- Try to do one or more summer research projects to demonstrate your interests/abilities in research.
- If you are on a 1 year taught Masters
- get to know your lecturer immediately so they can write a good reference.
- start your project early. If the course structure has the project late do a summer project, or start your project early (even if they say not to).
- Write a cover letter, or a description of why you want to do a PhD, and what your subject interests are. This is your chance to show passion for your subject. Do some research on what is available at the department you are applying to first (e.g. don't write about how much you love exoplanets, if no-one in that department studies them....).
- If you can remain somewhat open to the details of a project/supervisor (you'll be easier to place). Not all faculty will be recruiting PhD students every year, but you can still potentially work with them as a co-supervisor.
- Don't leave gaps in your CV. If you are currently working and want to come back to study do not hide it. This is often viewed positively - use your experience to hi-light the skills you have gained in the workplace which should place you above undergraduates still at University.
- Be very clear about your nationality - especially if you are British applying for PhDs in Britain. This shouldn't matter, but it seems to.
- Dress up for the interview (at least a bit - you offend no-one by being over dressed, if you show up in tracksuit bottoms you may send a message that you don't care to some).
- Show an interest in the department. Stay for lunch if invited. It's not really optional (even if presented as such). Ask the current graduate students if there are any evening plans you can tag along to.
- Ask questions about the training, help given to find jobs etc.
- Talk to everyone - especially current students. If you think you're getting a sales pitch press harder for the real story.
- Make extra sure you talk to current students of any faculty you think you might want to work with. Ask about their working style. Are they too hands off - are they too pushy - do they take credit for student's work - do they promote their students outside the University.
- Be careful you don't assume women you meet are admin staff - assume everyone you meet is a scientist and potentially a future supervisor. Do not address anyone as Miss or Ms or Mr (just in case).
- Be polite to everyone you meet. The interview panel might seek input from anyone in the department (including the admin staff).