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.