There are many important questions that all students who wish to study for their PhD in general, and with me in particular, should answer before moving further along in the application process. Here are just a few especially important ones.
Are you the right PhD supervisor for me?
I welcome applications from prospective PhD students whose proposed research usually relates to any of the following areas: NGO development, activism, volunteerism, LGBT issues, sexuality, sexual and public health policy. As social policy is an interdisciplinary field, I draw primarily (but not exclusively) from work and literatures in political science, sociology, public health, and public policy.
I am also keen on students who are interested in doing methodologically diverse research, data collection and analysis that is qualitative and quantitative in nature. Those with creative approaches to answering interesting and important puzzles that have been previously ignored or misunderstood are also of particular interest to me.
What is the process of applying for PhD studies at the LSE?
Keep in mind that admission for doctoral studies at the LSE is very competitive, and applications for funding even more so. A strong application must include a well-thought-out PhD research proposal, including a focused and refined research question, and potential methods for data collection and analysis.
A good research proposal should be interesting, important, and do-able. There are research projects that change the field, and those that get done—choose a project that you can actually get done. With a more compressed timeframe than many PhD programs in North America, you need to convince the admissions committee that you are ready to 'hit the ground running' upon arriving at the LSE.
Is studying for a PhD really the right thing me?
PhD studies are not for the faint-hearted. They aren't even necessarily for the bold and the brave, either. Because it is often a rather lonely and frustrating process, with the rewards not always matching ones' expectations, studying for a PhD is not the best choice for most people. While I love my job, I'm always reminded of how difficult a process it was to get where I am—and that to some degree I got a bit lucky along the way. I strongly recommend that potential students think carefully about why they believe pursuing a PhD is truly right for them.
Think about your career goals: What do you want to do after finishing your doctorate? Is getting a PhD necessary to do it? There are many research jobs in the government and non-governmental sector where a masters might be advanced enough of a degree to get hired. And you might not be able to research as much in academia as you assume. If you want to be an academic (as most PhDs still do), are you willing to move anywhere you can find a permanent position?
Because of the nature of the academic job market—it is incredibly competitive, quite fickle, totally unpredictable, and sometimes unfair—you are unlikely to have much choice as to where you work and live. I always ask prospective PhD students to think of one of the least desirable places to live in their home country: Would you accept a position as an academic in that city or town if it were your only option?
Finally, have you been able to secure enough funding that will allow you to put nearly all your focus on PhD studies (and do field research when necessary) without having to live hand to mouth for four years? While I admire the sacrifice some students make to reach their goal of getting a PhD, I do not believe we should be contributing to a situation where a student lives in poverty to do so—especially knowing that a tenure-track/permanent job in a desirable place to live is not something we, or any institution, can promise our PhDs.
In thinking through your answers to these questions, take time and be very honest. You will thank yourself in the end.
more Advice for incoming and current Phd students
My brilliant colleague Dr Moqi Groen-Xu, assistant professor in the Department of Finance at the LSE, has written a fantastic blog post outlining some useful advice for making meetings with your PhD supervisor most effective. Please take a moment to read it on her website.
Current phd students
Jessica S.C. Ng, began PhD studies in 2016 (co-supervisor: Prof. David Lewis)
Research project: Surviving success: Organisational adaptation in post-success environments
Research interests: NGO development, activism, LGBT, public health
To learn more, visit Jessica's personal website.