Archive for July, 2015

The 4 truths of choosing a PhD supervisor.

July 21, 2015 | Posted by ECA UK | No Comments »

A PhD is a lot of hard work. In fact, it’s a lot of hard work even applying for a PhD, what with all the proposal writing and application to go through. Even after doing all that, there is no promise that you’ll even get accepted to the PhD programme, as you will first need to find an academic to supervise your studies. This can be the toughest part, as it will involve speaking with academics in the department you’re applying to, sending out your proposal for feedback, and – if disaster strikes – there is even the possibility that you won’t be able to find anyone willing to be your supervisor.

That would indeed be a disaster. And let’s face it, academics don’t always make it easy for prospective students: if you contact the wrong guy, he probably won’t take the time to point you in the right direction. So it’s important to be on the money from the start, and not waste anyone’s time. To make things easier, and help you find the right target, we’ve got 4 truths that you can follow, and that will lead you down the path to postgraduate enlightenment.

1. Find someone who knows about your research area.

Let’s start with the obvious one: your supervisor will need to be someone with an interest in the topic you’re going to research, and will have already supervised other PhD students in a similar field, written papers on a similar topic, and basically be ready to share his expertise and impart his wisdom. If you try to choose a supervisor who doesn’t have an interest in your particular field, then be prepared for them to say no. Not all economists have research interest in every aspect of economics, for example, though some academics have quite niche interests which could benefit your own research. Universities have staff lists online detailing each academic and their interests, so that is the best place to start looking. These staff lists also have contact details, so you can reach out and begin talking to your chosen supervisor that way.

2.Find someone who will be available when you need them to be.

It will be tempting to find a supervisor who is a star professor, a stud academic who will be able to take your research to the next level, and sprinkle magic dust on your career. This may well be the case, and good luck if you can find one. But being supervised by a famous academic – or any academic, in reality – could in fact have pitfalls, the most pressing one being, Will they be able to commit as much time as you need? If they’re a well-known academic, they might be off at conferences, going to book launches, or even jet off overseas on a regular basis. That won’t be very helpful to you – especially when you consider that you should ideally be meeting your supervisor at least once a week!

Every meeting you have with your supervisor is valuable, and when you have the opportunity to speak with them you should take it. They are your guides, as much as anything, so make sure that the supervisor you choose is well-regarded, but is also going to be available when you need them. It would be great to have that famous academic supervising you, and have their name next to yours on your thesis. You will be able to say that he or she supervised you, but what did they actually do? If they’re genuinely famous, not much, probably. Don’t forget: it’s your time, not theirs.

3. Find someone with experience.

When you’re trying to choose your supervisor, you need to consider their track record, and their past successes. An academic supervisor guides students through the process of a research degree that can last 3 or 4 years: some students don’t perform as well as they hoped, some finished late, and some don’t finish at all. So you’ll need to ask, how did your supervisor’s previous students get on? Did they finish in time? Were their doctorates successful? A great supervisor will have a great track record of seeing students complete their degree both on time and successfully.

You’ll need to make sure that your supervisor is experienced, and knows what they’re doing. If they’ve only recently started taking on their own PhD students, they might be doing so with supervision from other academics, and so they will be feeling their own through the supervision process. If they are the only academic with an interest in your research area, then you might not have any other option, but getting someone experienced is the best route. An experienced supervisor will already know what effective supervision is, and will be able to anticipate issues before they even arise.

4. Find someone who you can get on with.

A doctorate is the pinnacle of studying at university. It is another 3 or 4 years of ups and downs, with struggles and new discoveries on the way. You will be relying on your supervisor to help you navigate your way to completion, and you will spend time with them each week, discussing ideas, talking about new research, arguing, laughing, and going through the whole range of emotions together. One of the most important questions you’ll have to ask yourself is: Can I get on with them? Are they a decent person? This could be difficult to judge, and you will need to speak with your potential supervisor in order to find out. Many universities encourage students to send in an application, and let the administrators match them with a suitable member of staff. This could save you time, but it’s an inefficient process in reality, as the administrators sometimes don’t know what they should be looking for in an academic profile. It would be far better if you looked for a supervisor yourself, as you will be able to gauge their willingness to supervise you, their interest in your proposal, and then inform the admissions team of their commitment.

Of course, finding a supervisor by yourself isn’t easy, and ECA UK can help you with the process. It will be far more rewarding than being supervised by someone who was chosen for you by admissions, just because they had a slightly smaller workload. Being supervised is a personal process, so finding a supervisor should be a personal process too. Follow ECA UK’s 4 truths, and make it that way!

Even when you have submitted your carefully prepared documents, your Tier 4 Student Visa application is not over. If you come from the Middle East, Africa, China, or other parts of Asia, you will have to take something called a Credibility Interview.

The UK Home Office – we should really call them UK Visa and Immigration, or just UKVI – have decided that they will interview almost every Tier 4 applicant coming from those locations, so you should expect an invitation to a Credibility Interview. These interviews are a very important part of the Tier 4 application process, as they are increasingly being used to UKVI to refuse applicants who otherwise meet all the conditions. If you have an interview, then you need to be prepared for the different types of questions, and make sure that you practice. Remember: practice makes perfect.

Before we look at the questions in more detail, let’s look at the Credibility Interview itself. Depending on from where you are applying, it will either be in person or over Skype, or a similar service. And it will be one-on-one, as you can’t get a family member or a friend to come with you and help out. The interview should last around 10 to 20 minutes, though it could last longer – and it is worth remembering that these details are just general details, as UKVI have quite a lot of freedom to choose what they ask you.

The interview is the UKVI’s method of testing that you are a ‘genuine student.’ The problem is that they don’t offer any exact definition of what they mean by genuine, but the basic idea is that they will check that you know what you are coming to study, where you are going to study, and why you want to study in the UK. They are also interested in whether you can afford to live and study in the UK without needing to work, even if you are often allowed to work part time as a Tier 4 student.

Now, the questions. The UKVI officer will usually ask you about your study plans, your motivation, and also why you chose to come to the UK. These questions might be quite basic, such as: What are you going to study? Why did you chose that course? Where are you going to study? They will probably also ask you how your chosen course fits in with your career path, and what you expect to learn from it – similar to what you had to write in your personal statement. The general rule to remember is that more information you can give to each question in your Credibility Interview, the better your application will be.

If you’re applying for a post-graduate course, then you will probably get a couple of extra questions thrown in. We all know that studying in the UK is expensive, so they might ask you why you chose to study overseas rather than staying at home to study. This is a great chance for you to talk about how great you think the UK is, and all those nice things! If you have had a break between studying your previous degree and the one you will study in the UK, you will be asked about what you have been doing in that break. If you’ve been working, you can tell the UKVI officer about that, and also demonstrate how your Master’s course will help your career.

Those are the general questions, but you will need to prepare for some extra ones. You can never tell what the UKVI officer will ask, but they sometimes ask about who will pay for the course, and even how much your parents or you earn. There could then be questions about anything the officer wishes to know which they believe a genuine student should know. Those can be quite tricky to answer – and not being able to answer them clearly might make the UKVI Officer doubt you are a ‘genuine’ student. This is of course not really fair – so what can you do?

You should do plenty of research beforehand, ask your school or university for any advice they can give you, and perhaps look for professional advice. What you can do is work with an immigration advisor, as they will be able to give you thorough interview practice, as well as help you if you have problems caused by certain questions. Speaking with someone who has experience preparing Tier 4 Student Visa applicants will be really useful for your application, and will give you the confidence to be able to answer everything the UKVI Officer throws at you. They should also know about what information or documents UKVI might expect you to have at your interview, particularly those that don’t appear in the Tier 4 guidance. When choosing an immigration advisor, you should always check that they are qualified and permitted to work as an immigration advisor. In the UK, this means being regulated by the OISC as an immigration advisor, or by the SRA as a solicitor.

Have you had a Credibility Interview? Did you get any strange or difficult questions to answer? Or did everything go smoothly? Share your experiences in the comments section!

Did anyone see this article on the BBC website recently? Immigration is a hot topic in the UK at the moment, but there is definitely a negative climate around it. Many political parties are saying that the UK needs to reduce the number of people immigrating to the UK – and one way they are doing this is through UKVI being stricter on immigration and visa rules, which has already started having an impact on the number of overseas students coming to the UK to study.

The head of Cambridge University has complained about this situation, however, as he thinks it is short-term and short-sighted. He’s right, too. In the eyes of politicians, international students are an easy target to enforce cuts and reductions on: the UKVI interviews could get tougher, or they could suddenly change visa regulations to make it more difficult to apply. This will cause an obvious drop in the number of international students coming to the UK, and because those numbers decrease, the government can say that it is meeting its immigration targets, and that immigration is under control.

This strategy is not fair, as it is using international students as a means of avoiding the larger issue of immigration control. International students bring a great deal to the UK – both academically and monetarily, all of which should be of interest to political parties. International students contribute a great deal towards postgraduate research, for which the likes of Cambridge University, Oxford University, and Imperial College London are rightly world famous. These universities would not be consistently ranked as the best in the world without the contributions of their international students, and so to try to deny international students the opportunity to study in the UK for the sake of politicking will be very damaging.

Applying to a UK university is now definitely more difficult than it used to be, especially when it comes to visas. Regulations are tight and getting tighter, and knowing someone who can navigate the treacherous application seas is becoming more and more important. You shouldn’t let the current atmosphere put you off, though, as the UK still has so much to offer international students. What you need, however, is for someone to look at and help you with your university and visa applications. Making your application as perfect as possible is the best way to avoid these kind of issues – so get some help before you start.

If you have any questions about immigration or visas, let us know in the comment section, or send us an email.