So as I’ve said before, at KI, when you get a PhD position, it doesn’t automatically mean that you are already a PhD student. Oh no. You have to go through a certain process to be officially admitted.
In my department, the first thing you have to do is to gather all the documents that are required (list here). Mind you, it is a quite long list. Afterwards, you have to present in a pre-admission seminar, submit all the documents to the administrator, and attend the admission seminar (where you present your project plan to the admission board). You will get the results (admitted, conditionally admitted, or rejected) approximately 1 week after the admission seminar.
Since the date of the admission seminar (at least in my department) is fixed, you usually have to follow certain deadlines for this application. All the documents have to be submitted latest 2 weeks before the admission seminar and the pre-admission seminar should be conducted at least 4 weeks before the admission seminar.
Now, usually, people would have 3-6 months to prepare for the admission since they started working (as R&D Trainee — because they were not officially admitted as PhD students yet).
I only got 1.
Wwwwwwwwwwwwwwhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy 😳 😳 😳
Yes, for some reasons my supervisors targeted that I participated in the closest admission seminar, which was on 7 December. I just started working 6 November. I hadn’t had all the documents, I had no project plan, a.k.a. I had no idea how my research would be, and it was only 1 month away from the seminar.
Panic attack ensued.
Before I continue, let me clarify some things. The PhD program at KI is 4 years (for full-time students). You usually have 4 different studies (numbers might vary, 3-5 usually, depending on the fields) under one big theme. Each of the studies should be published, and in order to apply for the thesis defence, you should have at least 2 publications accepted (in international peer-reviewed journals). You should write also a PhD dissertation, which summarises all your studies. Apart from the studies, you should also attend some courses and obtain a certain amount of credits, not only from the courses but also from activities such as seminars, teaching, or conferences. You should state all your planned studies in a 5-page project plan, and list all the courses and seminars in the individual study plan as part of the documents to be submitted before the admission seminars.
Seeing me very tense and nervous since day 1, my supervisors tried to assure me that we would have the study plan, we would have the project plan, and that we would have all the documents that we needed. But still, it was not easy to shake off such tension especially for people like me (ambitious nerd).
Effectively, we only had 2 weeks to prepare for all the documents, since the deadline for documents submission was 2 weeks before the actual admission dates. What about the pre-admission seminar then? In this pre-admission seminar, you were supposed to present your project plan in front of your research group and an opponent (usually postdoc or other senior researchers), followed by discussion. Then you would get feedback and if you needed to revise anything, it should be done accordingly. This pre-admission seminar was supposed to be performed 4 weeks before the actual admission seminar date, but I only had less than that!!! 😳 So nervous I was that I even sent an e-mail to the Head of Doctoral Education at my department and asked for the consequences if it was conducted less than 4 weeks before the actual admission seminar. Apparently, the 4 weeks deadline was set so that the student would have time to revise the project plan after the seminar, should it be needed. OK, at least it would not invalidate my application then. 🐻
Since we had only limited time, my supervisors and I decided to allocate the first week to finalise all the administrative documents (apart from the project plan), the second week for the project plan, and the little time remained for pre-admission seminar preparation. By little time I mean one day, actually.
Perhaps the highlight of these days was the second week when we actually worked on the project plan. The good thing was since my project was part of a larger collaborative project, the researchers had at least an idea of what they wanted to study. The remaining issue was… I had to put details on it and it was a new field for me.
At this moment, too, I really got to appreciate my supervisors, especially my main supervisor for allowing me to put some of my own ideas on the project plan. As I said before, I began my research in injury, and I really did not want to abandon it just like that. So I included a part of it in one of our studies. I was actually REALLY nervous when she read my project plan because that was not what we had originally. But she gave me an OK and you could not imagine how relieved and happy I was ❤
Time flew and suddenly it was one day before the submission deadline, which meant it was time for the pre-admission seminar. A postdoc from the department had agreed to be my opponent and I was really really really grateful that he took up the assignment despite the very limited amount of time. Another colleague (PhD student) had also kindly written the Q&A session for me. I was so touched by the amount of support I had from people around me. 😥
The week after the submission was the week of my birthday, too and my supervisors allowed me a day off (really!) so I did. But I came back to the office the day after and found 2 presents on my desk! I still don’t know to this day who gave me the chocolate, so whoever you were, thank you very much!!!! ❤ ❤ ❤
My main supervisor and I spent these 2 weeks before the admission seminar to simulate the Q&A that I might get during the admission seminar. She really encouraged me to ask questions and seemed to never got tired of it (I really admired that!).
The day of my admission seminar was a grey cloudy drizzly day. Only my main supervisor came with me to the admission seminar. I thought I performed well, and the admission board was very nice. But afterwards I could no longer suppress my tears, so I cried in front of my supervisor . It felt like all the tension for the past 4 weeks had finally lifted.
One week later, I got the result via e-mail. Admitted, no revision. Thank God!!!!! 😥 😥 😥
Looking back, I could only think that I had been able to go through this all because of the support from people around me. My husband, parents, best friends, supervisors, former supervisors, colleagues in the research groups, in the department, in other departments… It was a humbling experience. But this is just a beginning. I hope I can do my best for the next 4 years and I hope you won’t get tired of me blabbing about that (only occasionally, I promise!)
Until next time! ❤