How do I get research experience for a PhD?

Are you considering pursuing your academic path with a PhD? That is a very good option. However, doctoral programs are highly competitive and the admission committee looks for the best candidates.

In this post we are going to answer the question ‘’How do I get research experience for a PhD?’’ We will present the fundamental requirements to be selected in the PhD program and we will discover if it is completely necessary to have previous experience to be admitted.

How do I get research experience for a PhD?

  • First, decide your broad area of research.
  • Volunteer on faculty member projects.
  • Carry out your own research project.
  • Publish scientific articles.

PhD is the doctoral degree in the United States and Canada. The acronym PhD comes from the Latin Philosophiae Doctor, literally “doctor of philosophy”, which is a misleading name because doctors are not necessarily philosophers, but the title is awarded in all traditional academic disciplines of natural sciences, social sciences and humanities.

PhD programs are aimed at preparing for research in the field of study, and therefore the majority of PhD graduates work in academia or in research centers. In some cases, PhD graduates, especially in areas related to science or economics and finance, also establish professional careers in the private or government sector.

Obtaining a PhD requires a significant amount of effort and time. The degree requires a minimum of five years, although the exact number varies; some people finish in 4 years and others take up to 6 or more, depending on the discipline, research topic, and student abilities.

In general, the first two or three years of the doctorate are dedicated to studying courses and the last three or five years are dedicated to writing a thesis, that is, an independent research project of publishable quality in the specialty area.

Given this long duration, most PhD programs provide full or partial funding for the cost of studies (generally about $ 20,000 per year), through scholarships and research and teaching assistance opportunities.

There are universities for all kinds of profiles, and there are more and more programs in specific areas (for example doctorates in public policy, international relations or business management, etc.) in addition to doctorates in traditional academic disciplines such as economics or history.

Being admitted to a prestigious PhD program is a complex and difficult process and requires taking exams, writing essays, and obtaining and submitting letters of recommendation from professors in the field of study.

Prepare your academic record to apply to the PhD program

The first thing PhD programs will ask you for is your academic record. Enter other things, you should contact your old universities where you have studied (including foreign universities if you have studied for some time abroad) so that they can send you copies and originals of your records.

Without a brilliant academic record, that is, without having A’s in your undergraduate degree, it is difficult to convince a selection committee of a prestigious program that you will be able to be at the forefront of research in that field.

In any case, the following considerations must be taken into account in relation to this point:


A brilliant record in a Master’s program in the field of interest can sometimes make up for a weak academic record in the degree

The selection committee will not ignore the bachelor’s grades, but will take into account the fact that an improvement has occurred. In the same way, the committee will also take into account if there has been a tendency to improve grades in the last years of the degree in relation to the first years.

If this is the case, it is always important to indicate it in the statement of purpose essay so that the selection committee can identify that trend.

If you have an undergraduate degree with a good record, doing a Master is unnecessary.


Recommendation and coaching letters from your mentors

PhD programs usually ask for three letters of reference, being one of the important points of your application. Selection committees seek letters of recommendation from professors who are well acquainted with the applicant’s skills in career courses and research projects.

This means that during the degree or master it is ideal to establish a good relationship with two or three professors in the field that you plan to study.

If you haven’t developed close relationships with professors in the area you plan to pursue a Ph.D., the best way to do so is to volunteer to be their research assistant.

Prepare your curriculum and highlight your research work experience

Resumes for a PhD are very different from those for looking for a job. In general, they shouldn’t take up more than one page.

It is your cover letter and will most likely be the first page of your application that they read, which will make them read the rest of your application with or without interest. It is important to work on the format and its content.

Unless the PhD program you are seeking is one with a very theoretical focus, in most areas of applied research, have 1-3 years of work experience, especially work experience working for a professor or in a training center is highly recommended.

These types of experiences help demonstrate to a committee that you have advanced research skills and that you know the literature.

Although it is possible to be admitted to a PhD program directly after the degree, (especially if you have very strong points in everything else), having relevant research work experience is always a favorable point and increases the chances of being admitted.

Do I Need Research Experience for A PhD?

More studies and fewer armchair thinking are involved in a PhD. Book learning is merely a research aspect. Additional research experience is related to innovation and how it thus assists in theoretical implementation.

Unfortunately, many PhD candidates also assume that mere reading and grades will substitute experience for experience. In fact, it is also recommended that one wait around a year before starting with their PhD applications and have to completely commit to research for about 3-5 years.

You can try to get a taste of the life of a PhD student during this time by taking up a research job/ working in a laboratory and consulting with others who have already had experience in the field, introspecting and knowing how happy you are in it or whether you would prefer an alternate career direction that would still be personally satisfying.

So, how do I get research experience for a PhD?

In order to immerse yourself in a laboratory/project and to demonstrate your dedication and motivation for science, it is crucial that you seek research opportunities during the school years and summers (that provide full-time experience).

A very significant part of your grad school application is the letters of recommendation from your research supervisors.

  • Make the most of summer to cultivate experiences.
  • During the summer, participating in research programs during your undergraduate degree can be useful; you can do them in the institution where you study other institutions.
  • Identify many summer programs and apply to them. This will give you a glimpse of the graduate school selection process.
  • During the preceding winter/spring, complete and apply the college applications.
  • Become totally involved in the research studies you are working on.
  • A conversation about graduate school and its knowledge with advanced students and faculty counselors.

What about the publications? Do you need publications to apply for a PhD?

Don’t worry, publications are not needed. The committee of recruitment needs to see that you have the ability to become an exceptional scholar.  Although one sign of this is publications, they are not the only way to demonstrate that you have good research skills.

The research aptitude is often demonstrated by speaking at undergraduate seminars, working in labs, winning research honors, or doing an industry internship. In the same way, the letters of recommendation may refer to your capacity for excellence in research or suggest whether the research you are engaged in could ultimately lead to a paper.

Think of it as a good incentive rather than a need-to-have if you are interested in research as an undergraduate or Master’s student that contributes to a publication.

Five Ways to Get Research Experience

The American Psychological Association has outlined 5 great ways to get research experiences. Here we present them:

1. You can get in touch with a member of the faculty who is carrying out a research project and volunteer and collaborate in their work.

2. You can also complete a research program for students; the process is basically the following:

You choose a professor that you are interested in working with and they complete a learning contract, followed by this, they work for a certain minimum number of hours with the sponsor for an entire semester.

3. For academic credit, carry on and independent study. Under the instruction of a college professor, this includes individual study and testing and is typically restricted to junior and senior psychology majors.

4. Get experience as a volunteer in an institution outside of your campus, it can be in a hospital, in a research institute or in a community organization. Many researchers recruit students for activities such as data collection and statistical analysis.

5. In either a departmental or a university-wide honors program, complete an honors thesis. Many schools encourage motivated students to finish an honors thesis, an original analysis that the student establishes, performs, analyzes, and has some expectation of presenting or even publishing at a local event.

What if I don’t have research experience?

With attractive remuneration, PhD scholars get ideal work. Due to greater participation in working on research ventures, it certainly enhances a lot of your knowledge. It’s certainly possible to get into a PhD program without research experience. Experience is not as essential as one’s own knowledge.

Experience is a simple certificate containing proof of your time of study. If you study a lot and are in contact with the daily practice of the method of conducting research, you might even be able to pass a research PhD on admission to operations research.

The experience certificate as well as the expertise and skills in the workplace are not needed for your university resume.

So if you have already finished your undergraduate degree and did not manage to obtain research experience, do not worry, build a good letter of purpose, good recommendations and of course, good marks on your entrance exam.

Otherwise, if you still have opportunities to gain experience, you know how! It will be useful not only at the time of selection, but also to familiarize yourself with the research and facilitate the path during your doctorate.

FAQS: How do I get research experience for a PhD?

How can I get a PhD without research experience?

Try to stand out with good letters of recommendation and a good grade on the admission test.

Do you need research experience for PhD?

You need to prove your passion for research in order to impress admission committees. It is easier to work as a research assistant in this situation and gain sufficient experience.

How do you get research experience for a PhD in psychology?

Ask professors from your undergraduate psychology courses whether they need research assistants or want to take on independent students in order to pursue research opportunities.

How do I get research experience?

  • Check out various science department websites at your university. 
  • Investigate summer programs.
  • Check out study abroad and internship programs.
  • Volunteer on research projects.

Can you get a PhD without a thesis?

Yes, several institutions offer one-year doctoral programs where you do not have to submit a thesis. Similarly, some programs offer the opportunity to replace the thesis with numerous scientific publications.

In this post we answered the question ‘’How do I get research experience for a PhD?’’ We presented the fundamental requirements to be selected in the PhD program and discovered if it is completely necessary to have previous experience to be admitted.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!