How can I gain further research experience prior to applying for PHD programs?


My plan is to apply for a PHD in 2022 in the field and discipline of International Relations – I have some ballpark area’s of study in my mind, although they are not clearly defined yet.

My last academic studies was in the year 2014-2015, when I completed an M.A. in International Security and Conflict studies. Since then I have been working in business development jobs which are completely irrelevant to my studies. However, the idea of returning to academia has always appealed to me and come next year I feel I will be at a time and stage in my life where I am ready to start applying for PDH programs.

I really need to develop some research experience in the next 6-12 months though – it has been six years since my Masters, after all. Therefore my focus for the next few weeks is to discover methods and opportunities by which I can build my research experience and increase the chances of a successful PHD application.

I have a couple of ideas on how I want to go about this:

- Pitching to universities and professors to see if there are any voluntary research positions going

- Researching journals/think tanks etc to see if there are any voluntary or even internship positions going, and sending speculative CV’s/cover letters if not.

My guess though is that there are many many others in the same boat as me who will be doing the same. I am curious how I could separate myself from others, and also if anyone can suggest any other avenue’s worth trying.

Thank you!

Avatar for rewt

Hi brianc92101,

You sound more interested than most PhD applicants who do very little research before their PhD. Voluntary research with academics is a well established way to get some experience and they do exist. However, finding a willing academic might be difficult if you are not currently affiliated with any university or degree. Academics don't have much time and most are reluctant to engage with every random person. So you might have to put a lot of effort in without any guidance before the academic become properly interested. Some universities advertise voluntary roles that are very basic but I have no idea how to find them. Though I wouldn't worry too much if you can't find any as they aren't necessary to getting a PhD. Having a solid well though out research proposal would probably be more useful.

Also, don't completely disregard the soft skills you have gained in your job. Stuff like report writing, data analysis, presentation skills, interpersonal skills etc. are necessary to complete a PhD. I know it might not be obvious but finding some already attained transferable skills would be a lot easier than building new ones.