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The John and Pat Hume doctoral awards scheme is open for applications - we asked a current candidate, a supervisor and a graduate to outline what is involved

 

A PhD programme is the final part of a trilogy of degrees that sends an academic into the top tier of research and opens up a wide array of professional opportunities worldwide. But winning a place and getting funded is by no means an easy feat.

Maynooth University is one of the go-to destinations for PhD students in the country, courtesy of the John and Pat Hume doctoral awards scheme, which enables up to 30 students per year to embark on a four-year full-time journey towards achieving their degree. It’s an academic standing which could transform their professional careers, and make them eligible for full lecturing and research roles in any university worldwide. Those considering a PhD can come from many different backgrounds such as recently finishing an undergraduate degree, an MA or MSc, or previously having completed one of those qualifications and returning to full-time education following professional experience.

Of course, education - most especially at this level - is an expensive business. The Hume scheme provides stipends, as well as paying for course fees and expenses, which makes the PhD journey possible for many students, in situations where it might otherwise be beyond their means.

In operation since 2005, 350 students have passed through the scheme across all disciplines at the university, which include arts, social sciences, science and engineering, and have gone on to full academic roles. 

The PhD candidate
Ciara Ryan, one of the latest entrants to the programme in 2017, is working with the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Unit (ICARUS) through the Hume scheme, and outlined how a prospective student can get their application noticed.

“Applicants are evaluated on the person as a candidate, through their previous academic and professional experience, and also through the research topic itself,” says Ryan. “My topic involves working with Met Éireann to develop daily rainfall and temperature networks for Ireland. I’m analysing long-term changes in the climate.

“The first step is to put together a draft proposal, which is clear and succinct and highlights why the research is important. The next key step is to go to a potential supervisor, and they’ll help you develop the research proposal further. Once you have done this you enter your personal details and research proposal online to start the discussion with the university.”

Ryan will graduate with a PhD in 2021 and with that qualification attained she hopes to focus on research in her future career. 

“I hope to continue in research at post-doctoral level and beyond,” says Ryan. “But there will also be opportunities to get teaching experience. Going forward I want to use my data research to influence understanding and policy relating to climate change.”

The academic supervisor
As all students and academics know, a dedicated, committed and experienced supervisor is essential to research. Maynooth was the first university in the country to offer a structured PhD – a model that has been adopted by other universities nationwide. This involves students taking on specialist and transferable skills modules that support their research and will aid them on their journey to becoming a well-rounded professional. 

Dr Conor Murphy, Maynooth University senior lecturer in geography and researcher with ICARUS, outlines that the prerequisites for a PhD student are diverse, but the foundation for consideration by Maynooth University is a previous achievement record that maps a candidate’s academic success.

“To be recognised as having the potential to do a PhD is about having a consistent record of high-level achievement in your undergraduate studies,” says Murphy. “And to be able to understand the literature and identify a research question, because that’s ultimately what a PhD is about. We look for candidates that have had high levels of past performance, are able to communicate their understanding well and also show the ability to climb the learning curves that are required for a PhD.”

Murphy echoes the sentiments of Ryan in stating that before an application is submitted, it’s vital to open discussions with a supervisor who is potentially the right person to guide the student on their four-year journey.

“In terms of applying for a PhD, it’s important to identify a potential supervisor early on, because the supervisor has an important role to play,” says Murphy. “It’s also important that you’re not shy about highlighting your accomplishments up to that point. 

“The other element is that you have a very clear research proposal laid out, in terms of why the research is important and what its relevance is. In terms of putting together an application for the Hume scheme it’s important to think of the message of the research you are applying for.”

The PhD graduate
Where can the Hume scheme take graduates in their professional career?
At least 350 PhD candidates have come through the Hume scheme, going on to take up various roles in the world of academia and beyond. One of those success stories is Dr Eleanor O’Leary, who in 2013 completed her studies on teenagers’ everyday life and popular culture in 1950s Ireland. She now holds a full-time position as an assistant lecturer in media and communications at the Institute of Technology Carlow. The PhD programme has propelled O’Leary not just into lecturing, but also into the world of teaching and further research.

“The PhD put me on a level where I was able to apply for jobs in Ireland and the UK and elsewhere,” says O’Leary. “I also got a professional certificate in teaching and learning for third level and that led to teaching experience and presenting papers at conferences. The PhD gave me the platform to teach at various institutions and also enabled me to do more research. The scholarship helped differentiate me from other candidates applying for the same jobs. I’ve also taught Irish studies topics abroad; I’ve been to Romania to teach on the only Irish Studies MA in Eastern Europe, lecturing in Irish film and culture.

“Then in the last 12 months I got a book deal from Bloomsbury International to publish my PhD, which will be on the market in 2018.

“None of this would have been possible without the Hume scheme.”


To learn more about - and also apply for - the John and Pat Hume Doctoral Awards Scholarship, visit www.maynoothuniversity.ie/postgrad 

The application deadline for the scheme is 1 May, 2017.

The awards are open to PhD applicants of any nationality who meet eligibility requirements.