Applying to do a PhD in Psychology at the OU – is it for me?

Ever thought about continuing your OU journey by doing a PhD? Not sure how to go about it? Here are some useful tips By Sarah Crafter and Simon Clarke


Students have many different reasons for wanting to do a PhD but figuring out the process for applying for doctoral studies is a bit of a minefield. This is partly because applying for doctoral studies is a very different process to applying for an undergraduate degree or a Masters degree.  

So where do you start?  

 

What qualifications and experience would need before applying 

We generally expect candidates to have some background in psychology or a related discipline, and many supervisors will normally expect candidates to have advanced research training (usually at Masters’ level, where the Masters programme has an independent research, or equivalent research experience). If you are applying for DTP funding (see below), you won’t need a Masters as this can be part of the training.   

 

An idea… and a research proposal 

The first thing you will need is a PhD research proposal. This is an outline of your proposed project. The research proposal is used by potential supervisors to assess if they have the right supervisory expertise to oversee your project. They will also use the proposal to assess the quality and originality of your ideas, your critical thinking skills and how feasible it will be to do the project in the time. You can find more advice on writing your proposal here. There is also lots of useful information on the Research Degrees webpage at the OU.  

 

Finding a supervisor 

Just as importantly, you need to have a supervisory team made up of two supervisors. Your supervisory team will consider whether they have the right expertise to guide you through your topic and your chosen methodological and theoretical approach. I often think that trying to put together a doctoral team is a bit like fitting together pieces of a puzzle and every supervisor knows that the student is more likely to succeed with the right pieces in place.  

If you haven’t done so already, look at the research interests of staff in the School of Psychology and Counselling. You can also contact a supervisor directly if their research interests align with yours. You could take into account the interests of a potential supervisor (and their work) when thinking about a project focus. The key thing is to find a supervisory team the complement and share expertise across the topic area, theoretical positioning and methodological approach. 

 

The application process 

Once you have written your proposal, you can senthis with your CV to the postgraduate convener. They will forward it onto relevant members of staff. Alternatively, candidates can contact potential supervisors directly. Supervisors can then either decide to decline on the basis of the proposal and/or applicant’s background, or they can arrange a telephone call or interview with the applicant. If supervisors are still interested in following this up, then they might need to help the candidate develop the proposal a bit for the application process. Once the proposal has been worked up, there is then a more formal process of submitting an application to the Faculty and/or formal interview (which is likely to have 2 or 3 staff members present). 

 

Postgraduate study in the School of Psychology and Counselling 

 
The School of Psychology and Counselling at The Open University has a vibrant research culture that is noted to be an international leader in transdisciplinary and applied research. Psychology at The Open University produces psychological research that seeks to understand, transform and enrich the lives of individuals and communities by foregrounding methodological and theoretical pluralism with a commitment to social justice. 

Our School houses three research streams: i) Culture and Social Psychology (CuSP); ii) Psychology of Health and Wellbeing (PHeW) and iii) the Forensic Cognition Research Group (FCRG). Applicants are invited to apply on one or more of the thematic research streams. Depending on your topic, you may have a supervisory team that spans more than one research stream:  

  • Culture and Social Psychology (CuSP)  

CuSP research brings insights from cultural and social psychology to real-world issues. The research is both theoretical and empirical, with a strong focus on methodological innovation. Potential topics include: Citizenship; immigration/migration; contemporary subjectivities, including religious, sexual and political subjectivities; children and childhood; digital lives; intergroup contact and social division.  

  • Psychology of Health and Wellbeing Research (PHeW)  

PHeW is a theoretically and methodologically diverse group with a focus on practices of health and wellbeing. Key strands of research focus on counselling and psychotherapy, critical mental health and wellbeing in contexts  

  • Forensic Cognition Research Group (FCRG)  

FCRG is a transdisciplinary group whose main aim is to better understand the perceptions, processes and systems of the criminal justice system, taking an approach that is both critical and solution-oriented to tackle real world issues. Key strands are courtroom processes, policing and inquiry and community and citizens.   

 

What about funding?  

The other question we get asked a lot, is whether there is funding. Most of our students are self-funded but you can apply for a studentship through the Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership. For more information, go to the Grand Union website and you can also read more about out pathway description here. The deadline for applications is always in January, so if you are thinking of applying, you might want to look at that now.    

 

Important Deadlines 

For self-funded students, to apply for a February 2021 start, your application would need to be submitted end of September; for an October start the deadline for applications is usually the end of April. For deadlines for the DTP funding stream, take a look at the Grand Union DTP website.  

 

You can also contact the Postgraduate Convener in PsychologySimon Clarke. To hear Sarah Crafter talk about applying for doctoral funding, you can watch this video. 

 

Want some general information about Research Degrees at the OU? You can find that here.

Want to look at our School of Psychology and Counselling web pages? You can find that here.


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