Finding a perfect PhD is somewhat like dating: there is no such thing as a soulmate-PhD, but some are still better than others; the number of options seems overwhelming at first, but most of them crumble once inspected carefully; and, of course, once committed, the choice will significantly influence the rest of your life. To make it even more challenging, the soulmate-PhD problem is also expected to be dealt with at the most vulnerable point in the lifetime of a student—as if by Murphy’s law, the deadlines usually land somewhere between the final in the sequence of many exams and the Masters thesis defense. Under such conditions, even the most genuinely motivated students might be at risk of falling into the trap of uncertainty and marrying a PhD that does not fully capture their interests and expectations.
This blogpost is meant to serve as a roadmap to your perfect PhD. It will push you to reflect on your intentions and research interests, introduce a simple framework for tracking your progress, suggest several common search engines for PhD vacancies, and walk you through the general process of writing applications and preparing for interviews. It is mostly comprised of personal experiences and insights, with occasional references to useful tools and resources. Importantly, the process described here primarily applies to graduate schools and PhD positions in (Western) Europe and in life/social sciences (primarily cognitive science and neurosciences); while steps 0–4 should be widely relevant, steps 4–8 might diverge for PhD applications in other academic systems or fields.
How research has changed through the pandemic
Let’s talk about the movement towards connected and open science that has happened and is still happening right now due to the pandemic that the corona virus brought upon us. You may have noticed as well that research has started to stretch its boundaries remarkably in the presence of the virus. Facing death, the fear of losing people close to your heart and the threat of our very own existential foundations has turned not only our personal but the economic and scientific world upside down.
The field of psychology has been profoundly impacted by the replication and reproducibility crises – which unearthed many issues in the way psychological science is conducted (if you are unfamiliar or want to refresh your knowledge, Galetzka, 2019, offers a short summary).
As a reaction to these issues, many initiatives across the world are now trying to implement changes in our research culture – changes that are usually referred to under the umbrella term “Open Science”.
One of the fundamental characteristics is that many of these initiatives are lead by young researchers eager to do the best research they can. These are mostly PhD students or PostDocs, but under-/graduate students often lead, too.
We at JEPS share these convictions as well and try to promote Open Science principles, for instance by offering Registered Reports or informing students through our JEPS Ambassadors.
But more importantly, we are glad to be joined by other students’ initiatives with the same goals – which we would like to present to you in our ongoing series “Open Science Bottom Up”. Last time, we presented you OSIP and their work they do across Germany – check out our interview.
Now, we got together with Myrthe Veenman, Karoline Huth, Lea Schuhmacher, and Maike Dahrendorf from the University of Amsterdam.
The four founded SIOS, the Student Initiative for Open Science – as they describe it: a home for “students with a passion for Open Science”.
Photo by courtesy of Dr. Hu
Open Science practices are becoming increasingly common and we at the Journal of European Psychology Students, are committed to Open Science practices and to promote researchers engaging in them.
Today, we have the privilege of interviewing one of these researchers. Dr. Chuan-Peng Hu is a postdoctoral researcher at the German Resilience Center (Deutsches Resilienz Zentrum, DRZ) in Mainz and an Assistant Director at the Psychological Science Accelerator (PSA). After studying Law and Psychology at University, he completed a Master’s programme in Social Psychology in Wuhan, China. In 2007, he completed his PhD in Beijing before moving to Germany. His research investigates the consolidation of positive memories, which may play a role in the resilience to stress.
The replication crisis has spread all across the scientific community. In the field of psychology, scientists were not able to replicate more than half of previous findings (Open Science Collaboration, 2015). For a long time this problem went unnoticed, but a critical moment occurred when Daryl Bem published his now infamous paper on humans’ ability to quite literally predict the future (Bem, 2011). Many readers doubted his findings as there was no logical basis for the ability to predict the future and years later Daniel Engber summarized it nicely when he wrote:
“(…) the paper posed a very difficult dilemma. It was both methodologically sound and logically insane. (…). If you bought into those results, you’d be admitting that much of what you understood about the universe was wrong. If you rejected them, you’d be admitting something almost as momentous: that the standard methods of psychology cannot be trusted, and that much of what gets published in the field—and thus, much of what we think we understand about the mind—could be total bunk.“ (Engber, 2017)
Your semester has ended and you are already bored by how much time the holidays freed up?
Do you want to dive deeper into issues around psychological science, but did not know where to start?
For the next weeks, we are going to be sharing our JEPS editors’ recommendations for your summer readings & listenings on different psychological topics. These will include all sorts of media, from newspaper articles or podcasts to journal articles we thought you should definitely read.
For us Editors of JEPS, one of the most important topics in current psychological science and beyond are the issues of replicability and reproducibility [for an introduction, see Galetzka, 2019], as well as possible paths to solutions.
The keyword here is Open Science, an umbrella term for activities which strive to make science more transparent, openly accessible, and reproducible, in an effort to increase our confidence in the results we read in the body of scientific literature.
While many Open Science initiatives are led by more senior researchers, the movement is fundamentally driven by bottom-up initiatives of early-career researchers, but students as well.
For this interview, we sat down and got together with one of these student-led initiatives: The PsyFaKo’s Open Science Initiative [OSIP, Open Science Initiative der PsyFaKo e.V., webpage in German], a working group in the German Convention of Student Councils of Psychology. They made headlines in the landscape of German psychology last year when they released a position paper on the Replication Crisis and Open Science, which had a considerable impact at German universities. Continue reading
Shiny is a powerful tool in R for you to show off your work to the world, without explaining all the complicated code behind your analysis. Because of its free and open-source development and deployment structure, sharing your methods or work online was never easier. For example, in our recent publication in the Journal of European Psychology Students my colleagues and me used Shiny to implement a network method in which we used the concept of network centrality to determine the most relevant articles in a research field. Because I believe there are a lot of benefits in sharing one’s methods, my hopes are that this blog post has the possibility to also inspire you to share your own work through Shiny. I will walk you though developing your own R Shiny application from scratch, tailoring it to your design choices, and publishing it online, in 7 easy steps. Continue reading
Being an undergrad is hard. With the days spent in lecture rooms and the nights devoted to catching up with essays and assignments, one wonders how is it even possible for undergrads to do any research – let alone publish it. While there is no expectation from undergrads to publish, a rough (and very anecdotal) approximation is that around 1 in 100 students publish during their undergraduate studies in either a peer-reviewed journal or other online outlets. (However, this highly depends on the field and publishing culture of the affiliated institution). There are also many benefits to publishing as undergrad; as illustrated by Griffith (2001), an early publication – regardless of the importance of the findings or prominence of the outlet – can increase student’s confidence and inspire a prolific academic career in the future. So how do these acclaimed one-in-a-hundred undergrads manage to publish amid challenges of the student life? Continue reading
Even though scientists are oftentimes lost in the ivory towers of their scientific work, academic research in any discipline – and especially psychology – is tightly connected to the society. It contributes to the improvement of the living conditions in the population. It supports the decision-making process of policy-makers with scientific evidence. And it is paid for by the tax-payers’ money. In an attempt to ensure that this natural relationship between science and society is always well-balanced, we make policies – governmental policies, international policies, institutional policies. The field at the interplay between science and policy-making – very intuitively coined ‘science policy’ – therefore concerns itself with topics such as the allocation of resources for scientific research, the careers of scientists, and the systems of efficient communication between scientists and policy-makers (Pielke, 2005). Continue reading