Applying for a PhD is a big step in anyone’s academic career. While it may sometimes seem like a daunting and often quite lengthy process, applying for a PhD shouldn’t have to be a chore and the way you do so varies by country and university.
To make this process as clear as possible, Fiona Lilley from the graduate research office at Monash University in Australia answers the most pressing questions when it comes to applying, especially as an international student. With help from Monash PhD student and teaching associate, Amarpreet Abraham, this will be your go-to for all things PhD in Australia.
How can I apply for a PhD in Australia as an international student?
When applying to study a PhD in Australia, applicants are encouraged to identify possible academic supervisors and contact the faculty they would be enrolling in. Each university will have its own process, so it is important to familiarise yourself with the enquiry and application process. Not following the process or having the incorrect documentation can result in delays.
For example, at Monash there is a two-step process. First, applicants submit an “Expression of Interest” (EOI) to the faculty where they intend to study; each faculty has different requirements, so it is important to check what is required. If the faculty determines that they have resources and facilities to support the student project, they will issue an Invitation to Apply (ITA), permitting the applicant to make a formal application for admission (and scholarships).
Is there a correct/recommended way to look for a supervisor?
The right supervisory match for the student and their project is crucial. Universities have different processes – some require a supervisor to confirm they will supervise before an application; others may appoint a suitable supervisor for the student’s project. In Australia there is a requirement for all research students to have a minimum of two supervisors.
Most universities will have several options to support applicants in identifying and connecting with supervisors, such as a Find a Researcher database. This is an extensive resource of all academic research in the university.
Top tip: Look for the “Available to supervise PhD” indicator on a researcher’s profile.
“When looking for a supervisor it is important that they are involved in your field in some way. A prospective supervisor could be someone you have a pre-established positive academic relationship with, where you work well together or are aware of the expectations and boundaries from this academic,” says Amarpreet Abraham.
Do you have any tips for finding the right supervisor?
First step would be to decide which university you would like to do your PhD at and approach researchers depending on your interests – this could include emailing them with a brief research proposal and why they are best suited to your project. From there, the prospective supervisor can let you know if they are interested in your proposal/have availability to take on a new PhD student.
“Picking someone with the knowledge of your field is important, but I would stress that choosing a supervisor who you have a positive working relationship with is even more vital,” says Abraham.
When should I start applying for my PhD?
Start initial conversations as early as you can. In some instances, potential supervisors may want to review a research proposal, interview the applicant and identify if the project scope is something that they have the capacity and resources or facilities to supervise.
There is no hard and fast rule on when you should start your application, but it is always advisable to start researching supervisors and topics as soon as you can.
How long will the application process take?
Each university will have different processes, deadlines and outcome notification dates. At Monash, it is generally six weeks after closing for the notification of either scholarship offer or admission offer to be sent.
This also depends on the time of year, volume of applications and, most importantly, whether the applicant has submitted all the required documentation, such as academic transcripts and evidence of English language proficiency.
How should I approach writing my research proposal?
Universities and supervisors will have different approaches to research proposals, so it is important to check and understand the requirements before you start.
According to Abraham, “a research proposal should include a tentative title, an abstract, an introduction, proposed theoretical/conceptual framework, research questions, significance of the study, limitations, literature review, methodology/research approach, data collection and analysis methods, and a reference list. For all the criteria of the research proposal to be fulfilled, a lot of thought and discussion with your potential supervisor(s) is required. This allows you to voice your interests and approaches for your PhD, while your supervisors can make suggestions on what they think is best suited for your research. It is also important to note that all the elements of the thesis outlined above change/develop as the PhD candidature progresses.”
What are the associated costs of applying for a PhD in Australia?
This will differ depending on the university, and in some instances whether an applicant chooses to engage a registered agent to assist them with their application. At present, there is no application fee at Monash for international PhD or masters by research applicants. Other fees, including tuition fee costs, are published on university websites.
Depending on the course, there may be associated costs for laboratory materials or travel for study (such as fieldwork). Applicants should check with the university and the faculty to understand what these may be. The Australian Government requires service providers to provide full details of course tuition and non-tuition costs in any formal offer or International Student Contract.
What would be your top pieces of advice for someone looking to apply for a PhD?
“Find a supervisor you work well with, be prepared, attend workshops around how to do research and practice self-care and self-kindness right from the beginning. It is easy to lose sight of boundaries when doing a PhD, but it is essential to look after yourself because life continues to happen at full speed while you are pursuing a PhD. I would also recommend getting involved in social research groups, as a PhD can be an isolating endeavour and having others who are in a similar position as you can be reassuring,” Abraham concludes.
Knowing where to start when applying for a PhD can be tricky, especially when applying for one in a different country. This guide from Monash University explains all the key information you need when applying for a PhD in Australia