Currently, I am applying to funded PhD programmes in Europe. Not long ago, I thought it would not be so competitive, but now I am losing my self-confidence, receiving constant rejections. The other cause of my frustration is that I want to get an offer faster since my home country is invading Ukraine, and that is why I might be (at least to some extent) judged by my nationality or banned from getting visa. I am trying to make more applications, but their quality decreases, and I am becoming depressed. Some university has also rejected me, claiming it could not approve my forein degrees, which is also very insulting.

Here is my short background. I have a bachelor degree with 98% GPA from noname university of a second-world country, master's degree from a world top 50 university with 95% GPA, two Q1 first-authored papers that were cited more than ten times during the first year. I also have more than five years of industry experience.

So my question is how to overcome frustration and imposter syndrome during PhD application process? How to deal with the fact that I could be rejected because of my nationality and bureaucratic requirements to education?

  • 1
    "two Q1 first-authored papers" then you have absolutely no ground to feel the imposter syndrome to apply for a PhD: you are showing more than the potential to conduct research, you already conducted that!
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 17, 2022 at 16:02
  • @EarlGrey Yes, I also thought so. However, the topic of these papers and the research area of a PhD position are rarely the same, so this might also be the reason of failures. Aug 17, 2022 at 18:28
  • One paper as first author can be luck, or "overachievement" (although both are unlikely). Two? extremely unlikely. Coherence of possible reserce area and the topic of the papers: this is of no one interests and it is not relevant.
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 17, 2022 at 22:04

4 Answers 4


I can understand the frustration, though you don't seem to be suffering from imposter syndrome. And the competition would have been high in the best of times.

Yes, there is probably some level of discrimination going on at the moment for the obvious reasons. That will be hard to counter until the war in Europe is no longer an issue.

But, given that, there are some things you can do. First, make sure that you thoroughly understand the application process in any country/institution you apply to, especially since this is a cross border situation.

Second, make sure your statement of purpose, if required, is clear and forward looking. Have someone local and knowledgeable review all of your application materials and give you feedback.

Third, and maybe most important, make use of faculty at your home institution to speak for you in any way possible. In the US, that would be great letters of recommendation. But, in other places, where it is necessary to contact professors (potential supervisors/funders) directly, they can do more.

Since your current/recent institution is highly rated, the faculty there most likely have international contacts in their field. Instead of a direct contact from yourself, see if you can arrange a call or email from some faculty member who knows your work and will speak well of you to colleagues/collaborators outside Russia.

You might also consider expanding your search. The US is a bit more removed from the war, so there might (might) be less of an issue for Russian students, especially for those who aren't strong war/Putin supporters. Canada similarly. And I'm not suggesting you express opposition in any public way, as that can have negative consequences at home, as you likely realize. And, the world is a big place so explore it a bit more widely.

It also occurs to me, from the way you stated this, that you might be using a shotgun approach, flooding the zone with poorly targeted applications. While I believe that a search should be wide, covering a range of institutions, each individual application needs to be carefully crafted to match the requirements of the institution/supervisor. What do they need, specifically, that you match well with. In particular, cold emails are rarely effective and using respected intermediaries often so.

  • Thank you for support! You are probably right thinking I'm 'using a shotgun approach'. Unfortunately, I have found only two vacancies that more or less close to the topic I did research on, and that is why I applied to a number of vacancies suitable for my major. And yes, I will probably expand my countries range. I can not apply to the US programmes since they require GRE, but I will try some PhD opportunities in Canada. Aug 17, 2022 at 18:33
  • Actually fewer and fewer doctoral programs in US require GRE these days. Covid changed the game as well as some other things.
    – Buffy
    Aug 17, 2022 at 18:46
  • Here's a secret about how the US works. Things like GRE requirements can be waived for good reasons, such as being in a country where the GRE isn't being offered. Sometimes not having a score will put you at a disadvantage for applications, but you should definitely ask the department you are applying to whether you can get the GRE requirement waived. Aug 18, 2022 at 1:22

I am sorry to hear that you were not lucky so far in securing a PhD position. Based on your description, your academic profile is competitive (at least in my area of numerical mathematics I would definitely be interested in a candidate with such background).

A few random thoughts.

  1. What is your funding situation? In some countries in Europe, PhD program is considered work and students are payed salary. In some countries in Europe, PhD program is considered studies and students receive a stipend. In some countries in Europe, PhD program is considered training and students are expected to pay tuition fees, although they may apply for a scholarship to cover those. The more you are willing to pay your way, the better are the chances to be accepted.
  2. What kind of places are you applying to? Top-tier Universities may be much more competitive than a more local, say second-tier University. You may have a Prof Less Famous as your PhD supervisor, and you may be expected to help with teaching a bit, but they are usually happy to admit any capable candidate (particularly with funding).
  3. If you aim for top-tier places, your research proposal should be very well written and your research goals should be well articulated. Do not hesitate to contact potential supervisers directly and discuss your proposal with them first. They may even give you input on how to modify / tailor it to what their group / Department needs.

In any case, do not lose hope! The application process can be draining and depressing, but you are a strong and competitive candidate and I hope you will find an excellent place for your PhD very soon. Удачи!

  • I'm aiming at places where I can get a stipend that will cover my basic needs or where I can get a salary. The problem here is that the vacancies I found may be not so suitable for me. Taking you and Buffy's advice I will probably try to write to professors working in my narrow subject area. Aug 17, 2022 at 18:39
  • If you need funding rather than just admission, things generally become much more competitive and the results take more time to appear. I dunno about PhD stipends exactly, but for academic jobs you roughly expect to make 100x applications to get 10x shortlists and 1x acceptance. Aug 17, 2022 at 21:12

how to overcome frustration

You cannot. Applying for a PhD is always frustrating.

Applying for a job after the PhD can be worse.


How to deal with the fact that I could be rejected because of my nationality and bureaucratic requirements to education?

Both criteria you mention would not be a judgement of your person, just of your career up to now and of things out of control (totally like your place of birth or "partially" like citizenship).

Get in touch with LGBQT communities and philosophers, or at least with feminist thinkers, or with anti-racist thinkers, to understand how to cope with rejection and discrimation for things that are out of your active control, like gender or skin color or sexual orientation.

Good luck!

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