research to practice in public health. One of the best advice I have received while in my PhD program is to read and understand the existing literature in your field of interest. This enables one to identify what are the existing gaps in literature and provides you with ideas on how to embark on your own research. You might wonder why I am stressing so much upon research. Because getting into a PhD program is essentially figuring out how to do research!
Aside from the many courses you will be taking for the first year or two and working in parallel on defining or shaping up your research projects, many doctoral students secure an assistantship through which they are assigned to either assist or teach an undergraduate course each semester. Getting an assistantship is extremely valuable since it is an efficient way to not only earn some money, but also to get professional teaching experience. Teaching can be challenging to those doctoral students who never taught in their life, especially when dealing with students coming from diverse backgrounds. It is critical as an associate instructor to have a sound knowledge of the existing rules and policies regarding students in order to ensure you have both yours and your students’ best interest at heart.
After barely four months into my PhD, I am not an expert for sure, but I have come to realize that it is also equally essential to keep a balance between studies and your personal life. Meet new people, make friends and trust me – there will be times when you will really need the support of friends who go through similar experiences as you. After all, everyone has a life besides academics! Moreover, if you are an international student like I am, give yourself time to adapt and understand the new culture. Do not be discouraged at obstacles you face and take one day at a time. As a final word, I would say read my blog post with a grain of salt since this is my own personal perspective on getting into a PhD program and surviving it. Everyone else has her or her own side of story.
Trishnee is a first year PhD student in the Department of Applied Health Sciences and her major is Health Behavior. She was born and raised in Mauritius and is currently having the best time pursuing her doctoral studies in the wonderful B-town. Her hobbies include cooking, reading romantic novels, and playing with her pets. Anything related to health highly interests her and she hopes to reach out to others on health-related issues that matter.
Categories: Career Advice
IUSPH Career Services
Job opportunities for Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington majors are diverse and expanding as the emphasis on living a healthy lifestyle grows around the world. Career Services experts in each of our academic departments will provide one-on-one counseling and career building opportunities throughout your academic career, from choosing the right major to developing a strategy to find a job. They can assist you with:
•resume and cover letter preparation
•graduate school preparation