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Masters Discussion Forum

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This Category:   PostgraduateForum.com > PhD Applications


2 years of failed interviews

User: Saikou - 13 May 2017 01:50

Here's my story.

After I finished a BSc, I managed to get on an MSc pretty quickly. While I did a literature review as my dissertation for the BSc, I managed to get a 12 week lab project for the MSc. The field I'm really interested in is Immunology, and since before my MSc finished, I have been applying for PhD positions all around the country and abroad for anything related to T cell Immunology.
However, the moment I achieved the MSc degree, everything started to slow down. I'd make a number of applications but only a small number of these ever went to an interview, and none of them went further than that. I'd ask for feedback and apart from the vague suggestion to "work on you interview technique", the most consistent feedback I received was along the lines of "There just happened to be someone else with more relevant experience".

This was the hole I found myself for two years. No matter who I got an interview with, there was always another candidate that had more experience there. I think part of this was because there was a general lack of positions. I recall one time being one of eight candidates for a single post. I've been trying to get out of this hole by applying for Technician positions at various institutions, but it was the same story, another candidate was being interviewed who had more experience in that field and would require less training. It felt as though there was a sand timer going down was becoming more and more irrelevant in the world of academic research, because for every month I spent not working was another month my competitors were.

User: Saikou - 13 May 2017 01:51

I tried to contact the institution I obtained the MSc at, though most of them couldn't help me as they were struggling to keep their departments open as it was. I did, however, manage to contact one supervisor who knew someone I could work with. His speciality was in Alternative Splice factors for Angeogenesis, so very different from what I was aiming for, but still in the general realm of molecular biology. I ended up assisting two of his PhD students with their projects for almost a year. While the first student was completely fine, the second one was much more difficult to work with. She was not a native English speaker, and had a lot of trouble expressing herself. She was a very competent scientist, really good at carrying out her procedures and had a great head for numbers, but she was not very good at stating what she intended and had no patience to explain herself, unhelpfully saying "just do what you think is best" Any time I asked for clarification. Even worse is she'd sometimes get words mixed up, important words like "millilitre" and "microlitre", or "thousand" and "hundred". She often reprimanded me for not understanding what she wanted, and complained to the supervisor that I was wasting reagents and unable to follow simple instructions. Since this was a voluntary position, my being in that lab was based solely on the supervisors good will, which was now eroded. I was dismissed with 5 seconds notice.

User: Saikou - 13 May 2017 01:51

The supervisor assured me that, since I did good work with the first student, that he would just use the reference he wrote for me while I was still helping them. But it's made me rather uncertain about what might happen is someone tried to call him for a discussion. What's worse about this is that with every PhD interview I went to since this almost a year's worth of lab assistance has told me that they don't really consider this to be "real research experience" since I was not doing my own investigation start to finish.
So, it's October 2016. I have had two solid years of attempting to get a PhD or a Technician post with no luck at all. If I don't get something before 2018, there's a chance I won't be able to get anything at all. Doing more Volunteer work didn't seem like a good idea after my last experience, it's too precarious and too easily dismissed as not "real research". So I was left with only one alternative. Go back to paid education, get an MRes.

The only MRes I could find that even had a tangential link to immunology was an MRes in Translational Cancer. I paid the entrance fee and was able to get a number of interviews for the various projects I'd put down as my choices. These interviews were less formal than the PhD ones, but there were a number of questions asked that made me think they questioned what I was doing here, such as "You already have an MSc, so why aren't you doing a PhD already?" This point was brought up each time, and I swear that these MRes interviews were probably the worst interview performance I've delivered since I started applying two years ago.

User: Saikou - 13 May 2017 01:52

Now it's April 2017, and somehow I've managed to get into the MRes. I'll be starting the course this September at the age of 27.
It feels good that I've got something, but I can't help but feel I'm not quite there yet. The MRes will give me the ability to work on two six month projects, but there's still a nagging feeling that this will still not be enough when I apply for yet more PhD spots the following year. I'm also a bit concerned about my age. I've seen a number of programmes that state they won't consider candidates who will be in their thirties at the time of graduation, further limiting the options available to me.

However, I also think I'm somewhat locked into academia at this point. I've spent too much time persuing this that trying to go somewhere else without a PhD will actually count against me. Getting into publishing, for example, will be tough when I have literally no publishing experience and no other forms of work experience outside of the lab work I've done. And forget going into Teaching, I have enough friends who went down that path to know it's not a good choice.

I want to know how typical my story is, and how valid my concerns are. Whether you think this MRes will be the big chance I hope it will be to finally get into academia, if I should start doing something else now to get ahead, if there are other routes or career paths that I'm not seeing, or if this MRes will be the last thing I write on my academic C.V..

I've got 4-5 months before things start up. Any opinions, thoughts, or advice would be helpful.

User: TreeofLife - 15 May 2017 09:41

First of all, congrats on getting the MRes. I think this will help with getting a PhD, since after this you have a decent amount of research experience so that can't be used as an excuse at least.

It seems interview technique might be letting you down a bit - I would get training in this from your uni career's service and practice informally with supervisors and colleagues.

Go to conferences and see if you can get a publication during your MRes - that will really help in applying for PhD positions.

Make sure you have a good relationship with your MRes supervisor and evaluate this as you go through - you need an excellent reference this time.

Most age restrictions are being withdrawn as they are unfair barriers so I wouldn't worry too much about this.

User: cloudofash - 16 May 2017 19:57

I have never seen any age restriction like you mention. I have managed to get 5 or 6 offers for a PhD after I have already turned 30 (bit over actually). So dont worry about that.

Like Tree, I believe that MRes will help you. Good luck and dont give up just yet.

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