What characterizes a successful application?
Advice from Members of the Admissions Committee
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Successful applications must not only conform to formal requirements, but also be evaluated by the faculty members reviewing these applications as a “good fit for the School”. There are no strict rules for what constitutes a “good fit” or what makes proposals exciting for us, because a lot depends on the applicants’ background discipline, the general topic, and, most of all, on the quality of the individual research project. However, we can offer the following advice which is based on our experience with previous applications:
(1) Before you apply!
It is recommended to contact potential supervisor(s) of your project. Please pick these potential supervisors from our faculty list (www.mind-and-brain.de/people/faculty). If you do not know them you should - attach your CV, - explain who you are, - explain that you intend to apply to the School’s doctoral program, - explain what you plan to do.
You can ask potential supervisor(s) for advice on the application and interview procedure. As long as the main ideas presented in the application remain your own, it is definitely acceptable and recommended to send potential supervisor(s) a draft of your proposal beforehand and ask for feedback. Please note that will be allowed to name max. 3 potential supervisors in your application.
(2) Your research proposal (written application)
In your written proposal you need to demonstrate that you are very well informed about the topic of the project. You need to know about the relevant literature, controversies, research questions, and research techniques. That is not to say that you need to write an extensive literature review (mind the page limit!). However, presenting selected examples from the literature usually helps to demonstrate that you would be able to provide such a review or answer questions about the literature on demand. In short, the reviewers and the Admissions Committee must get the impression that you know what you are talking about.
(a) Your project
In the first round, your written proposal is reviewed by 3−5 reviewers. They must understand what exactly you are planning to do. This means that in addition to laying out the topic and theoretical background, you need to describe the plans for your own research work. For projects with a “brain emphasis” this means for example: describe your hypotheses, how they will be tested, experimental paradigms, techniques, how the data will be analyzed, etc. That is not to say that you need to describe the project in every detail, e.g., stimulus duration in milliseconds or the exact number of experimental trials, but you should have a concrete idea of how to answer your research question.
Rule of thumb: You should be able to explain your idea to an interested scientist of any field within two minutes!
(b) Plans, adjustments, gaps
We understand that your application is a proposal for a future project. It is not necessary that you have extensive prior experience with this topic, technique or paradigm. Moreover, we understand that your plans may become subject to modification, and it is, of course, possible to adjust your paradigm, analysis, etc. during the course of your project if it turns out to be necessary. However, you should assure your audience that you know what’s missing and that (and how) you intend to acquire the required knowledge during your time at the School.