How to prepare for PhD admission in Estonian Universities

This blog post was written by Pankaj, a Digital Technologies PhD student at Tallinn University.
In this post, I ( Pankaj Chejara) am sharing suggestions for the applicants for Ph.D. admission in Estonia. The suggestions shared in this post helped me to secure a position in the Ph.D. program in School of Digital Technologies, Tallinn University, and I hope it will be helpful for prospective Ph.D. applicants as well. 

1. Start early by contacting the professor/researchers

adveturesThe very first step in preparing for the Ph.D. program in Estonia is to have a professor or researcher from the university where you are planning to apply, who agrees to supervise you if you get admitted. This is a crucial step, and what most people do, they wait for the last moment to contact the professor. That is of course not a wise decision. The professor you are contacting may be on holiday or already full in terms of supervision duties. That means you might not get approval and have to go for another professor/researcher.  

So, my first advice is to get yourself familiar with the research team in your field in the respective universities in Estonia. Once you become familiar, identify some potential supervisors (whose research area coincides with yours’), and read some of their research work. If you find their research work interesting then send an email. Don’t send emails randomly without checking their research profile. You can put your CV and share your preliminary research idea (plus if you have a motivational letter then you can share that as well). 

In case if you are not able to identify the researcher/professor in your research area then you can try sending the aforementioned documents (CV, research idea, motivation letter/personal statement) to the head of the study program. I and one of my colleagues did the same. We sent the email to the head of the study program and received some suggestions on who is working in the similar research field and could be contacted.

2. List down some of the top conferences and journal publication venues in your field

This suggestion will help you to orient yourself in a better way when you prepare the research proposal. Try to identify some of the conferences/journal publication venues in your field of research or the field of your future supervisor. Your evaluation committee may also check the references you have used in the proposal. I had this experience during my interview. In my proposal, there were some references from very good conferences (honestly speaking I was not aware of that :-)) and during my interview committee noticed and commented on that. In my opinion, it will also improve the quality of your proposal.

3. Read research papers and prepare a summary

Ok, you got approval from a professor, now what. Well, the most important factor which can greatly influence your chances of getting admission or not, is the research proposal. The question is how to prepare that. Here, I am sharing what I did. First, try to find related research papers on the research problem you want to address. You can check the conferences or journal publication venues which you have noted down in the previous step. Plus, you can also go through the research publications (which are related to your field) from the university where you are applying. Let’s say you have found around 15 papers. Read each of the papers and try to write a summary for each paper in your wording (Just think that after reading the paper you have to present it to someone who has not read the paper). Try to identify key points of the paper, e.g., how the problem is addressed, what data are collected and how, which analysis methods were used, what is the main finding, etc. This summary will be greatly helpful while preparing your research proposal.

4. Invest time in writing the research proposal and try to get feedback on it 

Once you are done with reading papers, sit down and try to identify some commonalities among those papers. For example, if some papers used the same data for analysis or the same analysis method, etc. Then, start preparing your first draft for the proposal. You can use the following template (this is what I used for my proposal). You can also check this video for further information on the content of the research proposal.


  • Abstract

  • Introduction 

  • State of art

  • Research questions & objectives

  • Research methodology

  • Research plan

  • References

You can share your draft with the professor and can request feedback if he/she could review it before submission. In my case, my supervisor gave me feedback which helped me in improving the quality of my research proposal. You can also share your proposal with people you know and are working in a similar field to their feedback. I will strongly recommend you to spend some time writing and revising your proposal.

5. Read your research proposal before the interview

So, you have now prepared your proposal and submitted your Ph.D. admission application. The next step will be an interview conducted by a research committee. I suggest going through your research proposal before the interview (you don’t need to memorize everything :-)). Try to think over the why and how of the research problem you mentioned in the proposal. The committee will assess you for your motivation through the interview. You can also ask questions to them at the end of the interview if you have some. Following are a few questions from my interview:

  • Tell us about yourself (Just to know you)
  • What is your proposed research about? (summary)
  • Why did you not cite any research work from our university? (I simply answered that I did not find any researcher’s work closely related to the proposed work)
  • Why did you select Estonia (and also the university to which you are applying to pursue your PhD.)? 
  • What are the similar studies conducted in the research field?

6. Done! Wait for results

Now, you have to wait for the results. You will receive a score out of 100 (in most cases). This score will be computed based on your education, research proposal, and interview. The qualification score is 75 which means to be eligible for Ph.D. admission you must get above 75. The eligibility does not guarantee admission. Your score is compared to other applicants’ scores and the final decision will be made based on available Ph.D. positions.

7. Ph.D. admission process timeline

Just to give you an idea about how much time the entire admission process usually takes, I have included the timeline of my Ph.D. admission application process in the figure below. I hope it will be useful.




Some useful link

  1. Estonian universities study programs and admission deadlines
  2. Estonian doctoral programs
  3. Blog post: The road to PhD: where to start
  4. Blog post: Life of a PhD student 
  5. Blog post: Why I chose Estonia for my PhD studies: 4 reasons


Acknowledgement: Thanks to Mahesha Harshani De Silva for adding some additional points from her experience of Ph.D. admission process in Tallinn University.