PhD – How to start the journey (or Where)?

A friend was asking me a very simple question the other day, roughly translated – “I decided to do a PhD in Law, but I’m not sure ‘where’ should I do it? Any suggestion?

By ‘where’ here, I think she meant which university should she be enrolled in. Should it be locally or abroad would usually be a related debate when someone in Malaysia decided to embark on his/her Phd endeavour. Well, at least that was what I thought before I started applying for a scholarship and a place in Australia. And I thought wrong! It was never about ‘where’ first, it was always supposed to be about ‘what’ initially. Before one decided to start looking for a supervisor and place to do a PhD, one must be at least 60%-70% sure the study scope one wanted to focus his/her PhD on. I said 60%-70% because there’s a very high chance that, the study scope might change or vary throughout your PhD. Although, some sponsors might try to limit that change, by giving very specific scope for their scholars, still, the end product may be slightly different.

Anyway, when that part is sorted – the what – one can now move on to the ‘where’ part. These are my suggestions, especially for a PhD in law:

1) If you have the opportunity and have no reservations/restrictions – apply to do it abroad, definitely. Not to say that overseas universities are far better than local ones, (well there’s another debate on that), but for me, it’s the experience that you are trying to garner there. It may not be the best of experiences, but still, these experiences are actually once in a lifetime kind of opportunity. So if you can beg & pray, aim high – aim abroad. And if your study scope allows it, don’t restrict yourself to the Commonwealth Countries, check out EU countries like Denmark, and also the USA, of course.

2) Always go for the supervisor with similar research interest with your planned study, especially interested ones – the ones that show ‘some’ enthusiasm in replying to your emails and phone calls; or if possible agreed to personal meetings with you. If they show no interest early on, I doubt they are going to be interested later. That said, these experts may not reply the first time because they are very busy, so try again, and instead of just sending them of ‘hi and how are you’ kind of email, be professional and express your interest to be supervised by them and attach an initial summary of your proposal.

3) If any of those experts reply, sometimes they will try to test you with all sorts of questions. Beware and be careful of how you express yourself. Do not be overly defensive. Sometimes this is the only way they can evaluate whether you are worthy of a place under them.

4) Remember that getting a place abroad involved a lot of hard work, bureaucracies and money, so don’t give up or be frustrated by it. Consider this an early test of your PhD endurance later on.

All that said, the above suggestions apply even if you were to do it locally. So what are waiting for, let’s do a PhD and crack your mind! 😉

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