3 months before moving to Australia, I decided to try to get a PhD offer. In the subsequent weeks, I applied to the top 8 universities in Australia.
3 weeks before landing in Australia, I had meetings with 3 different professors from 3 different universities finalised.
1 week after landing, I had a PhD offer from The University of Melbourne (top ranked university in Australia).
In this post, I’m going to share with you the exact strategy I used, and you should use, to beat the competition and get an offer for PhD or MPhil in Australia… or from pretty much anywhere in the world.
Why You Should Apply For PhD or MPhil In Australia
Let’s be honest, Australia is an awesome place to study and live. You can be doing your research in Marine Biology in the Great Barrier Reef, or in Urban Planning in Melbourne (most liveable city in the world for 7 years straight, and also the happiest city in the world).
If that’s not a good enough reason to convince you, then here are my 3 favourite ones:
1) You Make Money
Unlike in Bachelors or Masters-by-coursework in which you pay anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 per year to university, in PhD (or even in MPhil in most universities) you are paid to do research. This stipend in Australia is usually between $2500-$3000 per month, but it varies depending on your program.
On top of it, you are allowed to work for 20 hours per week on a student visa. This means you make somewhere around $4000-$5000 per month. That’s what most people make in full-time jobs… and they don’t even get a degree after 3 years.
2) You Can Get PhD Offer Even If You Haven’t Done Masters
In Australia, you can get a PhD offer on your Bachelors degree. The only condition is that it’s a 4-year program, with the first year focused on MPhil.
3) You Become An Australian Permanent Resident (PR)
Once you finish your degree, you’ve already accumulated enough points to apply and get your PR at your doorstep (ok, it’s more like in your inbox rather than doorstep).
The Uncommon Way To Get A PhD or MPhil Offer
Number 1 mistake that people make when applying for Research (that includes PhD and MPhil) is that they apply directly to a university they are interested in. They use university’s portal to submit their research proposal and let it forward your proposal to the relevant professors in the department.
You are not going to do that.
I have been involved in universities’ ecosystems for 8 years. Together with my Professor, I even hired 4 PhDs as part of our team between 2014-2017, when I was researching at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
The game works differently at the backend.
Firstly, professors do not go through all the applications sent via the university’s portal.
These applications sent via the portal are generic in nature, and they are forwarded to multiple professors.
No one has time to consider generic applications. Each professor receives enough specific, targeted emails from the prospective students, that he/she doesn’t have to waste time reviewing generic applications.
Secondly, professors do not hire researchers based on their GPAs or degrees.
They hire researchers who can demonstrate that they understand the research professor is specifically working on, and can show they can contribute towards it.
What you should know is that each professor gets funding that he has to spend every year on his research project. He is eagerly looking forward to hiring PhDs and researchers who can advance his research. The professor is in this game for his own benefit. He is not doing you a favour by hiring you. Instead, he wants to hire you to make contributions towards his field of research, so he can improve his standing in the university and research community, and keep getting funding for future.
If you can demonstrate to him that you understand his research project, and you are capable of contributing towards it, he wants to hire you.
Note here: You will still have to go through the formal application process through university, but that stage would be a mere formality if there is a professor in the university who has discussed a research proposal with you, and willing to hire you.
This brings me to the most important aspect of this post: How do you get in touch with a professor with the aim of getting an offer?
Step-By-Step Process to Get in Touch With Professors
This strategy takes some effort up front, but it certainly gets you responses from at least a few professors. In my case, it was from 3 professors out of the 8 I emailed.
The overarching theme of everything I write on AustraliaYours is to work like a Top Performer, not an average person. Top Performers strategize, put some effort up front, and get 5-10X better results than everyone else.
For more examples, you can read:
Also, there are 2 ways to get a PhD or an MPhil offer. One, you develop your own research proposal and try to get funding for that. Two, you align yourself with a specific professor’s research project, showing to him that you are a valuable asset. This strategy is for the latter.
Let’s dive in to your step-by-step process.
Step 1: Your Field
If you tell me that you are very interested in Urban Planning or Artificial Intelligence, I will ask you to show me what you’ve studied or done in this field before.
You will have to show me at least one of these (if more than one, even better):
- Your Masters research project in the field you are interested in
- Your Bachelors final year research project in the field you are interested in
- Your Job experience as a researcher in your field
- Your blog, a chapter in a book that you’ve written, or any publications in the field you are interested in
There has to be something that will act as your anchor in your email to professors. Your interest alone is not sufficient to get you a response.
But don’t think that your future research has to be bounded by your past experience. Your past experience is necessary to show your credibility in your field. Once you get a meeting with the professor, you can swiftly align yourself with his research project.
Step 2: Your Hunt
Once you’ve streamlined your field, it’s time to get on Google.
Search each university’s website to find out professors who are working in the field related to your field.
You will usually find 1-3 professors in each university who are relevant to your field.
For each of them, open their profiles and see what are their 5 recent publications. Reading the executive summaries of these publications will help you further narrow down who is the most relevant professor for you.
Next, read the last section of these recent publications. This is where the authors have usually mentioned whether or not they are continuing with this research further. And if they are, what is the research problem they are contemplating on.
For some professors, you can find out what they are currently working on, or plan to work on in the future, by just visiting their web profiles.
Through this process (which will take you 1-2 weeks), you will be able to shortlist at least one professor in each university, and his exact research project which is most related to your field.
Step 3: Your Email
Next you will craft an email, using the template below, tailored for each professor.
After the template, I’ve provided my sample email to demonstrate how a completed email should look like.
Dear Professor [Surname],
I am [first name], currently working as a [designation/role], at the [workplace/university]. Before that, I graduated from the [university].
For the past XX years, I have been [2 lines about your work/research at workplace/university].
My work received [1 line to tell any awards/acclaim/recognition your work/research received].
I have read about some of the research you are conducting at your [professor’s department name], and I would like to discuss more about it.
Some of the aspects your research talks about are [“mention exact things that you shortlisted from your research in step 2”] and [“mention some more”].
I have substantial experience and understanding of [mention how your field/experience is similar].
I would be ecstatic if I can meet with you to understand more about your research on [XYZ topic], and explore if there is any way I can contribute towards it.
(I would be ecstatic to discuss more about your research on [XYZ topic] via call or email, and explore how I can contribute towards it. Use this if you are not in, or can’t travel to, Australia).
I’ve also attached my CV for your consideration.
Thank you so much in advance for your valuable time.
BTW, if you require one-on-one personalised help revamping your academic or professional CV, email me at [email protected]
Dear Professor Simon,
I am Waqas, currently working as a Research Engineer Future Mobility, at the Centre for Innovative Cities, Singapore University of Technology and Design. Before that, I graduated from National University of Singapore.
For the past 3 years, I have been a lead researcher working with Singapore Ministry of Transport on a major piece of national work – examining the Future of Transport out to 2040 and its implications for policy and investment.
My work was recently published and garnered huge interest from stakeholders and media.
I have read about your Planning and Transport in City Regions Research at your Centre for Urban Research, University of XYZ, and I would like to discuss more about it.
Some of the aspects your research talks about are “to understand processes of urban development and patterns of mobility at the metro-regional scale, and the policy measures needed to improve the productivity, livability and sustainability of city-regions” and “looks toward experience elsewhere in metropolitan scale land-use and transport planning”.
I have substantial experience and understanding of Singapore’s approach on urban development, especially when it comes to transport planning. And with 6 million population megacity, Singapore can be a useful case study for Melbourne and Sydney.
I would be ecstatic if I can meet with you to understand more about your research on Future Cities, and explore how I can contribute towards it.
I’ve also attached my CV for your consideration.
Thank you so much in advance for your valuable time.
There are 3 powerful psychological triggers embedded in this email.
- It demonstrates to the professor that this person has taken a long time to actually understand his work. 90% of the people don’t do it.
- You are not asking for an offer up front. Instead, you are asking for a meeting to discuss the research further. Professors love to talk about their work.
- You are positioning yourself as a knowledgeable person in your field, rather than a scavenger willing to pounce on every opportunity.
You can change the template as per your requirements, but do not ignore these psychological triggers, or your response rate will take a huge dip.
Step 4: Your Meeting / E-meeting
For all the professors you are able to secure an opportunity for further discussion, it’s your responsibility to read everything about him and his current research.
In your discussion, follow these few principles to discuss a PhD or an MPhil opportunity:
In the first part, discuss what your past experience or research has been, and what are the skills that you’ve developed throughout the years.
In the second part, demonstrate to the professor that you’ve thoroughly read his research by asking him some thoughtful questions about his research project.
For example, “I read your research on the driverless cars technology. I have also read other research in this field and found yours to be one of the most holistic. I’m curious that have you considered the fact that even if the technology is there, people might not adopt driverless cars because they generally prefer driving themselves?”
In the last part, suggest how you can contribute as a researcher towards this specific topic, and ask if there are any PhD or MPhil positions he is considering within the next 3-6 months.
This entire process has proven to work wonders. And you can see how it differentiates you as a candidate from the other 99% of the people who are sending in generic applications.
Ask yourself this: If you are a professor, would you want to work with a student who puts in so much effort up front, or would you bang your head against hundreds of generic applications?
Feel free to be creative with any step in the process, but follow all the steps to really make sure you ace it.
And once you get a PhD or an MPhil offer, don’t forget to share your story with me at [email protected]
I love listening to stories 😃
Also, if there are any experiences of yours that you think will help the community, get in touch with me as well. I’m always looking for smart material for South Asian community in Australia.
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CALL TO ACTION
In this FREE Ultimate Guide To Australian PR, I’ve detailed Step-by-Step process in easy words that you can use to apply your Australian PR yourself and save $2000+