How to find the right research programme

Five key considerations when deciding where to study.

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If you've decided that life as a research student is the right choice for you, there are several things you need to look carefully at.

The area

In terms of your research area, the more flexible you can be with the topic you are selecting, the more likely you are to be offered a place. The first step is to find out where the research that interests you is conducted. This may seem daunting, but a short literature search in your chosen field will help you to identify individuals who are working in relevant sectors. Many institutions will have a database of individuals organised by area of expertise which will be indispensable to the search process.

The institution

  • Examine the pro’s and con’s of choosing to remain at the same institution where you studied your undergraduate degree or choosing a different institution for your postgraduate studies. What could the experience studying at a new institution give you? Consider the opportunity to expand you network contacts even further and to gain from the experience of working with different experts in your field.
  • While research opportunities may be similar in a number of institutions, it is worthwhile to consider the expertise and reputation of the staff members –do they have an international profile, has their work been widely published, and is it well revered?
  • What is its reputation for research in your field? What support structures are in place for research students?
  • What resources are available – will you be given your own lab space and computer; how flexible are the college opening hours?
  • What other duties that will be required of you? Some schools have seminar and training programmes that postgraduate research students can participate in.
  • What process will you have to go through to complete a PhD?

The topic of your research

Will completing the research fit into your career plan? Make sure to choose your topic very carefully before opting to become specialised in a particular area. In some colleges you can propose your own topic, but often an academic member of staff will have set proposals, so make sure that you are happy with these.

Your supervisor

Students are dependent on their supervisor for guidance, so it is absolutely vital that this relationship is a good one. You'll need to find out about the supervisor's reputation and their track record in postgraduate research supervision and publications.

Teaching opportunities

There may be opportunities to supplement your grant with paid teaching. Some colleges pay postgraduate research students additionally for any tutorials or demonstrations given, while others expect students to undertake this as part of their research programme.


  • What grants are available for your chosen research area?
  • What funding is available for conference participation?
  • What are the accommodation and transport costs in your chosen institution?

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