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I graduated a few years back with a decent MSc (about 3.6 GPA equivalent) from a good European university (top 10) university. My dream was to pursue a good PhD, but I didn't manage to publish anything in the Masters for various reasons. I have a few research projects, a paper from my BSc thesis, and a few years of industrial R&D experience. Now, the environment is awfully competitive, and I don't feel qualified - especially since my failed master's project kept dragging on and on for a few good years and even my supervisor is tired of it (and me).

Therefore, I am looking to improve my CV and perhaps gain more research experience, especially in an environment where everybody seeks first-author publications before even considering a PhD application. Most of the labs around here advertise lots of projects to attract students - would it be inappropriate to try to get in touch for a (part-time) summer internship of some sort? Or perhaps there would be a better approach to build some relationship with the lab?

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  • In what area of science are you working? Is it your goal to stay in Europe, or are you also prepared to consider US/Canada? Commented May 1 at 14:16

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I think it really depends on where you decide to apply and what you're doing in industry. I am in my 3rd year of my PhD in the US and have a very similar background. I did not publish my MS thesis, but had lots of experience as a research assistant as an undergrad. I worked on industry jobs for 8 years before applying to PhD. I was accepted to my program without hesitation. I had gained lots of project management experience on large multi-year projects in industry, scored well on my GRE, and my motivations for going back to academia resonated with my new professors. My advice would be to contact potential advisors first and see what they think about your background before quitting your job for an internship. Base your next steps on the feedback you get and then decide if it's necessary. Obviously expectations will vary widely based on the field you're in, the country, and individual program. *Written on my phone.

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  • Thanks for sharing your experience. Indeed, by industry job is quite close to research - not a research lab, but I am keeping in touch with the latest publications at least. I am looking at Europe mainly, the issue is that I'm perhaps overthinking, perhaps bad at networking - not sure how to approach potential PIs.
    – Paul92
    Commented May 1 at 13:44
  • Ah, I don't know if there are cultural differences in Europe - but in the states it's pretty straightforward. I'm in biology, so I am mostly familiar with professional norms in that field. Look for faculty profiles and websites and find professors that do work you like. Send them and email with your CV and let them know you're looking to start your PhD. Some will ignore you, others will say they don't have space in their lab, and a few may invite you to chat over zoom. At that point you can ask them what the requirements are for admission to the program.
    – nontradphd
    Commented May 1 at 17:36
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You already have research experience and a graduate degree. If you intend to pursue a PhD, then start applying for that. I cannot see how a few months here and there as a volunteer/intern will help make significant impact on your profile unless you serendipitously end up with a great result, independently of other full-time group members, and publish as a lead author. This takes lots of time and lots of luck.

As someone with a masters degree and industry experience, nobody on the committee is doubting your research experience. If you are applying to top shelf programs with a decent but not stellar GPA, you may just be up against a competitive field where others are a better fit. Keep applying. Look for faculty with openings and engage in conversation (if they are open to it, don't force it).

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