Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Pre-Application Doctoral Communications Research Projects

Project-specific illustration

Illustration by Dr. Kate Carruthers Thomas

Opening up the Black Box of Pre-Application Doctoral Communications (PADC1) and Searching for a Supervisor (PADC2) were two university-wide projects that investigated the informal communications between potential doctoral applicants and university staff from an inclusion perspective. Learn about the origins of the projectLink opens in a new window.
These projects were shortlisted for the Warwick Social Inclusion Award 2023Link opens in a new window.
  • Prior to making formal applications, potential supervisees often send academics and professional staff informal approaches. Staff can make a variety of judgements about these inquiries, but in deciding how to respond, they effectively become gatekeepers to the academic profession. 
  • For prospective doctoral applicants, particularly from minoritised social groups and Global South countries, the pre-application process is often challenging to navigate. Applicants draw on tacit knowledge to negotiate unfamiliar genres (e.g. inquiry emails to supervisors), which can disadvantage underrepresented students. 

This research comprised two distinct yet connected projects: 

  • Phase 1 - Feb-July 2022: Opening up the Black Box of Pre-application Doctoral Communications (PADC1) focused on the institutional context and staff roles 
  • Phase 2 - Dec 2022-July 2023: Searching for a Supervisor (PADC2) focused on student experiences and resources 


What were the project objectives?

Objectives for PADC1 (Feb-July 2022): Focus on institutional communication and staff roles 

  1. To understand how supervisors, PGR Programme Directors and Programme Officers make decisions about responding to potential doctoral applicants at the pre-application stage, and to explore how these decisions may negatively impact the recruitment of diverse talent.
  2. To evaluate the extent to which the Warwick Doctoral College and departmental webpages on PGR admissions transparently describe the pre-application stage.
  3. To identify changes at institutional and department levels to create a more transparent and inclusive doctoral admissions process, with a particular focus on enhancing inclusivity for currently underrepresented groups.
  4. To produce a suite of professional development opportunities and enduring resources that facilitate the implementation of these changes. 

Objectives for PADC2 (Jan-July 2023): Focus on the experiences of minoritised applicants and the resources available to them  

  1. To undertake empirical research at Warwick to understand how current doctoral students who are members of minoritised social groups navigated locating a doctoral supervisor, identifying potential barriers and obstacles in the process as well as enabling factors. To identify recommendations for change based on these findings. 
  2. To undertake a review of existing video resources which inform students about how to approach a supervisor, both at the institutional level and more widely across the global HE sector.
  3. To create a video resource to demystify the process of finding a supervisor which takes applicants from minoritised social groups as its primary target audience. This video resource brings together findings from PADC1, findings of the empirical research and video review from PADC2.
  4. To deliver previously piloted PADC workshops to supervisors, DPGRs and POs across Warwick faculties. 

What did the research involve?

PADC1: Literature review of existing scholarship and grey literature on doctoral admissions to synthesise existing findings and best practice. Webpage analysis of public-facing admissions material on Warwick Doctoral College and departmental webpages. Data collection across Warwick faculties: Semi-structured interviews about departmental pre-application practices with PGR Programme Directors and Programme Officers; Solicited diaries and Focus Group Discussions with doctoral supervisors.

PADC2: Narrative interviews with minoritised Warwick doctoral students. Advice video analysis of YouTube content about contacting a supervisor.  

These projects were funded by the Research England Enhancing Research Culture Fund.

PADC1 ran from Feb-July 2022; PADC ran from Dec 2022-July 2023.

Learn about the origins of the projectLink opens in a new window

Link opens in a new window

Who worked on the project?

Group photo

Principal Investigator: Dr James BurfordLink opens in a new window ( Department of Education Studies, University of Warwick

Co-Investigator: Dr Emily F. Henderson Link opens in a new windowDepartment of Education Studies, University of Warwick

PADC1 & PADC2 Post-Doctoral Researcher:

Dr Sophia Kier-Byfield, Department of Education Studies, University of Warwick

PADC1 Research Assistants:

Dr Ahmad Akkad, Department of Education Studies, University of Warwick

Dr Dangeni, Department of Education Studies, University of Warwick