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News from Europe

In parts of Europe one applies for a PhD program by applying to work with a professor on a specific project. The project is the professor's project, for which she has already secured funding. Consequently, one has to show that one can contribute to that specific project. This puts serious constraints on who is qualified to apply. One should emphasize in concrete ways the connection between their experience and the project goals. The same thing holds for many post-docs in Europe. They are not aiming to hire just any clever, accomplished scholar. Rather, they need to hire one who has research interests, and research accomplishments (publications!) in a specific area. So you really are wasting your time applying for such positions if your profile does not really line up with the project.


Get sample project descriptions from people who have won the fellowship in the past. I’ve even cold-emailed people to ask for these with some success. Departments should keep folders of successful past applications.


I won three fellowships during my time in graduate school and my best advice is to make your research pitch accessible to non-specialists. By that, I don't only mean people not in your area. Your research statement should be accessible to your parents or an undergraduate who asks what you work on. Try to get someone like this to read your research statement and then explain your project to you. If they can explain your project, then you've probably done a good job. If they can't, then you need to make changes to make it more accessible.

You also have to make your project sound interesting to people who don't care about specific tiny problems in philosophy. That can be very difficult if your project is all about a specific tiny problem in philosophy (as many of our projects are). Unfortunately, some projects are just more interesting to non-philosophers than others. Again, try to get a non-specialist to read your research statement and tell you if it's interesting to them. If several people tell you it isn't, then you're going to have a hard time with a multi-disciplinary committee. If your project is very specific, do your best to explain why it's an important step on the way to solving a bigger and more interesting problem.

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