The Road to PhD: Where to Start?

If you have decided to start your PhD, congratulations! If you are still hesitating to pursue a research career, or don't know where to begin -  this blog post will hopefully help you get started. Where to find those marvelous PhD opportunities?  How to apply? And what to expect from the application process? - Omar 

Omar on his road to PhD

Omar on his road to PhD :) 

The check list

In order to start looking for PhD opportunities, I would strongly recommend first being sure about the following:

  • Research field
    This is the central question. Do you already have a specific topic or field in mind? It might be, that you would like to continue with your Master thesis topic. Or maybe you are looking to make a turn in your career by doing research in a different field. In my own case, my MSc and PhD research fields are highly different to one another - I moved from thermodynamics to acoustics. Why? Because after I did my MSc, I discovered that there are even more amazing things happening in other research fields. For example, I found out that there are engineers, that have a similar background to mine, doing research oriented towards bone diseases, phytoplankton migration, aneurism treatment, physiotherapy, etc. So, I was done with thermodynamics and I simply wanted to do my PhD in a more exotic engineering research field (like structural health monitoring), in order to take myself out of my comfort zone and  brag about doing my research in an exotic field ;)

    * Have a look at the accredited doctoral programmes in Estonian universities
  • Funded/self-funded
    Funding is something crucial, specifically for research. If you are able to self-fund your PhD  then that is great! If not, I would recommend looking up funding opportunities. For example, at Tallinn University of Technology there are no tuition fees for international PhD studies (or for local PhD students) and a very fair scholarship is provided. Very often there are funding opportunities out there, but somehow they have not been properly promoted, so get in touch with faculty members and ask directly! 
    * Also check out the Estonian national scholarships info on our website.
  • Your motivation
    It is a long commitment -  3 to 5 years of focusing of your sweet research, baby. My advice is: do not do it for the “generous scholarship/funding" or "the PhD title”. During your studies you will experience ups and downs, and when the downs come, remembering your motivation will save you from throwing in the towel. In my case, my career motivation is simply my passion for science and learning. Right now I do not see myself doing anything else. What about you?

Check list

Check list. Photo: Glenn Carstens Peters, Unsplash


Where to start looking for PhD opportunities?

Now that you know your motivation for pursuing your PhD degree and you have a preference in a field, it is time to start looking for the available positions out there! In my experience there are two main ways to get enrolled: by writing your own research proposal or by applying to an existing research project.

  • Writing your own research proposal
    Writing a research proposal is art, you need to explain and show why the scientific community needs your research, what are the steps you will follow and what are your expected results. But do not panic! First, get in touch with your potential supervisor (an email will work), introduce yourself, and let them know your desire to carry out your research topic XYZ with them. If their reply is positive, they will definitely help you to set your goals and guide you through writing a successful research proposal. You can find the contacts for Estonian universities on our website.
  • Applying for an existing research topic
    In my case, when I did my Master’s degree, I emailed my supervisor asking him if he had any available research topics to carry out for my Master's. Fortunately he had, so I simply followed the administration procedure in order to get enrolled (I still wrote a brief research proposal but not from scratch). On the other hand, after my Master’s degree was coming to an end, a good friend of mine suggested I look up PhD positions on the following links:

In this way you apply for PhD positions like if you were applying for a job. There is a call for submission of your CV and further documentation, so you cross your fingers and wait to be accepted for an interview. For my PhD degree, I found the position on the European Commission web page (last link), I submitted my application and followed the recruitment process. In most of the links you can filter the results by country, I highly recommend selecting Estonia ;)

Looking for PhD opportunities

Looking for PhD opportunities. Photo: Glenn Carstens Peters, Unsplash

Get in touch, get in touch! 

Be confident about emailing potential supervisors, even though they might not have a spot in their research team for you, they potentially will have a colleague who is looking for a PhD student just like you! I was not aware of this, until I joined my research network. For the first training event, two PhD positions were still available, and the supervisors asked us to spread the call for people we know that might be interested, and so we did.

Finally, do not be afraid to directly reach out and ask! If you need any more advice regarding PhD studies or any other aspect of student life in Estonia, don't hesitate to contact us at


Written by Study in Estonia Student Ambassador Omar.

Acknowledge of funding entinty: Omar’s PhD is founded by the European Project Guided Waves for Structural Health Monitoring (GW4SHM) (H2020-MSCA-ITN-2019-860104). 

Text: Omar