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PhD/DPhil in Defense/International Security Studies

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  • View Poll Results: Which offer to choose?
    King's College London (PhD in War Studies)
    11
    68.75%
    Oxford University (DPhil in International Relations)
    3
    18.75%
    London School of Economics (PhD in International Relations)
    2
    12.50%

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    With three world class unis there I doubt you can go wrong.

    My personal opinion is that you should go for the supervisor above all, the university comes second (the latter matters more for undergrad). I was told this by my tutors at Oxford a few times as I was also considering a PhD in my field. The best supervisor will offer you the best academic experience and will have the most relevant connections. Since you're choosing between Oxford and London I doubt access to resources will be a problem.

    My vote for King's.
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    Following on from the previous poster, choosing your uni based on your supervisor and whether he/she is a specialist in your specific interest area is probably the right thing to do.

    However, I'd like to add that that piece of advice mainly holds true when you are primarily interested in academia and research. If you want to move on from your PhD into policy-making and not into academia, you probably shouldn't make your decision based on that alone.

    Having said that, the reputations of King's, Oxford and LSE are not miles apart when it comes to IR/defense studies. So going for King's, although it may be less well known to the average person in the US, wouldn't be a bad choice.
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    From the sounds of it you have got 3 amazing offers to choose from there! All 3 could and probably would be great.

    Have you considered other things such as whether any of these three are likely to give you funding? Yes you may not need it, but I think funding can look good on your CV to potential employers.

    Obviously the most important thing is your own research project and how it fits in with the research interests of your potential supervisors and departments. That being said (and it has been said MANY times on this forum before) this is your work and you can share it with whoever you like.

    A note on Oxford: as an Oxford graduate I'd say it does alter your prospects slightly, but really only in more generic jobs which don't really require specialist knowledge. I think anywhere you were looking to work more permanently in the US would know the value of your degree, whichever place you go to, as they're all pretty top notch.
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    Yes, it's not going to be a Texas farmer who's deciding about your application. If you want to work for a Thinktank specialising in Global Security, the people there will definitely know about King's. Otherwise, they wouldn't be qualified.
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    I'm dismayed that supposedly those serious about research are considering university brand name first, rather than stone last. You should be striving to write the best doctorate, not dick-wave to the average American who only knows about a dozen schools. In academia, people are more concerned about how good you are as opposed to how well known your university is. American universities are full of American PhDs, but the best British staff have come over there and got good jobs once they've built up a reputation. America tends to think its 5+ year PhD offers the best training, and tend to not take UK graduates straight out of their degree unless they're a Rhodes Scholar or something. I know a few British PhDs from outside of Oxford/Cambridge in the States with good jobs. I know someone who went to East Anglia and Essex.

    KCL's War Studies is well known in the States in academic circles, and probably even on the street too (although I have no idea why that matters), but if it comforts you, certainly better known than Georgetown or Penn State are in the UK. Here, people are interested in publications and relevant work, not degree name. Here being the Department of International Security Studies, Yale University.
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    (Original post by 0404343m)
    I'm dismayed that supposedly those serious about research are considering university brand name first, rather than stone last. You should be striving to write the best doctorate, not dick-wave to the average American who only knows about a dozen schools. In academia, people are more concerned about how good you are as opposed to how well known your university is. American universities are full of American PhDs, but the best British staff have come over there and got good jobs once they've built up a reputation. America tends to think its 5+ year PhD offers the best training, and tend to not take UK graduates straight out of their degree unless they're a Rhodes Scholar or something. I know a few British PhDs from outside of Oxford/Cambridge in the States with good jobs. I know someone who went to East Anglia and Essex.

    KCL's War Studies is well known in the States in academic circles, and probably even on the street too (although I have no idea why that matters), but if it comforts you, certainly better known than Georgetown or Penn State are in the UK. Here, people are interested in publications and relevant work, not degree name. Here being the Department of International Security Studies, Yale University.
    The decision is far more complex than simple dick-waving, though perhaps at Yale you all have moved that activity into the realm of science. Weighing program fit against university reputation is natural and common for those considering MA and PhD programs; at least this is the case in the field of IR.

    I'm not particularly interested in how my degree is viewed by the average American. The average American isn't going to hire me, nor are they going to appoint me to a government position, and if anything my previous credentials already give me a leg-up in the general job market. I'm not solely focused on academia, either. In academia quality output does tend to trump university brand. If I wanted to be just an academic then university brand would matter somewhat less (though there is still considerable elitism in some departments and getting a top academic job just out of a low-rung department is next to impossible). My goal is to straddle the academic and policy communities; with the former university reputation matters less and with the latter, it is more important. Just take a quick look at the rosters of major think tanks and you'll see a small handful of universities that pop up consistently. Look at PhD-level appointments to security/defense positions over the past few administrations. Again, certain universities stand out.

    This is partly because often the most prestigious universities attract the best students, destined to go on and do great things. However, there are other reasons why certain universities seem to be overrepresented. Policy careers, including those at some think tanks and within the government (I'm talking about Schedule C appointed positions) require political connections. One of the ways to develop these connections as a PhD candidate is through your university (faculty connections, departmental connections, alumni, etc.). Another is through political groups that support rising policy experts (there are dozens of such groups out there). Both avenues are built largely around who you know, branding, and potential political influence, not necessarily quality of academic output.

    A good example that shows the influence of university reputation over program fit, albeit at the MA level, is found at your current home—Yale. The Macmillan Center, through the Jackson Institute for International Affairs, offers a two-year MA in International Relations and many people on the course focus on security. Yale is not considered one of the premiere International Relations MA programs in the United States; in fact, amongst academics it's viewed outside the top ten programs. Regardless, Yale's MA program still attracts top students. Why? Well, I've talked to quite a few students who've completed the program and though a few mention program fit and some talk about generous funding, most highlight the Yale brand. People who want to go into high-level policy have turned down offers from better IR programs (SAIS and SFS) because they feel that the political connections that come with Yale alumni status will be greater. For some policy positions this is true and though it's somewhat less of a factor for PhD students, nearly all people with serious policy aspirations have an interest in developing as many political connections as possible.

    So here's the dilemma for someone like me who wants it both ways. KCL might be the best fit for my interests, but they will offer little in the way of political connections. LSE and Oxford fit less well academically, but they are world class at everything they do and offer more in the way of political connections. No option is perfect, but some are better than others. What I'm looking for is a balance between program fit and university reputation.
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    (Original post by War and Peace)
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    Jackson Institute is a separate department from ISS, although I can see it from my window, we have relatively little to do with them. KCL is the best connected university with Whitehall for defence policy by a country mile, so I don't really see where your argument stands up. They've been heavily involved in re-drafting military policy and practice through the JSCSC in the Defence Studies department, and their reputation in that area, the area you wish to work in, is second to none. The driving aspiration has to always be to do the best work. You're not talking about Harvard versus London South Bank here, you're talking about three of the 50 or so best universities on the planet with the best connected and best known academics. Here's the inside tip: PhDs aren't easy or fun, so getting the right support to do it and retain your sanity is very, very important. I've witnessed a ton of bad DPhils at Oxford who are there for the wrong reasons, and have realised all too late that no one is falling over themselves to give them a job with an Oxford DPhil. When I applied for a fellowship I was asked to show my working papers and draft chapters/articles- nothing else.

    Since, however, you seem to know a lot about the hiring process and what people care about for giving you a job, there seems to be little point in convincing you KCL is a good idea, as the idea of saying "I have a PhD...from OXFORD" in every meeting for the next twenty years seems much too strong.
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    Edit: See next post.
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    OP, what do you want us to tell you? Like 90% of the people posting told you to put the main emphasis on the course and your own wishes and abilities rather than reputation, but since you do not seem to care about what we say anyway but prefer philosophising about how certain Americans might see your choice, why don't you just go ahead and choose Oxford?!

    For the sake of god, the people who will hire you in the end know about relevant universities and won't pre sort out every application which does not come from an Ivy/Oxbridge graduate. If you are interested in global security, then war studies is what you should do, not plain IR. When do you think the time will come to specialise? You are approaching PhD level and if you don't want go into an academic career, this is the last chance to specialise.

    (Original post by 0404343m)
    Since, however, you seem to know a lot about the hiring process and what people care about for giving you a job, there seems to be little point in convincing you KCL is a good idea, as the idea of saying "I have a PhD...from OXFORD" in every meeting for the next twenty years seems much too strong.
    I 100% second this.
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    (Original post by Sir Fox)
    OP, what do you want us to tell you? Like 90% of the people posting told you to put the main emphasis on the course and your own wishes and abilities rather than reputation, but since you do not seem to care about what we say anyway but prefer philosophising about how certain Americans might see your choice, why don't you just go ahead and choose Oxford?!

    For the sake of god, the people who will hire you in the end know about relevant universities and won't pre sort out every application which does not come from an Ivy/Oxbridge graduate. If you are interested in global security, then war studies is what you should do, not plain IR. When do you think the time will come to specialise? You are approaching PhD level and if you don't want go into an academic career, this is the last chance to specialise.



    I 100% second this.
    I appreciate your comments. I don’t really want anyone to tell me anything in particular. I simply put up a poll with my offers and asked for feedback. I do care what people have to say. I’ve responded to some comments, but it’s been more for clarification and the sake of discussion than anything else. I’m not philosophizing about anything. I live and work in Washington, D.C. and am well aware of how certain parts of this town function. However, I posted this thread to hear a range of views and see what the general consensus would be. It seems that most people would choose King’s. In the end, King’s is the best fit and I will likely take up the offer, but it’s important to go into this with an understanding of potential outcomes. I’m not sure why you think my heart is set on Oxford. If anything, outside of King’s, I’m leaning towards the LSE. Finally, on specialization, I’ve been professionally and academically specializing in the field of security for nearly a decade. I’m not really thinking about the next step as a way to specialize even further (though this would be the outcome), but rather as an extension of my previous work and a necessary step toward my long-term goals in policy and academia.
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    (Original post by War and Peace)
    I’ve been professionally and academically specializing in the field of security for nearly a decade...
    .....in which case I would expect you to have started to develop a personal reputation in the field, and you will be a known quantity when you return to the employment market post-PhD. All the more reason to go for best academic fit, than worry about vague perceptions of particular institutions.
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    War and Peace,

    Do you have your offer of a PhD place at KCL? Did you apply for funding? When did you study at St Andrews?

    As someone with practical experience in this area I would give the following advice:

    If you want to work in academia: go to Oxford
    If you want to work in policy/government: go to KCL

    I am hoping to do a PhD in Defence Studies at KCL 2012/13 but I still haven't heard anything.
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    (Original post by scottie78)
    War and Peace,

    Do you have your offer of a PhD place at KCL? Did you apply for funding? When did you study at St Andrews?

    As someone with practical experience in this area I would give the following advice:

    If you want to work in academia: go to Oxford
    If you want to work in policy/government: go to KCL

    I am hoping to do a PhD in Defence Studies at KCL 2012/13 but I still haven't heard anything.
    I just sent you a PM.
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    I am a military professional, who has worked in both Joint and Multinational environments at a pretty senior level (3 & 4 star - albeit as a PowerPoint monkey), with both government and private sector defense "thinkers", so I hope that I can give you a customers eye view of your (very enviable) choice.

    Bottom Line Up Front - My view is that you would have to be insane to choose anywhere other than Oxford.

    The LSE is, rightly or wrongly, going to have to work tremendously hard to overcome the massive damage done to its reputation in the defense sector (particularly in the US) by its links to the previous government of Libya. It has an excellent (although tarnished by its apparently flexible view of what constitutes academic standards) academic reputation in the field of IR. In the field of defense it has had little of any value to say on the major themes of the last decade; that is not to say that those working there haven't published good stuff, but rather that what they have published has not been influential.

    KCL is excellent but has massively undermined the value of its own unique selling point by taking on too many average army officers to do postgraduate work. It has become, in the view of many in the US defense establishment, the equivalent of the Security Studies program at Kansas State, which leeches off the US Army Command and General Staff College. Within the UK it is not regarded as highly as Oxford, even within "those who understand these things" because those who understand these things know that Oxford has, under Hew Strachan, the Changing Character of War program, which is frankly well above anything offered by KCL. Unless your PhD is on a particularly esoteric topic, like the military thought of Fuller, then everything is better catered for in Oxford, which also has more senior military folk knocking about the place.

    Finally one last point. if you walk into a room in Kabul and your resume states that you went to Oxford, you will be listened to more than if it says KCL/LSE. That is not fair, nor is it always helpful. But it is true.
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    (Original post by Massingberd)
    I am a military professional, who has worked in both Joint and Multinational environments at a pretty senior level (3 & 4 star - albeit as a PowerPoint monkey), with both government and private sector defense "thinkers", so I hope that I can give you a customers eye view of your (very enviable) choice.

    Bottom Line Up Front - My view is that you would have to be insane to choose anywhere other than Oxford.

    The LSE is, rightly or wrongly, going to have to work tremendously hard to overcome the massive damage done to its reputation in the defense sector (particularly in the US) by its links to the previous government of Libya. It has an excellent (although tarnished by its apparently flexible view of what constitutes academic standards) academic reputation in the field of IR. In the field of defense it has had little of any value to say on the major themes of the last decade; that is not to say that those working there haven't published good stuff, but rather that what they have published has not been influential.

    KCL is excellent but has massively undermined the value of its own unique selling point by taking on too many average army officers to do postgraduate work. It has become, in the view of many in the US defense establishment, the equivalent of the Security Studies program at Kansas State, which leeches off the US Army Command and General Staff College. Within the UK it is not regarded as highly as Oxford, even within "those who understand these things" because those who understand these things know that Oxford has, under Hew Strachan, the Changing Character of War program, which is frankly well above anything offered by KCL. Unless your PhD is on a particularly esoteric topic, like the military thought of Fuller, then everything is better catered for in Oxford, which also has more senior military folk knocking about the place.

    Finally one last point. if you walk into a room in Kabul and your resume states that you went to Oxford, you will be listened to more than if it says KCL/LSE. That is not fair, nor is it always helpful. But it is true.
    Hew Strachan was my old supervisor, and I'm now co-supervised with other academics and not in Oxford very often any more. Hew has 15 D.Phils, the CCW was a Leverhulme five year grant, and is now going cap-in-hand around the place looking for money to keep going. He does remarkably well to give his students as much time as he does, but that still isn't very much. The university are actually trying their best to give Rob (Johnson) or Nicholas Rodger as many of Hew's current and would-be students as possible because he has barely written a word since his first volume of WWI that came out before he took up the chair at Oxford. In my conversations with Hew, he's pointed us down to KCL (or up to Glasgow) so, so often because military history at Oxford (and it's military *history*, where most of the people aren't working on anything all that contemporary) is a small and isolated part of a big department with 3-4 staff members. It's run almost wholly out of All Souls, and one fears what the place would be like if the All Souls backing was to dip in the future. The seminars aren't particularly well attended and usually have people like Brian Bond there who is a) kicking on for 90 b) retired and c) not exactly publishing very much now, as much respect as I have for his work from 35 years ago.

    In fact, people working on more contemporary defence work at Oxford are usually punted across to somewhere like ELAC (Ethics and Law in Armed Conflict) in Manor Road because CCW isn't really doing too much any more. Simply put, there was a big hope that when the grant was made to set up the centre, it would turn Oxford into a thriving military centre with lots of new senior staff to cater for the next generation. That it's still led by a 63 year old shows that Oxford University haven't matched the efforts of people like Hew well enough in the last five years. Hell, you're more likely of finding Hew in his office in Glasgow at the Scottish Centre for War Studies than you are in Oxford. And I don't know where these senior army officers are hiding, because the best we usually see is retired middle level officers now taking DPhils. I've never been inside a room in Kabul, but if they listen to the stuff coming out of there that isn't coming from Hew's mouth, then they've been paying attention to the wrong people.
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    Presuambly diplomacy is covered by your research ? Your post is a fascinating insight, but I am not sure I would be giving enough information to uniquely identify myself while biting the hand that feeds on a public forum is wise...

    TBD


    (Original post by 0404343m)
    Interesting stuff
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    (Original post by Massingberd)

    The LSE is, rightly or wrongly, going to have to work tremendously hard to overcome the massive damage done to its reputation in the defense sector (particularly in the US) by its links to the previous government of Libya.
    I really don't believe this. My old university (Oxford) has had similar dubious links with shady leaders and companies in the past. However, looking at its academic reputation there's hardly been a dent. Similar situation for many top US universities.
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    (Original post by TBD)
    Presuambly diplomacy is covered by your research ? Your post is a fascinating insight, but I am not sure I would be giving enough information to uniquely identify myself while biting the hand that feeds on a public forum is wise...

    TBD
    Oxford do not fund me any longer, and save asking my supervisor himself who his current doctoral students are (I'm one of over a dozen), I'm not listed on any website (that I know of) as a current student. The reason I'm giving more information, is that all too often someone arrives on a forum to make one post from a position of unquantifiable expertise for their position to be taken as gospel. In my humble opinion, it'd be 'insane' to say it's insane to pick one university out of those three especially when the others are so good and one is the best match for the OP's research. For me, it's about writing the best doctorate, and that means searching out the best supervisor.

    Prof Strachan is an amazing person and one of the most informed people I've ever met. What he's achieved at Glasgow and Oxford has been extraordinary. IF anything, I'm on *his* side: If the university had any sense (and I'm far from the only person to have said this here or elsewhere) they'd have backed him to the hilt years ago, but it took a five year external grant to get it off of the ground, and it might end up there very shortly if they're not careful.
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    In my view the LSE has suffered little to no damage within the US security community due to its links to the previous Libyan government. The UK government asked the LSE to accept Gaddafi as part of a plan to strengthen diplomatic ties with Libya and open up trade for UK-based companies. At the same time the US government was reaching out to Libya, which had become more amenable on the security front after 9/11. The UK press made a big deal about the relationship between the LSE and Libya when the story broke, but few people is the US seemed to care. I’ve talked to people in the US security community who characterize the whole thing as a normal part of international politics. It tends to help relations with foreign leaders when their children (or they themselves) have attended your best universities.

    I can’t speak for the average person in Kabul. However, I live and work in Washington, DC and can tell you that people group Oxford and the LSE in the same tier. More people in the Obama administration went to the LSE than any other university outside the United States. KCL War Studies has a similarly strong network in the security sector. Granted, the average person on the street (in Kabul or DC) might not know as much about KCL War Studies, but most academics and professionals do. I’ve never heard anyone else equate KCL War Studies with Kansas State (was that a joke?). KCL’s strategic partner in the US is UNC-Chapel Hill. The Department of War Studies has formal partnerships with the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown SFS.

    0404343m did a great job giving the inside scoop on the Changing Character of War Program at Oxford. His views seem to ring true with what I’ve heard from others. Oxford is great for the study of history and politics, but there are better options if you’re interested in contemporary conflict.

    Thanks for everyone’s feedback. I’m going to accept the KCL offer this week. I always knew that the program best fit my interests, but it was nice to hear similar opinions from others.

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