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Centre for Environmental Management: Doctoral degree

Doctoral Degree in Environmental Management (PhD)

If you are considering studying toward your PhD degree in the Centre for Environmental Management, please be sure to go through every one of the following steps. Please notice that enrolling for your PhD studies is the LAST step of this process. This entire process can take several months, so plan accordingly.

Before contacting the Centre for Environmental Management

1) Identify a promising research question that matches your own skills and research interests. This might be an extension of your master's research, based on experience gained in the workplace, or simply an idea you've been carrying around in your head.

2) Read up on you potential research topic. Some research questions have already been answered, but you will only know this after reading the work by other scientists. Sometimes research questions are unanswerable due to practical, technical, or ethical constraints; again, reading about the topic will help you identify whether your question is unanswerable.

3) Identify the basic methodology you will use to answer your research question. Identify which are the key variables that need to be measured in order to answer your research question and how these variables will be assessed. Again, this will be informed by reading other research in the field.

4) Summarise your project into a two-page document that outlines your research question, relevant research that has been performed in your field of interest and the appropriate methods you intend to use. This is not a full project proposal, just a short conceptual 'pitch' to convey you main ideas.

5) Identify a potential research adviser. During your reading, you will get an idea of which researchers share a common interest. You can also look at researchers' personal pages on university websites to see if their research interests match yours. This is a crucial step, because the right supervisor is one of the main determinants of your success as a PhD candidate. First find a supervisor, then select a university, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

Contacting the Centre for Environmental Management

6) Contact your potential supervisor directly. Send an email, phone or visit the potential supervisor before contacting university admissions. Although this is an unofficial query, it helps if you are as professional as possible. Write a short message that:

  • Briefly introduces yourself and explain why you are contacting this person in particular. Don't write your whole life story, a few short sentences is enough.
  • Include the 2-page project document you have prepared, which outlines your main research goals.

7) The potential supervisor will let you know whether he/she can help you as soon as possible. Maybe the supervisor no longer works in your chosen research field or already have more students than could be handled. In such instances, the supervisor will generally decline any further involvement. If, however, they do see potential, they might ask you for more information (e.g. academic transcripts or CV).

After a supervisor provisionally accepts you as a doctoral candidate

8) Develop a pre-doctoral strategy. With your supervisor, identify logistical issues that will affect your PhD research. For example, will you be a full-time or part-time researcher? How will your research be funded? Are there grants or scholarships you should apply for?

9) Develop a full project proposal in combination with your supervisor. This document will outline the research for your PhD in detail. This should include a breakdown of chapters. It will include a preliminary literature review and it should outline which hypotheses you will test. Importantly, your proposal will include a timeline of activities as well as a breakdown of all the costs for travel, equipment, and other expenses. This document will guide your research during the coming years and can also be used when applying for grants and scholarships.

10) Enrol at the University of the Free State. Once you have a full proposal that is supported by your supervisor and you have finalised all the logistical issues of your strategy (e.g. identified funding sources), you may go ahead and enrol as a doctoral candidate at the UFS.

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