Digital poverty among international doctoral applicants

Images credit: Praveen Kumar Mathivanan, Unsplash CC0 & Joshua Woroniecki, Pixabay CC0

In this extra post, Srinivas throws light on the unique challenges faced by international applicants looking to pursue doctoral studies in global universities. Having completed his Ph.D. recently, he shares strategies that can help digitally disadvantaged applicants navigate these challenges. Dr. Srinivas is a year two student studying MSc Clinical Education at The University of Edinburgh.

Securing doctoral positions with scholarship in top international universities is a time-consuming exercise and the applicant may need loads of luck, as large number of applicants from several countries across different disciplines compete for doctoral positions. University Graduate schools at these Universities administer and manage doctoral programs and scholarships, with the goal to attract talented international students. International doctoral students on scholarship complete their doctorate on time with several high-impact publications with reduced attrition rates and also bring diversity to the campus [1]. International students form a minor but diverse group of learners and their perspectives during their doctoral education have been assessed in research studies. However, information on the challenges and difficulties faced by international students while making an application for doctoral positions have not been reported. This blog discusses the challenges faced by international students in terms of handling online/digital tools while applying for doctoral positions at top international Universities.

Challenges for effective communication in the online world (digital poverty)

Online communication and e-mail etiquette:

A plethora of information and criteria are available regarding doctoral positions in University websites or the internet for an international student. However, this information on the net may be outdated, ambiguous and differ among Universities and countries. With several queries, international students may contact the graduate school or their prospective supervisors for clarification. International students may be unaware of email etiquette [2]. Flaws existing in sentence structure, grammar and spelling may result in miscommunication between the student and the University.

Creating a unique resume:

Before e-mail became the formal mode of communication, applications for doctoral positions at top international universities used to be through snail mail or a personal/professional approach between prospective supervisors and potential students. Today, interested students contact prospective supervisors with their research ideas and a brief resume via e-mail. The supervisor screens the submitted resumes and research ideas for suitability to the research theme carried out at his/her school or the research group. However, with limited supervisors at top international universities (as usually principal doctoral supervisors need to be tenure tracked), these doctoral supervisors may get several applications from candidates across the world. Multiple reasons may contribute to doctoral supervisors having several resumes of potential applicants [3]. The major reason could be that submitting a resume via e-mail is literally a click of the mouse! Reputed researchers may get several resumes in a month requesting doctoral positions. Since a large number of serious and non-serious applicants can submit their resumes via e-mail, there is a need to highlight international collaborations or high-impact publications thus making the resume unique.

Streaming issues during video interviews:

The majority of the supervisors (if they see potential in the student) invite prospective students for an informal online interview [4]. International students may confuse the interview for a viva-voce or a knowledge assessment session, subsequently, read extensively about the project and make elaborate preparations for the interview [5]. Doctoral studies need a high level of commitment, persistence and self-motivation, hence the purpose of such informal interviews is to ascertain the level of persistence and commitment in the candidate, rather than assessing the level of knowledge on a particular project. Unstable internet connection and problems with audio/video streaming during interviews may result in negative perspectives regarding the student. Candidates with better and stable internet connections have higher chances of being hired in job interviews.

International doctoral applicants may be digitally disadvantaged and face several challenges in terms of handling digital/online tools. A clear understanding of online content, good online communication skills, and e-mail etiquette is essential while communicating with supervisors and the University. Highlighting international collaborations and high-impact publications in their resume may help the candidate to stand unique. Knowledge about the importance of stable internet connections and effective audio-visual aids during online interviews is needed.


1. Kim, K.H. and H. Spencer-Oatey, Enhancing the recruitment of postgraduate researchers from diverse countries: managing the application process. High Educ (Dordr), 2021. 82(5): p. 917-935.

2. Kim, D.H., et al., Etiquette for medical students’ email communication with faculty members: a single-institution study. BMC Med Educ, 2016. 16: p. 129.

3. Duncan, P., Conquer email overload with better habits and etiquette. Todays FDA, 2012. 24(3): p. 36-7, 39.

4. Yoon, J., et al., Craniofacial Fellowship Applicant Perceptions of Virtual Interviews. J Craniofac Surg, 2022. 33(8): p. 2379-2382.

5. Dolan, B., How to successfully navigate a telephone and/or video interview. FEMS Microbiol Lett, 2019. 366(3).

photograph of the authorSrinivas Sulogodu Ramachandra

Dr Srinivas is an assistant professor at Department of Preventive Dental Science, College of Dentistry, Gulf Medical University, Ajman, United Arab Emirates. He is also a Year 2 student in the MSc Clinical Education program (online), Edinburgh Medical School, The University of Edinburgh. Srinivas was encouraged to submit this blog to ‘Teaching Matters’, and supported to adapt it, by Dr Kirstin Stuart James, course lead for “Teaching online in a professional context” where it formed part of Srinivas’ assignment. He is also a recipient of a Scholarship from The University of Edinburgh.

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