Thinking About PHD?

Getting Started

When you've made the decision to do a PhD you'll need to make a lot of decisions. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions. They should help you when you're getting started.

1. Will I be allowed to do a PhD?

2. What university should I enrol at?

3. Should I enrol as a part-time or as a full-time student?

4. Can I afford to do a PhD?

5. How do I enrol for a PhD?

1. Will I be allowed to do a PhD?

All universities have rules about who can enrol in a PhD programme and not everyone is accepted. You will need to show that you have already completed some academic qualifications in the past, and the university needs to be satisfied that you have attained a good level of academic skill before you can be granted admission.

You'll find the rules in the university Calendar, or on the university website. You'll also need a PhD supervisor. Occasionally there are no suitable academic staff available to supervise a particular field of research. If the university can't offer you expert supervision, you may need to look at another university where potential supervisors are available.

2. What university should I enrol at?

This decision will be based on a lot of practical factors, for example you might need to attend a university close to where you live or work, so you have access to the resources that the University campus can offer. You might know of an academic whose work you admire, and whom you think would be a good supervisor. Perhaps you are thinking in terms of where you will get the best kind of learning experience. Different universities have research strengths in different fields. You might want to select the one that has the best international reputation in your field. You might want to enrol at a university overseas. You might select a university for really fundamental reasons, such as knowing that there is a short waiting list at the university creche!

Whatever your priorities are, we can give you sound advice at the MAI ki Poneke sessions.

3.Should I enrol as a part-time or as a full-time student?

You will need to think very carefully about this decision. If you are a part-time candidate you may be able to continue to bring in a salary, and avoid having to take out student loans. If you have important financial responsibilities (and who doesn't!), this might be the best option for you.

However keep in mind that a full-time candidature means a much shorter enrolment period (so you get finished more quickly), and you are also more likely to take part in the intellectual environment of the university (an important and stimulating part of PhD life is forming networks with your peers).

4. Can I afford to do a PhD?

Before you make too many plans you will need to find out how much it will cost you to enrol in a PhD programme. In New Zealand, students pay annual fees which give them entry into a degree programme and access to important resources (such as PhD supervisors, the university Library, electronic databases etc). You will also need to estimate how much you have to earn in order to pay your ongoing living expenses.

Most full-time PhD students live on very low incomes. This is partly because most universities have rules about the number of hours of paid work that full-time students are allowed to do each week. Some students supplement their incomes with tutoring work in their academic department or with scholarships. Other students survive by taking on part-time jobs. Some people save up for several years before they enrol. Other people take out loans.

The majority of people find that full-time PhD study requires a substantial financial commitment. Part-time enrolment may be the answer in some cases. If you study part-time, you may be able to continue to bring in a salary, and some of your annual academic expenses will be lower. But keep in mind that it will take longer to complete your PhD if you study part-time; so think carefully about the long-term costs involved with a longer candidature.

5. How do I enrol for a PhD?

Most Universities have websites that will give you information about how to enrol and who to contact, so it's worth checking these out before you telephone.

Once you've got an idea of what kind of topic you'd like to research (you don't have to have a really precise idea, just something clear enough to outline to a potential supervisor) and which University you want to attend, contact the University department that you are likely to be studying in. If you don't know anyone in the Department, ring the departmental office and ask the office administrator who you should be talking to. He or she will connect you to the right person. It might be the Head of Department, the postgraduate studies coordinator, or a senior staff member. Be prepared to be sent to a number of different people. You won't always get the right person the first time. Also be prepared to ring back several times. Sometimes the academic isn't in their office when you call (they might be teaching or at a meeting). Leave a message for them with your name and phone number and a brief explanation for your call. If they haven't called back within a day or two, ring them again, or contact the office staff and ask them to leave a message. You can also send an email.

If you feel really confused, ring the University phone number that appears in the phonebook and ask the operator to put you through to someone who can advise you about doing a PhD.

If you do know someone in the University department who might be able to help, call them and arrange a time to meet (it's not a good idea to drop in on the off-chance they'll be in their office, academics are often anywhere BUT in their offices!). Be prepared for them to tell you that they aren't the right person to give you advice; chances are that you may be passed onto a more appropriate person to speak to. You might be told that you should go away and define your ideas about your topic better.

Once you have identified the right person to speak to they can tell you who you need to talk to next, which forms to fill out, or what sorts of things you need to be thinking about in order to get your enrolment formalised.

A small number of MAI ki Poneke members have had rather negative experiences when approaching academic staff in New Zealand universities for information about PhD enrolment. If you are told that your previous academic grades aren't good enough to meet entry criteria, but you think that you ARE eligible for PhD entry, or if you are expected to jump through a lot of extra hoops that don't appear in the University's Calendar (this is where the Universities set out their PhD Regulations), contact us at the MAI ki Poneke group. Sometimes you are being given very good advice by these academics, but very occasionally people give advice that isn't very helpful.

The most likely scenario is that you will be warmly received, but if not, don't feel bad, and whatever happens--- don't feel dumb! Come and talk it over with us MaI ki Poneke before you give up the idea of doing a PhD.