How to join the research group

This post might help potential intern students, PhD candidates and postdoctoral fellows, who would like to join the Topological Data Analysis group.

  • Why is a multi-stage selection needed for candidates to join our group?
  • Stage 1: applications to Materials Science, your skills and expectations.
  • Stage 2: tuition fees and potential funds for your living costs at Liverpool.
  • Stages 3-4: University PhD requirements about past degrees and English.
  • Stages 5-6: your CV and video introduction of motivations and skills.
  • Stages 7-8: problem solving and a 30-min informal Skype discussion.
  • Stages 9-10: an official online application and a formal interview.
  • Traditional exercises to engage with all readers of this blog.

Why is a multi-stage selection needed for candidates to join our group?

Every week I receive several requests for supervision, mainly from PhD candidates, and also from intern students and postdoctoral fellows. From January 2019 I am supervising

  • 1 postdoc as the research mentor,
  • 5 PhD students as the first supervisor,
  • 5 PhD students as the second supervisor,
  • 1 PhD student as the third supervisor.

The multi-stage selection is justified by the following reasons.

  • An objective and transparent process described below is better than ad-hoc decisions.
  • PhD admissions at the University of Liverpool follow rules from higher authorities.
  • Since I’m already overloaded, there is a physical limit of potential supervision.
  • I seriously consider any supervision, hence a selection process is also serious.
  • Mentees seem to be much more motivated after they were properly selected.

Stage 1: applications to Materials Science, your skills and expectations.

Though a few current students complete their PhDs in different areas, my main research is for the Materials Innovation Factory. Hence all future PhD projects will be focused on applications of geometry and topology to Materials Science, in particular solid crystalline materials.

The previous knowledge of Chemistry is not needed, however you should be open-minded enough to learn new research topics. Mathematical crystallographers and computational chemists are welcome, because the group already has strong skills in theoretical areas.

Most relevant subjects are Mathematics (linear algebra, geometry or topology, group theory) and Computer Science (graph algorithms, computational geometry, optimisation). The key requirement is your strong programming experience: C++ (preferable) and/or Python. We use software libraries in C++ and Python APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) of databases.

Due to the high load, new PhD students or postdocs can expect on average 1 hour per week of my time to discuss their research, sometimes with co-supervisors or other colleagues, because I also teach big classes of undergraduates and have important administrative commitments.

Short term project students or interns can expect maximum 1 hour (a half-hour on average) per week of my time. These students may more frequently talk to postdocs or senior PhD students. Collaborative projects are often discussed at the weekly group seminar or in smaller groups.

Everything is possible and highly motivated students, who make regular substantial progress and can present their results in a clear concise form, may naturally get more attention (hence more time for discussions) and recognition for their genuine enthusiasm and hard work.

So Stage 1 is your own evaluation of your skills and motivations. You have passed this stage if

  • you are motivated to work with other people and learn new topics;
  • you can demonstrate your programming skills in C++ and/or Python;
  • you have sufficient expertise in Mathematics and/or Computer Science;
  • (for PhD candidates) you agree with the rules of the PhD programme.

Stage 2: tuition fees and potential funds for your living costs at Liverpool.

This stage is most important for non-European PhD candidates and intern students.

All available PhD positions are funded up to £20K per year covering tuition fees only for EU/UK students (£4260 per year) and a bursary (minimum £14777 a year, the rest is for research expenses), which is tax free.

The tuition fees for international students are much higher (almost £20K per year). A UK embassy might ask for a proof of your funds for living costs when you apply for a visa. The university recommends a minimum £9135 for a single person per year.

The recommended websites for checking prices and accommodation at Liverpool are Liverpool Student Homes, Rightmove, Zoopla. You could say in advance how you plan to cover costs.

The good news is the list of scholarships for international PhD candidates. The financial requirements are outside my control. I get no financial rewards for supervising students or postdocs.

Stages 3-4: university PhD requirements about past degrees and English.

These stages are formal requirements by the university for all PhD candidates.

Stage 3 is to make sure that your past degree is equivalent to at least 2:1 (roughly grade point average 60%) in the UK classification. Please e-mail the PGR office for more details.

If you are a citizen of a country, where English is the main language, or you have completed your degree in such a country, your English is acceptable and you can go to next stage 5.

In all other cases Stage 4 is to think about required IELTS grades (overall 6.5, minimum 6 in each component) or any equivalent. These grades should be obtained not later than 2 years before a PhD start date. You could postpone passing IELTS until after receiving an offer conditional on IELTS grades. Please e-mail the PGR office for more details.

Stages 5-6: your CV and video introduction of motivations and skills.

Most candidates start from Stage 5 by sending their CV, which is ok for postdoctoral fellows or local students interested in final year projects or summer dissertations. PhD candidates could follow Stages 1-4 above. Intern candidates may think about finances at Stage 2.

Most efficient e-mails are short (as this phrase). All details can be in your CV (needed) and informal cover letter (optional, only if you would like to express your motivations and highlight relevant experience). File names could include your name, e.g. Last_name.First_name.CV.pdf.

You could include a brief description of (or give links to) your past programming projects, e.g. what software libraries have you used and what challenges have you overcome?

The most important expertise to work in our diverse group is your communication skills. You are expected to communicate well with colleagues from different research areas and industry.

If I have replied to your initial expression of interest, Stage 6 is to e-mail me your short 1-2 min video presentation to introduce yourself. Though your English will be formally checked and some candidates include photos in their CVs, your video will quickly show how you talk.

For your self-presentation, I may ask to highlight any relevant skills depending on your CV. At any stage if I haven’t replied within a week, you could e-mail me again once, please not more.

Stages 7-8: problem solving and a 30-min informal Skype discussion.

Congratulations if you have completed previous Stage 6! Depending on your level, at Stage 7 you will solve mathematical problems and programming exercises. You could have 1-2 weeks for preparing your solutions. We can discuss a suitable period if you are currently busy.

If I am relatively free, Stage 8 is to arrange an informal chat by Skype, say up to 30 min. Similarly to a video presentation, a real time discussion will help to establish our future relationships.

For intern students or postdoctoral fellows applying for external grants, this Stage 8 can be the last one. After that I usually talk to the head of department to arrange an invitation letter.

Stages 9-10: an official online application and a formal interview.

Stage 9 for PhD candidates is to submit a formal application at the university website. If you have passed Stages 1-8, you could mention me as a potential supervisor, possibly a project title with a short description (if already agreed).

Postdoctoral candidates will have another link to the application from a job advert. The advice for postdocs is not to start from this Stage 9, but e-mail me your expression of interest.

Stage 10 is a formal interview for PhD candidates and postdoctoral fellows. All PhD students at Liverpool should have at least two supervisors (the standard split is 80/20). Hence a co-supervisor is involved in an interview, often by Skype for PhD candidates outside the UK.

Postdoctoral candidates will face an interview panel of at least 3 people including a representative from HR. We try to invite European candidates for on-site interviews, though Skype interviews are also possible. If anything seems unclear, feel free to e-mail me your questions. If you contact me for the first time, then I would be grateful if you say how you have found me.

Traditional exercises to engage with all readers of this blog

  • Q1. How many stages will PhD candidates pass to be selected for the TDA group?
  • Q2. How many people am I supervising from January 2019?

You could write a brief answer or feedback in your comment: reply.

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