advice from history PhD students


======= Date Modified 10 54 2009 21:54:53 =======
Any advice on what key things my sister can say in her PhD application (personal statement thing which asks about skills and training, and objectives)? Her subject is social History, which is not my field. She's going in straight from undergraduate so it needs to be impressive. Thanks, M.


If it was me I'd be stressing experience working with primary source material, so anything she has done over and above the core course work for her undergrad degree. All to make her look good as an independent researcher, eager to go into archives etc. If she will be doing interviews for her degree (if she is researching the living period for example) then stressing experience of that as well wouldn't hurt.

And she should twist her undergrad course work/experience to fit with her planned PhD topic. Just like someone applying for a job would make their CV fit well with the planned position.

Good luck to her!


Is she planning to self-fund? If not she needs to look into the research council funding angle. I think social history falls under the ESRC's remit - if so she needs an approved MA to be eligible for +3 PhD funding, so she'd need to look for the 1+3 awards which still mean an MA year before you start the PhD. If she's applying for a 1+3 though then the research proposal doesn't have to be as detailled.


There's some overlap between the two research councils, but AHRC (arts and humanities research council) also cover social history research, so that widens the options. Plus there can be other funding opportunities. I'm a Scottish history student and in my department at least 2 PhD students have Carnegie funding, which is Scotland-specific.


The ESRC have very strict guidelines on social history (I'm a social historian) and will be unlikely to fund her unless she is doing a predominantly quantatitive PhD - its a nightmare area for funding - I'm stuck right in the middle - too qualitative for ESRC, too quantatitive for AHRC lol. There are also very very few 3+1 ESRC awards for social history - I've not seen one, they must be there, but rare as its not 'numbery' enough (I know that's not a word lol).

I too would stress experience. Did she do a dissertation for BA? If so is her PhD proposal on a similar line? It will also depend on the uni - our dept really doesn't like taking on PhD students direct from BA and ask that we all do an MA for the training aspect. Historical research is detailed, complex and not easy - I know it isn't in any dept, but you really need to know your stuff and how to approach things, the methodologies, the language etc before you begin so she'd need to show an awful lot of reading and preparation. I really wouldn't recommend attempting it - I've a first class BA but there is no way I could have done this - I learnt so much during my MA about how to research my area and the sophistication of language, approach and thinking needed that wasn't covered during the BA.

Sorry not to be more help but if she's gonna do it then experience, experience, experience - stress the quality of research during her BA, any training she has done to enable her to do the research in this depth and to think about what she wants to achieve through her PhD in terms of questions, gaps in knowledge etc.


Thanks guys, I'll pass this on. She is self-funding for her first year and hoping to get funding thereafter. She got a first and an award, and has been advised to go straight to PhD in her institution but still has to go through the formalities of applying (even though she has worked on her project proposal with her supervisor). I COMPLETELY agree that she should have done an MA nevertheless but there you go. Thanks M.


I self-funded my first year, and applied during it for AHRC funding and won that. So it's doable. It does help when applying for funding to have a Masters though - it's one of the criteria used when deciding between different candidates.

If she's applying internally and self-funding then the initial proposal isn't so crucial. Any proposal/application for funding needs to be more carefully worded though. Your sister has time to hone that proposal.