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I want to apply for a PhD position in Computer Science in a particular subarea (in Europe). Now I've been observing the PhD vacancies for quite a while. The number of PhD vacancies in the subarea (together with some personal criteria) is about one vacancy per two weeks. Given the infrequent number of PhD positions, what is the best thing I can do on top of applying? I was thinking of doing the following (or a combination of the following):

  • Contact the professors I know in the subarea or related areas.
  • Contact professors I do not know in the subarea or related areas.
  • Contact PhD students of research groups I am interested in in the particular subarea.
  • Apply to all the interesting PhD positions.
  • Send out open applications for funded PhD positions.
  • Focus on projects related to the subarea I am interested in.

What is your advice? What strategy did you use to start at a PhD position?

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    There is no substitute for applying to programs that might accept you. Just do that. Don't overthink it. If you don't apply, you don't get accepted. – Buffy May 17 '20 at 12:42
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    In many european countries, the concept of PhD programs doesn't really exist. Indevidaul PhD vacancies are advertised as though they are jobs when and as they come available. – Ian Sudbery May 17 '20 at 12:59
  • @Buffy true, there is no substitutes for applying. But it might help to combine applying for PhD positions with other strategies in order to speed up the process (from the applicant point-of-view). – CamelCase May 17 '20 at 17:01
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    There is no speeding it up. You apply by the deadline if any, then it is entirely up to others to set schedules. If you have doubt about your acceptability you can talk to a few people, of course, but it is unlikely to speed things up unless you are truly exceptional. – Buffy May 17 '20 at 17:24
  • Why do you think one position every two weeks is "infrequent?" – Anonymous Physicist May 18 '20 at 2:51
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I would guess in coutries where PhD positions are usually handled in similar way to jobs would be, it it would generally be unusual for a supervisor to have a funded position available that wasn't advertised, but that said, it can't hurt to contact people you are particularly intersted in working with. If you do, make sure that you include in your email exactly why you want to work with that person - make them believe you are not just sending them a standard email.

I doubt that students in the area will be able to help you greatly.

And of course, if you are targeting a country where PhD positions are usually advertised, then yes, of course you should apply to advertised positions!

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Funding agencies in many European countries have calls for funding individual PhD positions. You can try to find a group that you really want to work with, and try to convince them to support such an application.

This has several advantages. If you succeed you will have greater independence and academic freedom during your PhD. It also looks very good on your CV later on in your academic career. If you have written a very good application, but do not succeed in securing the position, it may still impress your intended host, and they may consider you for any upcoming positions. (Think of it as a very elaborate open application.)

The downside is that the successrate for these calls tends to be low, and writting an application tends to be a lot of work (although also a useful learning experience).

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