References For Your PhD Application

Do not underestimate the power your academic references hold – they are one of the most important parts of the entire application, and can prove to be key in making your PhD application successful.

Within your chosen subject area, staff from all over the world are thrown together at conferences, meaning there's a good chance at least some people in your department will know of a prospective project supervisor.

A well-written reference can emphasise your skills and abilities, as well as make up for any weaknesses in an average academic profile.

Therefore, it's extremely important that you choose the right people, ask them politely if they would mind giving you a reference, and make sure they have plenty of time to do you justice.

It's best to try and pick members of staff who have taught you, have read and marked work you have produced, and know you quite well as a person.

It also helps if they have strong connections with your chosen topic and if they are well-known in the field.

However, finding all these factors in potentially up to 3 different people is unfortunately quite unlikely.

Help your referees as much as possible by always offering them samples of your best work and a copy of your personal statement.

You should also try to pay a visit in person so you can have a face-to-face discussion about your goals and reasons for wanting to undertake doctoral study.

The better the picture you can provide of yourself, and more they can write about you and your good qualities!

If you are currently studying a Masters programme and you haven't had much contact with staff so far, you may have to spend a bit more and effort on finding suitable referees.

Normally you will find there is someone in the department who is assigned the task of writing references (usually the course director) if you fail to find any suitable members of staff.

However, you should also consider asking personal tutors, subject tutors, staff who teach in your subject area, or any undergraduate tutors who have taught you in the past.

As long as you give yourself plenty of time, finding referees shouldn't be too much of a problem - staff will usually empathise with those who have just started a Masters and are trying to secure a good reference for their doctoral studies.

Choosing a good referee that will provide you with an excellent reference allows a selection panel to see that you are hard working, committed, and have shown significant interest in the subject area.

Again, pick your referees carefully, as they can usually make or break a PhD application.

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying for a PhD, please see: