When visiting my old school to attend the graduation of a friend, I ran into my old tutor. Exchanging stories and ideas, she nearly immediately offered me the option of a PhD position under her.

Now, I have applied for such positions before at other institutions but never got accepted. To do it right this time, I was wondering whether there were any resources available (books, blogs) that cover the early PhD and application process experience so that I may learn from others.

If relevant: I will be pursuing this PhD in the field of modern media, part-time, in the Netherlands.

  • In your position, I would certainly go to ask some people from your university about it. There is always a PhD association or something like that. Every PhD students are involved in this association, to help or to give tips on different subjects.
    – Gautier C
    Jun 13, 2016 at 8:54
  • 1
    Your question is very broad. It may take a book to answer it. Please narrow it down to a more specific question so that we can answer it.
    – Nobody
    Jun 13, 2016 at 8:54
  • 5
    Ask your old tutor and potential advisor: she is in the position of giving you the best advice. Jun 13, 2016 at 9:19
  • 3
    @scaaahu The question is exactly to tell me what books those are. Thank you :)
    – Weckar E.
    Jun 13, 2016 at 9:53

2 Answers 2


I started with my PhD two years ago, and I understand what you're asking. There is large number of things you want to consider before enrolling in PhD, I'll try to summarize my experience and some advises.

Bottom line, when applying to PhD you want to make sure that you have these things covered:

  1. Clear understanding of what your future research will be. When you start working on your studies, passing exams (in case you have formal exams as I do) you'll want to link these subjects to your main research as much as possible.
  2. Make sure you found mentor. I guess this will be professor who offer you PhD, but it can vary depending on field of studies.
  3. Check options of scholarship, since PhD studies and research can be quite expensive, depending on your area.

Interesting resources and links related to this subject:

Related to funding/scholarships, inside a site findaphd there are 2 sections to be considered:

Now, about more important matter - choosing good PhD subject, mentor and defining a hypothesis. My biggest challenge was finding out what my specific subject will be (and what domain will it be applied to), cause every mentor expect you to have idea what you want to do. If you try to simply "Google it" it won't be of much use.

Few approaches helped me here:

  • Open account on http://www.academia.edu , publish some of your earlier papers and works. After that connect to a people with a same research interests as yours and read their papers and current issues. You'll be surprised what you'll find after just couple of days.
  • When you search for books use https://scholar.google.com/ instead of simple Google, you'll find lots of interesting papers on your subject probably.
  • Try to find "problems", cause your future work MUST provide new benefit, you must solve problem. In order to solve it, you'll first read about current state of that problem.

To summarize it, these are steps you probably want to take:

  1. Define your field of research
  2. Define domain and mentor
  3. Find scholarship module
  4. Open account on Academia.edu and upload your papers
  5. Research Academia.edu and Google Scholar for issues and opportunities
  6. Define hypothesis and general idea for your future PhD
  7. Prepare everything in nice documentation and enroll

All best,

  • 8
    Point 3 is irrelevant to somebody doing a PhD in The Netherlands. PhD "students" are generally (quite well paid) employees of the university. Arranging your own funding is almost unheard of. Jun 13, 2016 at 9:26
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    @WecarE yup, what TomvanderZanden is saying is correct, I have a friend from The Netherlands and he told me the same thing. When I said 3. Check options for scholarship, I was thinking about this. Examine options on Universities, what do they require and what are pay grades. But even more important than pay grades are fields of study and formed "internal educational groups", for example laboratories that University offers, linked degrees. I will write more about it later, just to find links.. :)
    – Technogeek
    Jun 13, 2016 at 10:17
  • @Technogeek Perhaps worthy of another question, but would it be appropriate or maybe problematic to discuss possible research questions and topics with experts before comitting to a financial relationship with the university?
    – Weckar E.
    Jun 13, 2016 at 13:12
  • @WeckarE hmm, I believe that discussing possible research and technology involved must happen before committing to any kind of academical relationship (financial one included). This is the only way to find out if you and your research partner / employee are good match.
    – Technogeek
    Jun 15, 2016 at 7:35

In The Netherlands, as a PhD Student (promovendus) you will generally be a salaried employee of the University with a 4 year contract (which may be terminated at the 1.5 year mark if things are looking bleak). On the website of the University Association of The Netherlands you can download the CAO which contains information on the regulations under which you'll be working (articles 2.3, 3.1, 6.8 and E.12 are of particular interest). If you are working part-time then the length of your contract would reflect that (e.g. you'd get an 8 year contract if working 50%).

You can also do a PhD as employee of a company (buitenpromovendus) in which case these regulations would not apply. These generally take far longer (as you are performing regular work for the company, and your work on your PhD is tangential to this).

If your tutor has offered you a position, then the application process could be as simple as saying "yes". There is no formal admission process, though you must have a Master's degree in the relevant field before pursuing a PhD (if this is not the case, then it is still possible but more complicated).

In The Netherlands, applying for a PhD is the same as applying for any other job; if your tutor has offered you a position, then all you need to do is accept. If the offer is not yet formal (or contingent) then a normal application process would consist of submitting your CV and then (hopefully) getting a "job interview".

  • Tom is right, but I'd like to add one small remark on buitenpromovendi. It is also quite common to have promovendi who work towards their degree in their own time, i.e. they do not get paid by anyone. Facilities and assistance offered to these buitenpromovendi by universities varies but can be quite limited. These positions are generally only for those who really, really want a PhD, but cannot find funding. Jun 13, 2016 at 17:36
  • @TomvanderZanden I think I am an exception for the Netherlands where I contacted potential supervisors, in Uk and Germany as well. I discussed with them my ideas and research topic. All of them are interested in the supervision but they asked me to provide a research proposal and at least three funding opportunities that I should seek on my own. I am struggling with looking for grants/scholarships which should be suitable for discipline/topic and where eligibility criteria, hosting university, partnerships/consortia are fundamental elements of every funding program. Nov 9, 2018 at 9:46

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