As undergraduate students we are constantly presented with career advice and the graduate job market has become relatively structured with internships and graduate recruitment schemes. You start preparing from your first year for certain careers, matching your skills to terms such as ‘commercial awareness’ and ‘communication skills’ and gaining those you still need for the applications.
At a first glance, postgraduate applications can seem somewhat different but just as you can spend your time increasing your communication skills, so you can use your years as an undergraduate to accumulate the experience you need for a postgraduate application. Indeed, even if you decide in the end the job market is the place for you now, these simple steps demonstrate that you have shown great intuition and independence – qualities which will certainly make you stand out!
1. Read around your subject, find what interests you
It shows more than you can believe if you are interested and passionate about your subject; this is what will keep you occupied for the next year or more! We all have our favourite parts of courses or subjects which fascinate us – have a browse of the library shelves and journals to see what takes your fancy and where you could make a new contribution.
2. Directed reading
Once you have found a topic that interests you, ask for reading directed by someone in the field to check you are on the right lines and covering the major issues or find an approachable PhD student (who you might even be taught by) and talk to them about their experiences and your ideas. Discussing these ideas is a really fruitful way of shaping a potential project and honing down ideas.
3. Attend a conference
Many university departments and faculties run postgraduate conferences, either within the university or beyond it. At undergraduate level there are also the British Conference for Undergraduate Research and the International Conference for Undergraduate Research. Attending an event like this shows you have motivation and giving a paper is an excellent way to demonstrate your skills.
4. Read a dissertation or thesis
There are thousands of free theses available through the British Library’s ETHOS and Masters dissertations are often available through repository sites such as WRAP. Again, this shows you have the initiative and can help you see how research is structured, making your application even stronger.
5. Research scholarship schemes
Many universities and organisations run research schemes which allow undergraduates to undertake research during the summer. This is a brilliant opportunity for you to try a small project and fantastic experience for the application.
The idea is that from all of this that both your research proposal and your personal statement will be really strong. They are also transferable experiences and show you have gone the extra mile to other employers in the future, and necessary if you want to apply for funding as a PhD candidate.