Early application stage - a few questions


Hi everyone,
I'm new here....found the website very useful so far and would be grateful if anyone could help me with a few questions.

I'm planning on starting a PhD in September. I originally wanted to leave it until next year but a whole lot of factors have made me want to bring it forward. I'm really just wondering how quick I can expect the whole application process to be? I realise it'll vary from uni to uni (I want to go to St Andrews), but a rough idea would be useful as it could mean there's no point in me applying this year. I'd like to apply for funding from the Carnegie Trust, but their deadline is a lot sooner than other organisations, the application has to be in by 15th March. I know what I want to research and pretty much have my proposal sorted, but haven't made any contact with the uni yet (although I'm planning to over the next day or two).

I'm having difficulty figuring out how to approach any potential supervisors. I did my undergrad at St Andrews so know a lot of the staff and could 'choose' someone I know I could work well with, but as far as I can tell there's no-one there who has done any research in the specific area I'm interested in. It'll be a PhD in maths, and the mathematics involved is something they will all be familiar with (and perhaps researching), but my applications are completely different. The only person in the UK I can find who's active in this area is in Aberdeen - his CV reads like my ideal supervisor but moving isn't really an option (and I'm not overly keen on the whole long-distance thing!) Is this a big issue? I've been trying to rationalise it by saying that the whole point of a PhD is original research, so surely as long as there's someone who can supervise the maths behind what I'm doing.....

Finally, my PhD proposal is basically an extension of my undergrad dissertation. Would this be a problem, an advantage, or neither? If it makes any difference, I was given a prize by the uni for my dissertation so it does seem they recognised it as at least a semi-worthwhile piece of work. I'm just wondering whether the fact that I've already studied it a bit might be a problem. Obviously my PhD would be infinitely more detailed and I realise you can hardly compare the two, but it's just something else to consider.

Sorry for the ridiculously long post, I'm starting to get a bit worked up about these issues so any help anyone can offer will be much appreciated!


Hi Orainn,

I'm in a very similar position to you - my potential supervisor is very keen on my area of research but it's not actually something the department currently had research experience in (so to speak). However, they're encouraging me because a) there aren't many institutions to do my research (only about 8 departments in the subject in the UK I think) and b) they want to expand their research areas to include my topic area. Also, my research has completely developed out of my undergrad dissertation, and I'm working on a slightly different angle but the same area for my master's.

I can't give you any "real" advice, because as I said I'm in the same boat, but judging from the advice I've had, it's not a problem expanding previous research into your PhD - in fact someone told me just the other day, "It might be your inspiration and the basis of your topic, but really? no one cares about your undergraduate work." (I didn't take it personally!)

You've probably already spoken to potential supervisors, and this has all been resolved in your mind, but I thought I'd reply anyway. Good luck with it all!



What about the possibility of the Aberdeen expert acting as a second/supporting supervisor? You could travel up to Aberdeen occasionally to see him. It's not that long a train journey ;-) As for your PhD dissertation being an extension of the undergrad one that shouldn't be a problem, and would mean you are well grounded in the basics. But you will have to develop it considerably both in depth and quantity of work to raise it to PhD level.

Good luck. By the way my first degree was in computing at St Andrews, before there was a separate computer science building. Many of my computing lectures were in the Maths building, and the 2nd year and honours computing labs were in the basement there.