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My question is about the extent to which one's employment experience can enhance or detract from a PhD application.

I received a BSc in Biochem in 2010, worked for 3 years in software sales and just now received an MSc in Synthetic Biology.

My BSc score was not great, but my MSc grade was the highest possible (distinction).

A professor has agreed to supervise me for a PhD in the area of synthetic biology - we are going to apply for funding together. I may not win funding when applying with that professor, so I am also applying for other funded PhDs. If I succeed in winning a funded PhD, it will start roughly one year from now.

In the meantime, I have been offered two jobs: junior software developer, and software salesperson. The developer job will provide useful knowledge and experience but has a very low salary. On the other hand, the sales job will offer almost no useful knowledge or experience (over what I already have) but pays a salary three times higher.

The sales role is attractive because I am in a fair amount of debt, having been studying full-time for the past 12 months. The developer job requires skills which are used in a PhD, so might support my application. However, I don't think that it will furnish me with any extra computing knowledge over that which I could learn myself during the PhD.

To what extent do funding bodies and academic departments look at one's employment experience when considering a PhD application?

This is all set in the UK.

  • Can you clarify what exactly you are applying to, and perhaps what country you are in? At least in the US, applying to a PhD program is a totally different matter than applying for funding from an external funding agency. – BrenBarn Nov 3 '14 at 20:52
  • This all takes place in the UK. With regards to what I'm applying to, I'll be applying to research council-funded PhDs and also applying to various funding bodies to get funding for a PhD project of my own design. – Charon Nov 3 '14 at 20:54
  • This is one programme that I'll be applying for: sbcdt.ox.ac.uk – Charon Nov 3 '14 at 21:01
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    I help to run admissions for a DPhil (doctoral programme) in the social sciences at Oxford. Professional experience is of very minor importance during the admissions process (except where it has some truly central role in the research project). The three important things we give significant weight to are (1) academic transcript, (2) quality of research proposal/statement, and (3) admissions interview. These will typically also be the main factors for funding allocated by the university (e.g. Clarendon, DTC). – Ubiquitous Nov 4 '14 at 15:47
  • Thank you, that's very helpful and high-quality information! – Charon Nov 4 '14 at 15:49
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I help to run admissions for a DPhil (doctoral programme) in the social sciences at Oxford. Professional experience is of very minor importance during the admissions process (except where it has some truly central role in the research project). The four important things we give significant weight to are

  1. academic transcript,
  2. quality of research proposal/statement,
  3. admissions interview.
  4. academic reference letters.

These will typically also be the main factors for funding allocated by the university (e.g. Clarendon, DTC). In particular, the panels that award these scholarships will have access to the same application material as the admissions coordinator, along with notes from the interviewer.

My suspicion is that a more vocational area might give more weight to practical experience. For example, someone with legal practice experience, or work as a laboratory intern might respectively have a bit of an advantage for a law/lab science DPhil. But the general understanding at Oxford is that academic excellent trumps all other considerations.

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