Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

‘Demystifying the PhD application process’ webinars on the 9th and 12th December – sign up now!

Want to learn about what the NERC Panorama DTP is and how to apply to a PhD studentship? Looking for advice when choosing a project or preparing your application? Our FAQs are a handy guide for anyone interested in natural science or environmental research who may be considering further study.

DTP PhD funding explained:

What is a DTP?

  • A Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) is the new system the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is using to fund and train PhD students in environmental science. Our DTP is called Panorama. FindAPhD has a handy guide to NERC DTPs.
  • A DTP consists of academic departments and external partners from industry, commerce or research.
  • It differs from other PhD studentships such as centres for doctoral training (CDTs) or University scholarships in terms of funding specifics.

What funding is available?

  • NERC Panorama DTPs will provide students with a full PhD studentship. This consists of:
    • a personal stipend (tax-free allowance that you don’t have to pay back) at Research Council UK (RCUK) rates for 3.5 years
    • university fees
    • generous support for research costs, fieldwork, training and conference travel.
  • Depending on your background, you may be able to apply for additional funding from a charity or from a Government initiative to help support your cost of living. A growing list of these resources may be found on our Equality, Diversity & Inclusion page.

I’m disabled – is there funding for extra support during my PhD?

  • If you are disabled, you may be entitled to extra support during your DTP PhD via the UK Govt. Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA)
    • The DSA does not need to be paid back, and covers costs of ‘the study-related costs you have because of a mental health problem, long term illness or any other disability’ up to £25,575 a year (2022 to 2023 rate).
    • If you think you may be eligible for this, please read the guidance provided by the UK Government and then get in touch with us (k.moncrieff@leeds.ac.uk)
    • We can help you put in a claim to the DSA following the UKRI DSA Framework

Can you have a job alongside your PhD? 

  • With any PhD funding from the UKRI research councils, such as NERC, you cannot work full-time.
  • Also, expect a PhD to be like a full time (40 h/week) job, so you may be able to take up casual work (e.g. tutoring/lab demonstrating) but it may be challenging to work another part-time job alongside your studies. You should think about your schedule and it may be a good idea to discuss this with the project supervisor to get a better understanding of the workload. 
  • If you are doing any teaching/demonstrating alongside your studies this will be paid and can provide additional income. Hourly rates vary depending on which of the three DTP universities you attend, and on the specific tasks, but should be around £12-15/hour. Preparation hours are also paid.
  • Depending on your background, you may be able to apply for additional funding from a charity or from a Government initiative to help support your cost of living. A growing list of these resources may be found on our Equality, Diversity & Inclusion page.

Eligibility:

I am an EU/international candidate – can I apply?

  • Yes, we are able to offer up to 30% of our full scholarships to international candidates.
  • International applicants should have proof of English language available e.g. IELTS/TOEFL test certificates.

Am I a home/UK candidate or an international candidate?

  • To be classed as a home/UK student, candidates must meet the following criteria:
    • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
    • Have settled status, or
    • Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
    • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter the UK
  • More information on what this means can be found in the UKRI International Eligibility document.

What qualifications do you need to apply to a NERC Panorama DTP PhD? 

  • Minimum 2:1 Bachelors’ degree in a field linked to the PhD project. Note that we have recruited successful PhD candidates that changed fields completely. Quite often your skills are more important than specific knowledge that you have.
  • You can apply straight after a Bachelors’ degree, but you will need to show how you are competitive with those with a Masters: 
  • Draw on skills you have developed in situations other than your undergraduate project e.g. student work experience, programming etc.

Do you need to have research publications before starting a PhD? 

  • Not at all – this would definitely be a bonus, but it would also be quite unusual and is not expected of candidates

Finding the right PhD project:

How do you find a PhD? 

  • There is no right or wrong way to find a PhD, but what IS important is choosing the right one for you. All the current NERC Panorama DTPs projects are listed here, and if you’re interested in any of them you’re encouraged to email the academic supervisor for the particular project for more information. If you’re at all unsure about contacting the academic(s) directly, get in touch with our Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Dr. Katya Moncrieff (k.moncrieff@leeds.ac.uk), who can give you some pointers or act as an intermediary. For help on making your final decision and exploring your options, see the advice below. 
  • If you’re already an undergraduate/Masters’ student: 
    • make use of the careers services at your uni 
    • talk to your personal tutor for advice  
    • talk to your dissertation/summer project/Masters’ supervisor (particularly if you’re interested in turning your current project into a PhD) 
  • Websites can provide good advice as well as adverts for positions, such as:
  • Social media, e.g. Twitter/LinkedIn. Make an academic account and follow academics in your field, and (if you’re a current undergraduate/Masters’ student) your lecturers  
  • It may be helpful to talk to trusted friends and family, e.g. other students in your current cohort 
  • It can be useful to apply for work experience/summer internships in an academic group and talk to your supervisor(s) about potential projects. We offer paid Research Experience placements 
  • Get in touch with academics in the field you’re interested in to see if they have an opening for a PhD
  • Pro tip: speak to supervisors before you apply to their PhD positions. This is invaluable, as it helps you to get a feel for what the project entails and whether you and the potential supervisor/academic group would be a good fit for one another.

Can I apply for more than 1 DTP project?

  • No, you can only apply for 1 project within the DTP. Applicants who are interested in more than one project should contact the lead supervisors for further information about each project, so that they can then apply for their preferred choice (see more advice on choosing in the FAQs below).
  • We aim to recruit applicants based on their academic merit and interview performance. Following interview, strong candidates whose preferred project is no longer available will be offered an alternative, where possible.

How do you decide which PhD project is the right one for you? 

  • Consider factors beyond the project itself (good advice on this is also under the ‘What should you do before applying to a PhD project’ and ‘How do you find a PhD?’ questions in the FAQs) such as: 
  • If you can, try to visit the department to get a better feel for the:
    • Location (remember, the NERC Panorama DTP is spread across Leeds, York and Hull): do you like the host University/city? What would your commute look like? Can you see yourself living in one of these cities?
    • Department (again, the DTP is spread across several institutes within the universities): do you prefer a large, bustling department with many academics? Is the Department the best choice for the project field you’re interested in? 
    • Group: do you get on well with the other people in the academic group? 
  • Finances: how does the stipend compare with the cost of living in the area? 
  • Career prospects: are you going to develop the skills you want for your future career?
  • Think about the project too: Can you get excited about the topic and the project? Would you feel a sense of purpose/fulfilment from the project aims? Can you see yourself working on this topic for 3 to 4 years?

How different can the PhD project be to your Masters/previous research project (if you have one)? 

  • You can definitely apply to something directly linked to your Masters – the PhD could even be a ‘continuation’ of your Masters work – but it’s not at all essential 
  • To side-step field, emphasise the research and transferrable skills you gained from your project in the PhD application 
  • We have recruited successful PhD candidates that changed fields completely. Quite often your skills are more important than specific knowledge that you have.  

Applying for a Panorama DTP:

When do you apply for a PhD? 

  • NERC Panorama DTP project applications open from late October/early November (when they are listed on the Projects page). Other PhDs may have varying deadlines. 
  • Our application deadline: 4th January 2023  
  • More information can also be found on our How to Apply page and the other FAQs below.

What should you do before applying to a PhD project? 

  • Research the topic area to gauge your interest in the project: 
    • Maybe read a paper or two… 
    • Academics/groups often have their own websites 
    • Twitter/LinkedIn 
  • Think about whether the project is the right option for you for your next step. If you need people to talk to about this to help you decide, good options are: 
    • The project supervisor(s)/academic group 
    • Careers service 
    • Personal tutor 
    • Dissertation/Masters’ project supervisor 
    • Trusted friends and family 

Should I contact the PhD supervisor before applying? 

  • For NERC DTPs there is no formal requirement, but we strongly recommend it as it helps you to get a feel for what the project entails and whether you and the potential supervisor/academic group would be a good fit for one another. 
  • It also shows initiative and gives you the opportunity to ask any questions you might have. 
  • If you’re at all unsure about contacting the academic(s) directly, or would like some advice first, please get in touch with our Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Dr. Katya Moncrieff (k.moncrieff@leeds.ac.uk), who can give you some pointers or act as an intermediary

What is the best way to contact the project supervisor? 

  • Email is good, and you can use this to ask for a meeting/online call if you prefer 
  • Potential supervisors are generally happy to talk about the project and are happy to answer questions 
  • If you want some more advice on this, get in touch with our
  • Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Dr. Katya Moncrieff (k.moncrieff@leeds.ac.uk), who can give you some pointers or act as an intermediary

How quickly should I apply once the project is available? 

  • As long as you give yourself enough time to prepare your application before the NERC Panorama DTP deadline (4th January 2023) it doesn’t matter – no preference is given to earlier applications. 
  • We recommend starting the application before Christmas, as over this period many admin and academic staff are unavailable and can’t be contacted given the University closure days and annual leave. 
  • It’s a good idea to get started early if you can – it may take you longer than you think to write an academic CV or get the required references. 

What supporting documents do you need for the PhD application?  

  • Academic-style CV 
  • Personal statement/statement of motivation 
  • 2 references (either signed and attached to the application or emailed directly from the referee to nerdtp@leeds.ac.uk) 
  • Education certificates (e.g. degree certificate/transcript of degree) 
  • International students: successful applicants will need to provide an English language test certificate English language test (e.g. IELTS/TOEFL)

Is there an online component of the application? 

  • For the NERC Panorama DTP, yes! This is called the On-Line Study Application (OLA) should be submitted to Leeds via University Application for Research Degree Study 
  • Detailed information may be found in Step 2 of the How to Apply page, but essentially you submit a personal statement expressing your interest in the topic and why you’re interested in being a researcher.  
  • The OLA also includes: 
    • Academic-style CV, with High School grades 
    • Degree transcripts (including partial transcripts for current degree, if applicable) 
    • English language test results for international students 
    • Academic references

What should you include in the personal statement? 

  • Grades are great, but they’re for the CV – it’s important to demonstrate your passion for the subject in your personal statement and in the interview 
  • But, remember to keep it at around 500 words. 

What should you include on your CV? 

  • The most important section relates relevant research skills from previous experience and education. For the NERC Panorama DTP, we also ask that you include High School grades. 
  • Academic CVs are different to industry ones – they’re typically longer (approx. 2 x A4 pages) and are structured differently. Advice on academic CVs can be found on the University of Birmingham and Discover PhDs websites. 
  • Pro tip: having a summary of your academic experience so far that you can tailor to the PhD project you’re interested in can be helpful. 

How do you ask for academic references? 

  • If you’re an undergraduate/Masters student, consider asking a current project/dissertation supervisor or personal tutor to be your referee. 
  • Anybody who can comment on your qualifications and skills can provide a reference which includes current/past supervisors, tutors or managers. 
  • You can request a reference by email, and if you’d prefer to ask face-to-face, arrange a chat or a Zoom call to have a conversation about it. 
  • Remember to request references early, so that you have them in time for the application. The application process will provide contact information where to send the references. 

Panorama DTP Interviews:

What is the interview process like? 

  • To make the process fairer to applicants, and more inclusive than traditional interview formats, the NERC Panorama DTP conducts three short (15-20 min) interviews with a different pair of panellists in each. These focus on:
    • Academic skills e.g. subject knowledge, analytical thinking, scientific writing 
    • Soft skills e.g. project management, time management, communication/presentation  

How do you best prepare for the interviews? 

  • For the NERC Panorama DTP, we conduct three short (15-20 min) competency-based interviews focussing on both academic and soft/transferrable skills. 
  • To prepare answers in advance, it may be helpful to use the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result). See the National Careers Service page for a nice rundown of the STAR technique, and other similar sites for more information. 
  • Imagine that you are on the interview panel, think about what questions you would ask the candidate, and prepare answers to those, e.g. how does your research experience link to the PhD project etc.  
  • Use the internet to research common academic interview questions and prepare answers to those 
  • It can be helpful to chat through your thoughts with a friend/colleague beforehand, or write them down to ‘streamline’ them 
  • Pro tip: preparing answers can be very useful, especially if you’re nervous. However, you may not be able to prepare for everything – that’s completely natural – and sometimes answers can be too scripted, making it difficult for your natural character and passion for the project to come through, so there’s no need to overdo it. 

What sorts of questions can you ask the interviewers in interviews? 

  • About the structure of the interviews and decision making.  
  • Questions regarding the research environment and potentially the research field (as our panels are diverse from across the DTP, not everybody might have the necessary insight into the specific research field). 
  • About opportunities during the PhD e.g. conferences, training, laboratory exchanges, industry/CASE (industry-partnered) internships, teaching/demonstrating 
  • About the funding T&Cs e.g. stipend annual allowance, funding length, training/travel budget, maternity/paternity/sick leave policies etc.