Life’s better when you find a PhD program topic that is best suitable for you. If was as simple as searching for one, there wouldn’t be any need for the rest of this website – including our advice articles (like this one). Our PhD services will give you a lot more information you might require.
But the truth is if you find a PhD isn’t like choosing an undergraduate course or even a master’s degree. For one thing, you’re not simply picking a system anymore or just completing a degree.
Now you’re committing to something much more ambitious: a process of extended independent research that doesn’t just result in qualification for you but produces the original contribution to knowledge that defines a doctorate.
Other unique factors will influence your PhD program: from the supervisor you work with to the type of doctorate you pursue (and your reasons for pursuing it).
1. Take your time
A PhD program may not seem long when you’re busy with research, results and writing up. But three years (or more!) is a long time to spend on a project that stops interesting you after three months.
Each of the following steps requires you to take some time and be methodical (there’s a reason they’re in a particular order). A few of them ask you to do something practical and one even suggests a bit of travelling (who said the internet was for lazy people?).
It’s up to you how closely you follow our advice, but rushing towards the first PhD program you see is rarely a good idea.
- Follow the steps in this guide, compare multiple opportunities and reflect on your decision-making process. The ability to be systematic and diligent when searching for a doctorate is great preparation for doing one.
- Apply for the first project you find and eventually end up studying for a doctorate in Byzantine Politics when you actually meant to research Biochemical Polymers.
2. Decide what kind of doctorate you’re looking for
Before you can find the right doctorate, you need to know what kind of doctorate is right for you.
Broadly speaking, doctorates come in three general formats:
- Advertised projects – these are common in Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (‘STEM’) subjects. They’re normally offered within established laboratories, research groups or other specialized academic networks whose broader goals will shape some of the boundaries for your project, though not necessarily the specific direction you pursue.
- Self-proposed projects – these are more common in Arts, Humanities, and some Social Science subjects. They normally involve a student selecting their own topic and ‘proposing’ it to a university and / or supervisor. You’ll have relatively free reign to pick your own topic, but it will need to form the basis of a realistic PhD (see Step 3!) and fit within the aims and expertise of an institution’s research objectives.
- Professional doctorates – these are offered in vocational subjects such as Business and Management and tend to award specialized qualifications such as the DBA (Doctor of Business Administration). They’re usually intended for experienced candidates looking to research on their area of practice, rather than become academic researchers.
There are degrees of nuance within these categories (pun intended) but the subject you wish to research in will probably narrow down the kind of doctorate you should be looking for.
You should also begin thinking about what you want to do after your PhD admission program. Career opportunities for doctoral graduates are more varied (and flexible) than you might assume, but there’s still a fairly straightforward difference between academic and professional doctorates. PhD Services might help you link every step in the sequence.
- Learn about different types of PhD and PhD Services (as well as the differences between them) and take a look at the kind of doctorates offered in your subject area.
- Spend ages wondering why you can’t find a Doctor of Business Administration in Seventeenth-Century Computer Science. Or expect a university Chemistry department to hire you with one.
3. Pick a project that pairs passion with practicality
It sounds like an obvious statement (or an awful tongue-twister), but this is where it’s easy to go wrong – particularly if you’re coming up with your research topic.
You need to really want to do a PhD admission. Not just another degree, another qualification. Or not just another three years at university. It does take time, but you can always find a PhD Services portal to help you throughout the journey.
Three years of in-depth, mostly independent research on a topic you care enough about to spend three years researching, independently and in-depth, with a worthwhile new contribution to academic or professional knowledge in your field at the end of it.
Getting there takes a real passion for your topic. But, power alone isn’t enough to make a doctorate practical.
People have been carrying out doctoral research for around 100 years. That’s a lot of PhDs in your subject. So it isn’t enough to just decide you ‘want to study a PhD in [your subject]’, even if you are incredibly passionate about it. Chances are, other people have been passionate about this subject before.
Your topic needs to be more specific. It also has to have the right scope to find a PhD program.
Some academic research projects can run for extensive periods, taking in the work of multiple people and developing over the years or even decades. A doctorate needs to be completed in around three to four years of full-time work, by one scholar (you!).
- Look for a project with clear objectives you care about, solving practical problems that matter to you and tackling questions you want to know the answers to.
- Set out to re-think the fundamental principles of theoretical Physics in three years. Particularly if you’re more interested in Engineering.
4. Research your research
So, you’ve got a reasonably good idea for a PhD program on a topic you’re passionate about, and it looks like an original and worthwhile idea. Several PhD services offer you a detailed road to doing your research effectively.
The next step is to check that both of those things are true. And you can start right here.
Our search is a useful way to find a PhD (it’s in the name, after all), but it’s also a great way to compare current PhDs – and get a sense of what’s happening in your field.
Entering your research area (or interests) will bring up relevant projects and programs, but don’t worry about picking one of them just yet.
Instead, take a look at the kind of results you see. How many are there? Where are they from? How specific are they to your research interests?
This information can be a good indicator of how popular the field for your topic is and how densely (or sparsely) inhabited it might be.
If you’re seeing lots of interest in your area, your project might be timely. But you might also need to consider how you’ll differentiate your research from others.
If you do not see many directly relevant projects, that’s not necessarily bad (particularly in the Arts and Humanities, where general programs are more common than specific projects).
It could be that your ideas are very original (and ideal for PhD Services). Still, you should probably discuss them with a supervisor before you apply or submit a proposal. There might be a reason no one is currently researching (or advertising) projects on your topic.