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The goals of the PhD Academy could not be wiser!

The goals of the PhD Academy could not be wiser!
In mid-March, the PhD Academy of VSB-Technical University of Ostrava hosted a lecture by Zifan Wang, a postdoc from the University of Oxford. The young scientist talked about the possibilities of combining physics, software engineering, material sciences or mechanics to explore and understand the microcosm. We took the opportunity to ask him about his experience as a PhD student at a prestigious British university.

Why did you decide to study for your PhD? What conditions did you have to meet for admission? Are there many people interested in pursuing doctoral studies?

As an undergraduate student, I was trying to find a job and found that a Bachelor’s degree is not competitive enough in the job market nowadays. Therefore, I decided to enhance my qualifications and skills by pursuing a PhD. From my point of view, I think it is beneficial but most of my peers think a Master’s degree is enough and a PhD is not necessary. To enter Oxford, the most difficult condition is the English language requirement.

Can you share some information about the concept of doctoral studies at the University of Oxford? What is the average length of a PhD and what are the responsibilities of a PhD candidate? What opportunities are open to them during their studies?

The concept of doctoral studies at the University of Oxford is to encourage students to work on the most challenging areas in many scientific fields. PhD students are usually free to choose their research interest. The average length of a PhD is 3.5 years.  The opportunities that a PhD student has usually depend on what their supervisor can provide. However, in my opinion, a PhD student should be proactive enough to seek out opportunities for themselves.

 What is your specific area of research?

I have been working on a variety of research topics including 3D-printing, polymers, Li-ion batteries, and computational modelling. My main focus is on Nickel-Titanium Shape Memory Alloys.

How important is the role of the supervisor, and how important is the collaboration with colleagues, not only from your research group but also from other departments?

My supervisor played a critical role in my PhD – without his guidance I would not have been able to conduct my PhD studies smoothly. Collaboration is very important for a researcher as it can lead to more publications. If a problem cannot be solved within our research group, it is necessary to approach colleagues from other groups for help. Proper collaboration ensures the success of a PhD.

Are you involved only in scientific research or in teaching as well?

During my PhD, I was involved in four different projects. At Oxford, PhD students are not obliged to teach undergraduates. However, from time to time some teaching opportunities are available and open for applications from PhD students and postdoc researchers. I worked part-time as a departmental tutor for 3rd year undergraduates, as a teaching assistant for 2nd year undergraduates, and an invigilator for my college during my PhD studies and I am working in these positions now as a postdoc researcher.

Your lecture was part of the PhD Academy of VSB-Technical University of Ostrava, which aims to offer a comprehensive system of education and services to researchers. Students can get information on how to write scientific publications properly, communicate research results at conferences, and prepare scientific projects. How important are these competences for you in your studies?

From my perspective, these are the core competences of a PhD student. In the engineering department at the University of Oxford, one of the requirements for getting a PhD is to publish at least 2 to 3 peer-reviewed papers which is not a hidden rule, but is clearly written on the website. Therefore, I reckon that these aims of the PhD Academy could not be wiser.

Is there a similar system for PhD candidates at your university? If so, what is part of it?

Yes, I think there is. There are two types of seminars held on a regular basis in the engineering science department. One is the junior research seminar. In this type of seminar, PhD students from the department are invited to present for 20 minutes on their research topic. This seminar is held once a month. The other is the senior research seminar in which external presenters are invited to give a lecture. These lecturers are usually well-known professors in their field, or sometimes postdocs. Each seminar lasts 50 minutes and is held every week during term time.

The University of Oxford is very prestigious. In your experience, do Czech applicants have a chance to study a PhD there?

I have not yet met any students from the Czech Republic at the University of Oxford. However, I believe that it is just a matter of whether students have an idea or the ambition to enter the University of Oxford. Sometimes the idea is much more important than intelligence. I would strongly encourage Czech graduates to apply for a PhD at Oxford.

What are your plans for the future?

I have already completed my PhD and I am now working as a postdoctoral research fellow. After finishing my current project at the end of this coming June, I will be searching for a lectureship or another postdoc somewhere in the world.

Created: 7. 4. 2022
Category:  News
Department: 9320 - Science and Research Management and the PhD Academy