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Carrie Soderman

When did you start thinking about doing a PhD?

I had always considered it, but I started seriously thinking about it around half way through Part II.

Where did you apply, and why did you apply there? How did you go about applying?

Bristol: One of the best high temperature geochemistry departments, with really good clean lab facilities and an excellent record. They also have a great petrology department, which meant it was an obvious choice for a place to combine the two. The projects were advertised on the NERC GW4+ website, with instructions for applying on there which took you through the Bristol graduate application system (deadline early January).

Cambridge: I applied because there was a project I really liked the sound of, with supervisors I knew from my Part III project and got on very well with. As with Bristol, the strength of the clean lab work and petrology is a very convincing factor. Applications were through the University's Graduate Applicant Portal, deadline early January with references due a week after the application deadline.

What prep did you do for the interview(s)?

For Bristol I was asked to prepare a 5 min presentation with no more than 3 sides of accompanying illustrative material (hard copies for the panel, not PowerPoint) about some research I had done, so I spoke about my Part III project. A lot of my preparation was rehearsing that. I also read the recommended reading that came with the project (of course!) and a few other papers that I thought were relevant from discussions with people in Cambridge.

For Cambridge, I just reread my project and rehearsed a short introduction to my research and why it was important. Again, a lot of preparation was familiarising myself with literature about the project I was applying for, working out why it was important and what I would hope to find if everything went well.

What were the interview(s) like?

Bristol: I arrived at 10.30am to meet the potential supervisors and have a tour of the department and labs etc. We were taken out for lunch and then my interview was at 2pm, although some people were waiting around until 4pm or later. There was a panel of 6 plus one DTP observer who sat in the corner. The mini presentation and some scientific questions related to it took about 15 minutes, and then the remaining 15 minutes were a set of obviously prepared questions that they asked to everyone related to why I wanted to do the project, what skills I thought I would bring/would need to develop - basically very standard interview questions!

Cambridge: My interview experience was a bit different to others because my potential supervisor was on the panel. I had my informal supervisors meeting 2 days before my panel interview where we just discussed my Part III project, some experimental background to the PhD project etc, but it was very relaxed. The panel interview was with 3 people, but my potential supervisor wasn't allowed to say anything (either in the interview or in subsequent discussions) to keep things fair. As with Bristol it was a fairly standard interview, but noticeably more science focussed than the Bristol one. There were questions about my Part III project, particularly explaining parts of it to a non-subject-specialist, and then related to the importance of the PhD project I was applying for, what I thought might go well/badly etc.

When did you hear back from the interview(s)? When did you accept your offer?

I heard back from Bristol on the day their interviews finished, which was a few days after my interview. They didn't put any pressure on me to decide until I had my Cambridge result. I also heard back from Cambridge on the day that interviews finished (about 6pm on a Friday), and accepted pretty much straight away.

Do you have any further advice?

I think the most important thing about choosing a PhD is to choose based on the supervisor and project rather than necessarily the reputation of the university, so it's definitely good to email potential supervisors and have a chat to them before the interview to discuss where they see the project going and to see if you could work with them for 3-4 years.

Example documents

CV

Bristol personal statement


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