Is a PhD right for me? A free online course

Sabrina Bowen, CHASE EDI Ambassador

Deciding whether to pursue a PhD is a big deal that involves carefully considering your academic and personal goals, while also weighing the challenges and benefits that come with doctoral study. The ‘Is a PhD right for me?‘ course by the Bloomsbury Learning Exchange, available on the FutureLearn platform, is a three-week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) designed to provide prospective PhD students with the insights needed to make informed decisions about applying to a PhD program.

This course is a great resource for anyone thinking about doctoral study, especially because exploring a PhD can be an overwhelming and isolating experience, considering that many peers, family members, and friends may not have undergone this type of academic journey. ‘Is a PhD right for me?’ offers a supportive community where you can actively engage in discussions with fellow course members through comments. This platform allows you to share ideas, ask questions, and connect with like-minded individuals who are navigating the same decisions as you.

Among the course’s numerous benefits, a standout feature is its in-depth coverage of essential topics. The ‘Finance and Funding’ section, for instance, breaks down the costs associated with pursuing a PhD and explores potential funding options available to cover these expenses. The course addresses questions that you might hesitate to ask potential supervisors or the university you are applying to such as what a potential supervisor is looking for in a supervisee and what daily life looks like as a PhD student. In addition, you have the opportunity to hear from current PhD students studying a range of different subjects who share their thoughts, advice and lessons learned from their own application experience. Giving you first-hand knowledge that can be difficult to get elsewhere.

What sets this course apart is its multifaceted approach. It incorporates a variety of learning materials, including videos featuring current and prospective PhD students from a range of diverse backgrounds, articles, and reflection tasks. This diverse format caters to different learning styles, ensuring that the course remains engaging and informative throughout. ‘Is a PhD right for me?’ not only equips you with practical knowledge but also provides a platform to connect with a supportive community as you navigate the significant decision of whether a PhD is the right path for you.

Bloomsbury Learning Exchange’s ‘Is a PhD right for me?’ course is an excellent resource if you are considering pursuing a PhD in the UK. It provides you with a clearer understanding of the doctoral landscape and equips you with the foundational knowledge and confidence needed to embark on the path towards a successful and fulfilling doctoral experience in the UK.

Course Timeline

Week 1

  • Introduction to the course
  • The Basics: who does a PhD, what is a PhD and why does anyone do one?
  • Practical Matters: A focus on special preparation and goals relevant to individual circumstances
  • Finance and Funding

Week 2

  • Research: your research idea, ethics and proposals
  • Supervisors: how to find and contact a potential supervisor
  • Applications: how to prepare and submit various types of applications

Week 3

  • Managing work-life balance
  • Supervisors and support: a look at the various support in place for PhD students
  • Wellbeing and mental health
  • Life after PhD

CHASE EDI Ambassador

Sabrina Bowen

As part of their Diversity Action plan the AHRC CHASE DTP has provided funding to appoint a part time CHASE EDI Ambassador who will provide support for activities at Birkbeck aiming to:

  • Improve the pipeline of students from minority ethnic underrepresented backgrounds from undergraduate and taught postgraduate to arts and humanities doctoral research at Birkbeck
  • Ensure that arts and humanities doctoral researchers from underrepresented minority ethnic backgrounds are better supported at Birkbeck

This role aims to help to organise and run online events and in person activities aimed at:

  • Promoting doctoral study
  • De-mystifying the doctoral application processes and explaining the experience of being an arts and humanities doctoral researcher.
  • Identifying ways in which current arts and humanities doctoral researchers from under-represented minority ethnic groups can be effectively supported through the PhD at Birkbeck.

The post was advertised to all doctoral researchers at Birbeck and we were fortunate to have some extremely strong applications for the role. Following interviews last month we are pleased to appoint Sabrina Bowen as the CHASE EDI Ambassador at Birkbeck.

Sabrina Bowen

Sabrina is a 2nd year PhD Student within the School of Social Sciences, her research explores the intergenerational roles of the UK-based Caribbean diaspora in the development of their homeland.

Sabrina will work within the Birkbeck Graduate Research School team in collaboration with colleagues who are working on aspects of under-representation at doctoral level including:

  • Dr William Ackah, Senior Lecturer within the School of Social Sciences.
  • Caroline McDonald, Director of Access & Engagement – Access & Engagement at Birkbeck.

Is a PhD Right for Me?

Birkbeck has been a partner in development of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) which provides a comprehensive approach to considering, applying for, or beginning doctoral study in the UK.

This three-week course from Bloomsbury Learning Exchange is designed to provide information and advice for anyone deciding whether doctoral study in the UK is the right path for them.

Swapping myths and misconceptions for useful tips and resources, this course will help you prepare for PhD applications and beyond.

You can view a video trailer here:

Information about the course development on the BLE website:

Week 1

Aimed at helping you work out whether to pursue a PhD. You’ll be given a basic overview of essential aspects of the decision, including personal, practical, and financial considerations.

Week 2

Week 2 of the course will provide guidance on making a PhD application. You’ll learn how to seek out opportunities, put together a research proposal, find the right supervisor and apply to an institution or research project.

Week 3

In the final week of the course, you’ll get ready to take on day-to-day life as a doctoral candidate.

Starting a PhD Journey

A Blog post by Nerges Azizi (PhD Law)

Diversity100 / ESRC UBEL studentship award holder

My name is Nerges Azizi and I recently started the MPhil in Law at Birkbeck, University of London. My research addresses ways of resisting the European border regime, with a particular focus on the role of strategic litigation. I chose this topic because of the experiences I have had working with refugees as a translator and interpreter. In the course of that work, the law again and again surfaced as an obstacle and an instrument of power designed to regulate their existence, behaviour and expectations. Despite the disciplinary and oppressive function of the law, the people who I was working with were forced to appeal to the law in order to receive protection. This provoked me to question whether there could be alternative uses of the law, ones less geared towards regulating and disciplining the lives of refugees, towards ones that hold states accountable. During my preliminary research, I came across strategic litigation, which describes the tactical use of legal tools to hold states accountable for their human rights obligations.

At present, I am sceptical about the prospects of this tool, however, I am looking forward to examine all the ambivalences and difficulties of engaging with the law. I am particularly interested in what the resort to legal means might be able to reveal about the ways in which the European border regime is constituted and contested. My geographical focus is the Mediterranean Sea, which presently has been transformed into a site of death and racial violence by European policy makers and border guards. I aim to place this sphere into a longer historical perspective, in which the sea was not partitioned into north and south, east and west – nor was it necessarily functioning as a border – rather, it might have worked as a space of encounter, connection or a bridge. At the same time, I will be attentive to the colonial, imperial and racial violence shaping the history of its human crossings. Tracing histories of the Mediterranean, as well as conceptually departing from the sea, hopefully allows me to imagine another function for it and opens the possibility of an alternative future. I am very excited to work on the project and look forward to the writing that will emerge from it.

When applying for the PhD, considering who my supervisors would be, and who else would be working at the department and at the school where I would be based, was of high importance to me. This is because I consider my environment to shape me intellectually; we learn from the people around us. A PhD is a long project and is potentially accompanied with some anxieties and self-doubt, therefore working with supervisors whose work I am familiar with and respect ensures that I can trust that my research will be guided in the right direction. Of course, having the financial stability of a scholarship is indispensable and crucial to be able to concentrate on researching and writing. This is particularly so for students of working class background and ethnic minorities. I would recommend everyone to apply to existing scholarship opportunities.

Diversity100 Studentships – applications open

Apply now for Autumn 2021 entry

Birkbeck is offering a number of fully funded Diversity100 PhD studentships which actively address under-representation at the highest level of research, and encourage Black and Minority Ethnic students to consider academic research in all disciplines. 

The call for Diversity100 PhD studentship applications is open until Monday 10 May. You can find further details about these studentship opportunities here including how to apply and about briefing sessions for prospective applicants where you can hear about the application process and what it is like to be a doctoral researcher at Birkbeck.

Debi Lewinson Roberts

In the video below we hear from Debi Lewinson Roberts who was awarded a Diversity100 PhD studentship and began her doctoral research in Autumn 2020. Debi speaks on the subject of bereavement, her family’s influence on her education and why she chose Birkbeck.

New PhD Studentships to boost diversity

5 Studentships for 2020/21 entry

Five new awards have been announced for Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) PhD students who start their studies at Birkbeck during 2020. The studentships will help address the under-representation of BAME students at PhD level in all disciplines.

Julian Swann, Pro-Vice Master of Research said:

“I am delighted that we have been able to fund these new research awards for BAME students. Birkbeck has a long history of widening access to higher education and compared with other institutions, we have a relatively high proportion of BAME students but representation at doctoral level is significantly lower than across our student population as a whole. I hope that these awards will help to address this and support more BAME students to lead research at the highest levels.”

Further information

Further information for candidates is available here.

The financial support will cover tuition fees and living expenses for UK-based BAME students for the duration of their course.

Successful candidates will need to have a strong academic background and/or exceptional research potential and to have been offered a place on a relevant doctoral programme.

Deadline for applications: Monday 11 May 2020