Interview with Shane McLoughlin - PhD Student at University of Chichester


Why I chose Chichester

I applied to study in Chichester. My prospective supervisor was delighted that I was showing serious interest and assured me that I would be free to travel home as long as I wasn’t teaching. Besides, flights were only £40, if I booked early enough. I did an interview via Skype. One of the last questions was “what will you do if you don’t get this scholarship?” and I replied “I’ll probably do that research anyway, but faster”. The interviewers laughed, and I knew I had it.

With a PhD, I believe that one of the most important things is that you and your supervisor are a match. Having met him in London a few months earlier, I’d already had a pint with my prospective boss. He was a great guy, but also a no-nonsense person when it came to research, which I liked. He was (and is) more diplomatic than I, so I could certainly learn from him as a person. He was encouraging and didn’t treat me like I was just another student, as some lecturers would, irrespective of the quality of a student’s work. His answer to everything is always “yes, go for it”; that is, he is willing to try new things and keep learning, himself. There’s nothing worse than a “researcher” who just wants their pre-conceived narrative parroted back at them. Well, perhaps with the exception of a researcher who doesn’t question fundamental assumptions of what they’re doing, that is.


Priory Park, Chichester

I already had access to all the facilities that I needed for my work, but nonetheless, there are great facilities in our department - I just don’t happen to need them. Coming to the University of Chichester allowed me the chance to gain teaching experience, which is important when it comes to getting a postdoctoral position. As part of the scholarship, I have the chance to do the Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching and become a fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Our department is also a small one, in a small university. That provides a certain amount of opportunity that you don’t get elsewhere. Helping to grow a department or contribute to courses is a rare opportunity in academia for a newbie like me.

Applying for scholarships

Don’t waste your time throwing together a CV and vague statement of interest. Get to know the person awarding it and discuss your chances informally. Meet them for a coffee and ask them what they’re really looking for. If they won’t give you that time and honesty, run away now, while you can. Don’t get discouraged when your tenth application is rejected. What’s for you won’t pass you. Be honest about what’s important to you in your application, so that the reviewers can tell whether your values are aligned with theirs; values are key to predicting future behaviour. Emphasise practical outcomes of your proposed project in your application; nobody these days wants theory for theory’s sake. Avoid jargon in written applications; reviewers won’t understand it. At interview, tell a story about who you are and why you care about the topic. That is, communicate that your application is part of a world-view of “this is important because”, “I’ve done this and learned that”, but “this is the logical next step in the career I want to have” because “this seems incorrect / needs expanding”. “It bothers me that this question has not yet been answered because”. Top tip: the answer to that last “because” is never simply “because it’s important”.

As a researcher, you will never have all the answers. It’s much more important to ask the right questions and do things for the right reasons. Convey that in your application and you’ll eventually get accepted to a great PhD program.

Lastly, you can do it! Work hard and you’ll eventually find yourself in the right place at the right time. You need to be determined, or a bit lucky.