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To begin with, I must point out two things: first, to read this post faster, you can skip directly to the questions and the paragraph before them; second, although I mention a specific field of mathematics, I think the question is quite general and applicable to any field.

I am currently a master's student in mathematical logic. A year and a half ago I finished my studies in physics and the following year I studied a master's degree in mathematical research (the courses were on pure maths like algebraic geometry, functional analysis, differential geometry...). But for a few years my interest has been in mathematical logic, that's why I enrolled in this master's degree in logic.

During this course I have reached two conclusions: I have found the specific area of logic that interests me (model theory) and I have realized that I am close to a burnout. have learned a lot, but the pressure from the exams and the heavy workload in areas that do not interest me or that have not been very well taught (I allow myself to make this complaint because I do not consider that it is the fault of the teachers, but of a very improvable study plan) have made me rethink my plans. In particular, my intention is to try to jump right into a PhD, since I like to study a lot, but I need more freedom to work.

During my previous bachelor's degree (on physics) and in my previous master (on pure math) I got good results (grades of ~9/10 average) and my intention is to finish only a few subjects of my current master (on logic). However, I don't know if that will be enough to get me into a PhD. I have asked for advice from one of my professors, who is a well-known expert in a field not too distant from the one that interests me (model theory) and he has told me that without any problem I can ask some suitable experts in this area if they would be willing directing my PhD, but I don't know if I really have a chance of getting a positive response and I'm not sure if it's a good idea without knowing the chances of success I have.

All in all, my doubts are:

  • With my background (which I mentioned at the beginning of the previous paragraph), can it be very difficult to get a PhD and funding (even if it's little) at a decent university in Europe? I would like a PhD in the European Union and as close as possible to Spain (which is where I have studied).
  • Second, if the above is difficult, is it preferable to do the PhD in a nearby area that interests me but with more professors and, after the PhD, try to get closer to the area that currently interests me more?
  • Finally, if I spend a year studying on my own and trying to get small results that could be the start of a PhD, would that benefit me when looking for a advisor or is it bad for my CV to spend a year without increasing it?

Thanks in advance!!

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  • What country are you hoping to study in?
    – Buffy
    Apr 22, 2023 at 19:54
  • @Buffy, that is a good question, so I will add that information to the post. I would like a PhD in the European Union, as close to Spain as possible.
    – Yester
    Apr 22, 2023 at 19:57
  • I don't understand what your first two doubts have to do with the advice that you received. I mean, yes, conceivably you might not be successful in securing a PhD position in your intended field -- but how is that a reason not to reach out to potential supervisors in that field? Apr 22, 2023 at 21:42
  • @AdamPřenosil, thanks, I have clarified that aspect in the post.
    – Yester
    Apr 22, 2023 at 21:49
  • Your chance of getting a positive response if you reach out to a professor is X%, where X>0. Your chance of getting a positive response if you don't is 0%. The math seems pretty clear to me... there is literally no downside to trying. Unless what's holding you back is a fear of rejection, I am still having a hard time understanding what the dilemma is here. A question that would make sense is, should I contact potential supervisors in my preferred field now or should I wait until I'm about to finish my current Master's? But that doesn't seem to be what you are asking. Or is it? Apr 22, 2023 at 22:09

1 Answer 1

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This is the right approach to getting into a PhD program. You search for a good advisor. The department, reputation of the university,etc. should be secondary considerations.

The best source is your current network. We are all looking for good students and we all love helping match good students with good advisors. If you already have a good reputation, eg you are not crazy, not a serial complainer, can produce consistent quality research, you meet deadlines, etc., people will be happy to make introductions for you. You then write an email to the prospective advisor and in the first line write "I'm a prospective grad student and Dr. X recommended I speak with you." followed by a short description of your academic interests, and a polite inquiry into if they are looking for new grad students. The response rate will be 90%.

It should go without saying that you should read about each prospective advisor before you write to them, to make sure you are interested in their subject.

After they reply, add more details about your interests. The message should convey "I'm a good student, I'm trying to figure out if we are a good match". Most prospective PhD students instead write something along the lines of "I really want a PhD at University X, can you help me get admitted?", and this is why they never get a reply.

The best sources for introductions are former colleagues who are now graduate students, your former professors, and people you met at conferences. If everything else fails, you can write a cold (uninvited) email.

Oh, and always keep email short and to the point.

Good luck.

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  • Thanks for the feedback!! I will certainly keep them in mind.
    – Yester
    Apr 23, 2023 at 12:32

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