How to get onto a PhD???


Hey, i'm in the final year of a biology degree and i've recently applied to some PhDs in the biological science area (quite late in the year i know but i didn't make my mind up that i def wanted to do it until recently!) Anyway I haven't had much success at all-not even interviews and 2 be honest i dnt know what i'm doing wrong! I am at a top uni, my referees seem 2 rly like me so i cnt see them nt giving me a great reference and my average is over 80%. I also did a sandwich year working in lab research-the research area wasn't the area i'm applying for but the techniques etc are still relevant plus my final year lab project is relevant so i have experience. So i am quite frustrated 2 nt get any interviews as I dnt know where i'm going wrong? My GCSE and A-level results are not amazing (mixture of A's and B's)-I know lots of ppl who got straight A's-so I was wondering whether this may be a factor? Also I worked full-time after a-levels instead of going to uni straight away and have had several jobs so my cv doesn't read like the average bright student who goes straight from school to college to uni etc-would this be considered a negative or somehow give the impression i'm nt an academic person?

I was planning on applying properly 2 loads come sept when i have the time to look at lots of diff projects and apply for them and am not bogged down with uni work and finals but if i can't even get to interviews now i dnt know whether theres any point?!

Can any1 give me some pointers where I may be going wrong? Your help would be much appreciated, thanks!! x


Hi Kate55,

You certainly sound like an ideal PhD student in terms of your experience and qualifications and it is probably just a matter of time before you get an interview. I didn't get interviews for quite a few of the PhDs that I applied for, and it's very disheartening when you've spent ages writing personal statements etc. I got a 1st in my undergraduate degree and loads of experience, but just didn't seem to be getting any response. It wasn't until I asked an academic to read through my personal statement, and followed her advice on changes to the personal statement that the interviews started coming in.

Has an academic read through your personal statement/cover letter? might be an idea if not.

Good luck and try not to get disheartened. :-)


How many have you applied for? Perhaps the problem is that you're not giving enough time to the application process? You need to tailor your CV and completely rewrite the Cover letter for each project to make sure it give the best fit to the project.

I don't think anything you have done will act negatively, everything you've done seems to be very positive. But it is so competitive at the moment, especially in biological science, even if you get a first a lot of Uni's won't look at you unless you have a masters or relevant work experience too. Most of the projects start in September though so you may have to wait a year, but try and get some relevant experience in that year and it will make you a more attractive applicant later!

Hope this helps!


I suspect the economic situation means there is increasing competition for PhD places so you might just have been unlucky so far. It certainly sounds like you have a lot going for you. The sandwich year in particular will help you stand out as a lot of bio undergrads have no more than a final year project

I think the key things are (i) to really sell your research experience, (ii) to make sure that personal statements and cover letters are not too generic and are tailored to the specific project (iii) be clear in communicating your motivations for doing a PhD. Bear in mind that references probably won't be taken up unless you are interviewed, so don't rely on that.

Make good use of your careers service in terms of getting help with CVs and cover letters etc. The help is free now, but it gets costly later! And do you have a personal/course tutor you could talk to for some hints and tips? It would definitely be worth getting other people to cast an eye over your applications in case there's something you're missing.


I've worked in postgrad admissions for biosciences and I can tell you that A Leveks/GCSEs are not even looked at so don't even waste time worrying about that. Unis will be looking at your first degree and any other experience you have.

There have been lots of cuts to funding for higher education recently and where I'm currently studying they've got 30 applicants for 1 funded project. It's getting very competitive and nowadays they're also looking for those with a masters so this may be a factor. In my dept all of us have a masters degree. But this is just one uni out of many and my colleague from my undergrad course got on a phd programme straight from undergrad.

I would concentrate on your finals to make sure you secure that First and continue applying anyway. I don't think for one second that you should give up your dream if this is what you really want. Sometimes you have to fight for it. If you have to do a masters first do it - you'll lots of useful skills you can carry forward to a phd.

You have a good cv behind you so I say keep going and you'll get there.

Very best of luck