Sep 9 2014

So you are thinking of doing a PhD?

Posted by     4 Comments    Posted under: The Snug

Well, everyone keeps asking ‘Are you going to do a PhD?’ … it seems like the next step doesn’t it?

Hello husband of mine. Please, remember to place the oxygen mask firmly over your mouth first, and take a deep breath before bellowing out your outrage at the thoughts of me even considering this.

Before I allow myself to think about taking on another FOUR LONG years as a student, I decided to ask my good friend Sally McHugh to give me the run down, on what a person needed to do in order to put the wheels in motion, when thinking about applying to do a PhD at NUI Galway.

This is her story and while it is all told in an excellent and very engaging manner, Sally wants you all to remember that this is just her experience. It is meant to help you navigate through what might be entailed when it comes to the grant(s) and application process.  I think it is the best guide I’ve seen to date.

Take it away Sally!



I was lucky enough to be recently awarded a 2014 Hardiman Research Scholarship from the College of Arts, Social Sciences, & Celtic Studies at NUI Galway. My journey towards this point started back in 2007 when I enrolled on an evening diploma class at NUIG. Two years later I commenced a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree and graduated with a Master of Arts (MA) degree in 2013. I loved my time studying in the university and really wanted to continue researching so I began to think about doing a PhD. Different ideas went through my head over time but it wasn’t until I experimented with different concepts for my MA thesis that my topic fully developed. I hummed and hawed for a long time over whether I would apply or not and it was constantly niggling away in the back of my mind.

Once I decided I was going to go for it, I had to make contact with a supervisor and find someone that would share the same interests as myself. A list of NUIG potential supervisors and their research interests can be found here and that was a good place to start. The next step was to email and arrange a meeting with a potential supervisor and have a chat. Before either of us made any commitments, fully discussing my topic was good for sussing out if we could work together. Once my choice of supervisor had agreed to come on board, it was time to start researching the different funding available and how to apply for the different grants.

Images: &

Images: &

During the academic year the Graduate Studies Office run information sessions and these were very useful and helpful for understanding the application process. At the 2013 sessions, the Dean of Graduate Studies, Dr Lucy Byrnes and the Vice Dean for Research, Dr John Walsh, gave all the necessary information on the different scholarships and how to apply for them. They went through the application process in detail and spoke about what is expected in the different applications. They also gave pointers as to what else to add into your application, for instance, have you a vision for something and if so to tell them about it; are you passionate about your topic and if so to demonstrate that passion. This was good advice because often we (I) tend to be more formal when doing applications, but realistically how are those selecting the candidates supposed to know how you really feel unless you tell them? They advised mentioning what position you came in a class, any academic awards you may have won, scholarships, or anything relevant that might make you stand apart from your competitors. Attending these talks and taking everything suggested on-board was vital in preparing a good application.

Before you start the scholarship application itself, you will probably have to write a proposal for the college department you wish to study in. This usually consists of roughly 5 pages (A4) with headings such as Introduction (outlining your research question), Aim & Objective(s), Theoretical Framework, Methodology and Research Plan, Significance of Study /Relationship of Project to Existing Research. Your supervisor may be able to assist you in the drafting up of this document and once it’s done, it will be the foundation for all the scholarship applications that you apply for.


Image: Sally McHugh-Research Proposal


In the academic year the first opportunity to apply for funding was the Hardiman Research Scholarship and the Dr Tony Ryan Scholarship Scheme (your one application is considered for both scholarships). This usually has an annual deadline in late November and those short-listed are interviewed in December/early January. The stipend is €16,000 p.a. and fees are also paid.

The Second opportunity is the Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme, more commonly known as the IRC (Irish Research Council). These scholarships have the same funding as the Hardiman/Ryan scholarships but will also pay research expenses up to the value of €2250 p.a. The deadline for this application is usually the end of January. The IRC website gives all the relevant dates including information on other funding opportunities such as the ‘Employment Based Postgraduate Programme’ and an ‘Enterprise Partnership Scheme’.

The third opportunity is the Galway Doctoral Research Scholarship Scheme, usually advertised in March/April but like the other scholarship schemes, is subject to change. These scholarships are for €16,000, but fees have to be paid out of this allowance.

Scholarships are also available under the Digital Arts & Humanities (DAH) structured PhD programme and this year the closing date was in mid-May. Funded by the Higher Education Authority the scholarships are also €16,000 plus fees paid.

More information on these and other scholarships like Bioinnovate and the Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme can be found on the Postgraduate research courses page on the NUIG website. There may be more funding available in the different schools that I’m not aware of, so it’s worth checking that out directly with the schools.

People are notified about the outcome of their NUIG Hardiman Scholarship application in early January as one of the conditions of acceptance is that you also submit an application to IRC, the Irish Government scholarship, and that closes end of Jan/beg of Feb. (all dates are posted on the Postgraduate Research Courses webpage). Although you may be successful in receiving the NUIG Hardiman/Ryan scholarship, by applying for and possibly receiving an IRC scholarship, your IRC acceptance frees up another place for someone else in the Hardiman scheme. The results from the IRC are usually out in late May/June and are available online. Later, they send you some feedback on your application so that you know what to work on if you apply again.

All scholarships are very competitive and so the application process is very important. The approach I took was to be honest, to say exactly how I felt in simple language, to show my genuine enthusiasm and passion for the research, and to explain the importance of the research from my own point of view. I also believed it important to maintain an authentic professional online presence, because although it’s not mentioned on any application forms, you are surely googled at some stage! As you have to include your CV on applications, another good idea is to make an appointment at the NUIG Career Development Centre where a member of staff will sit down with you and work on your CV.

I’m looking forward to beginning the PhD journey and I’m sure there will be many obstacles along the way but it’s exciting to get started (and to get to fill in the blanks below!). I’m hoping it will be a rewarding experience.

Good luck with your application!



Thanks a million for this handy ‘how to apply for a PhD’ guide Sally.

Now … must be time for a cuppa, anyone?

OH – and on a side note. First day as a lecturer went alright. I spoke too fast and tried to cram way too much into a short space of time. Today – I will practice breathing … then talking. Thanks for all the love, support, message and emails. Ye are lovely, really x


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4 Comments + Add Comment

  • Love the illustration from phdcomics – and to be honest, that’s pretty much how the whole thing works.

    Great article. in 2000, I went straight from my B.Sc. into a Ph.D. programme, and to be honest, I was young and somewhat naive about what was required. Because I had very good academic results, the pressure was applied to proceed directly to a Ph.D. In hindsight, taking a year to persue a Masters might have been a beneficial experience. I did do very well in my Ph.D. studies evenually, much of which can be attributed to my wonderful and supportive supervisor.

    A Ph.D. is a wonderful qualification to hold and it speaks volumes about your commitment, passion and maturity. It’s important to go into it with your eyes wide open. Your chosen field of study is important, but it’s equally important to find a supervisor who will both support and challenge you. If your Ph.D. studies don’t break you and make you cry like a baby at some stage, then you’re probably not doing it right 🙂 But walking away from your viva voce, and later receiving your scroll, is an incredible feeling.

    • Wow – thanks for this Joanne …
      I think it really does send home Sally’s point too about shopping around for a supervisor until you are sure you have met the right one for the job. Four years is a long time to be working with someone and this is a huge commitment …. definitely food for thought … Hope all is well with you. I still use your blog as my ‘go to’ for when in Dublin and when my friends are in Dublin too!

  • Hi,

    Any comment or experience on combining with being/becoming a mother?

    It’s quite a commitment over several years and if you plan or have an unplanned pregnancy, seems that there are no entitlements from welfare or funding provision for maternity. Must be a serious consideration for many women given that it can see you both destitute and pregnant?

    • Hi Leigh
      Wow – that is a good question.

      I did my undergraduate and MA with 4 kids and it was NOT EASY – but I had great support from my Mum and husband.
      I have put the PhD on hold for now .. Once my kids are a few years older, and I am in a more ‘permanent’ role in my current job, I will take o nthe PhD and do it part time over 6 yrs.
      I think that having a baby – without a support system (be it a partner or family member) would be impossibly hard by itself, let alone throwing a PhD into the mix.

      Good luck to you with your education (and family) plans!

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