A PhD is the ideal route for anyone hoping to pursue an academic career, who is hard-working, self-motivated and passionate about research. It is usually a three-year, full-time, postgraduate degree in which you work on a specific topic to produce an original piece of research. At the end, you get to update all your contact details to ‘Dr’, although you will probably be too exhausted to do that for a few months! Sounds great, right?
Many people view a PhD as the next step up from a master’s degree. However, you do not actually have to do a master’s to get onto a PhD (at least, this is often true in the sciences). You might have sufficient research experience, perhaps from a year in industry or summer work. On the other hand, the right master’s will give you a more specialised knowledge-base and skillset for your area of research, which could be especially important if you are making a departure from your bachelor’s subject or moving into a more interdisciplinary area. The best-case scenario is a funded ‘1+3’ PhD scholarship in which the master’s year is included as part of the scholarship and will well-equip you for your PhD. Fortunately, this is what I am doing now!
“The best-case scenario is a funded ‘1+3’ PhD scholarship in which the master’s year is included as part of the scholarship and will well-equip you for your PhD.”
I knew I wanted to focus on the interplay of nature and nurture on the development of mental illness but, having come from a psychology background, I had not really considered taking a genetic approach. The MSc here at the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre (SGDP) in Genes, Environment and Development in Psychology and Psychiatry (GEDpp; be prepared for a life of acronyms if you enter academia), has students from a range of backgrounds including animal behaviour, biomedical sciences and psychology. The course covers topics of molecular, behavioural and statistical genetics, as well as psychology and psychiatry, in the context of each other. We have lectures, seminars, lab and computer-based practical sessions, and get to discuss the most recent findings with world-leading experts (i.e. those who made them!). The varying backgrounds of members of the GEDpp also means that we have different strengths that allow us to support one another with the interdisciplinary material of the course.
A great benefit of doing a master’s as part of a 1+3 is that you know what your PhD topic will be and therefore you can focus on the elements of the course most relevant to you. You can also work on a related research question for your MSc dissertation with your PhD supervisor, such that you will already be familiar with the literature when you officially start the PhD. The studentships for 1+3 courses are competitive, but I thoroughly recommend applying if you are hoping to do an interdisciplinary PhD. I am only part way through the GEDpp and have already learnt a huge amount, making me much more confident about the next step. I still will not be an expert, but that would somewhat negate the point of the PhD!