Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!
The Red Queen, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There
Evolution – is a story not of the best, but the luckiest.
Miroslav Radman, french-croatian scientist, discoverer of SOS-response mechanism.
How to start
The earlier you will start to think about your PhD – the better chances you will have to obtain a good position. It took about year for me from beginning searching to successful application. Moreover, the best universities/institutes have early deadlines to select the best students. For instance, the call for the PPU program at Pasteur Institute starts a year before the PhD. And you should be prepared even before that!
There are two main ways to find position: by looking for PhD program announcement or by writing letters to group leaders. There are also other minor options but this are the most common. For me it is always better to know a person before. By the way, if the team leader is interested in you, sometimes he might help you during the application procedure. The e-mail should include your CV, motivation letter. In addition, you have to prepare 2-3 recommendation letters and your scores to be ready to send as additional files in 1-2 days.
Further, you can write into two ways. You can write one general letter and send it to group leaders changing only names. This way saves a lot of time but you are not able to write much special information to describe your motivation. Otherwise, you can write only several letters spending a lot of time on them but increasing chances for positive response. There is no perfect decision you should find your balance. I chose first way and I sent about 200 letters. The idea is to receive at least several positive answers to select the best one and to have a reserve for some case.
Most of the group leaders will not answer you. It does not mean that you shall stop after second try or wait for the response during the weeks! (One of the responses to me came after a month!). Even if you received the answer, most of them would be like this: thanks for your interest in our lab but unfortunately, we can`t hire you. It is okay too.
If the professor found your application interesting, he can ask you for skype interview. Do not be scared be relaxed and self-confident. Usually you have from several days to 1-2 weeks to prepare yourself. During this time, do not stop sending the letters! Read some articles before the interview; be ready to tell about yourself and your previous research. Do not tell a lie! At the end of an interview, you will have an opportunity to ask questions. Do not lose it. Ask about your future project, about salary – show your interest.
Also, you may be invited to the interview at the research Institution. I had an interview week at Pasteur Institute, which included four separate interviews with different scientists, one general talk of all students with the staff at the restaurant and presentation of Master research and possible PhD project.
Usual questions at the interview are about your Master research and future PhD project. So do not be fool, be prepared! They will ask you what you will do after the PhD. Be ready for tricky questions such as what the problems you had in your research and how did you solve them. Also possible questions about yourself from the interview from the administration. Be honest but show them that you are actually, what they need!
Each applicant had 10 minutes for the presentation and 10 minutes for answering the questions. It is important to show the results, but more important is how you show the results. Read some manuals about this.
Now cross your fingers and wait for the selection results.
Some important points
It is not obligate condition in continental Europe. In former British Empire countries, it is necessary in any case. Make sure to know about your university/assembly requirements. I did not pass neither of them.
Think about time management.
Application, university and health – choose two! Try to spend minimum time on passing modules from such subjects as cultural studies. Carefully choose your majority: in generous, it is a not big difference between biochemistry, molecular biology or genetics (everywhere) in studies, but it might be a big difference in the people there. Be motivated and do not be lazy.
Show your strong points.
It makes your application better if you tell something that makes you unique among thousands of your colleagues. Bioinformatics or programming skills? Great, without data analyzing nowadays you are useless in Science. Show that you started to work in a lab form the very beginning of your studying. For example, French students start work in a lab only since Master studies. While you have 2-3 years of experience more! Try to visit some summer schools, conferences etc.
What is the most important for successful application?
Everything is important: your grade scores, your previous research, your activities during the studies. Different people prefer different. Very important is the quality of your application. Nobody will read bad-written letter even with the Nature article as first author. Remember, everybody has a chance! Good luck in your career!