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PhD English, 12 Offers

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    I have offers to pursue a PhD in English from twelve institutions, but I am unsure which, if any, offer to accept. So far, no offer of funding. I'm a non-English, European citizen and I come from circumstances that allow me to afford an unfunded PhD. However, I have no interest in being a paying customer in a non-competitive environment.

    The supervisors who best fit my profile are at Royal Holloway and University of Glasgow. However, are there other factors, that go beyond the choice of supervisor, that I should take into consideration? For example, does one institution offer teaching possibilities that cannot be matched by other institutions? Is it important that the department aligns with one's interests?

    Offers from:
    Sussex
    Exeter
    Durham
    St Andrews
    Glasgow
    Bristol
    Queen Mary
    Cardiff
    Lancaster
    Birmingham
    York
    King’s College London

    Do any of these universities have perks for PhD students that outstrip the rest? Or is the PhD experience across the universities pretty much the same (i.e., contingent on your supervisor(s))?

    Rejections from:
    Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Warwick, Notthingam

    I inquired why this was and was told that they couldn't find any supervisors who shared my interests (indeed, the English author I wish to write about is not one that Oxbridge have any experts in). My tentative PhD would intersect philosophy and literature, and interdisciplinary research might not be the forte of ancient universities (why Warwick or Nottingham rejected me I don't know).

    That said, I will likely teach outside of UK post the completion of the PhD, and the Oxbridge name is trusted internationally. Should I reapply for next year? I could easily narrow the proposal so that it fits with their profile. By then I will have further publications (I now have three, two by the time I applied) so I expect that I would survive the absurdly high, 40%, acceptance rate.

    Please let me know what you think. Thank you!
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    (Original post by Someonelik)
    I have offers to pursue a PhD in English from twelve institutions, but I am unsure which, if any, offer to accept. So far, no offer of funding. I'm a non-English, European citizen and I come from circumstances that allow me to afford an unfunded PhD. However, I have no interest in being a paying customer in a non-competitive environment.

    The supervisors who best fit my profile are at Royal Holloway and University of Glasgow. However, are there other factors, that go beyond the choice of supervisor, that I should take into consideration? For example, does one institution offer teaching possibilities that cannot be matched by other institutions? Is it important that the department aligns with one's interests?

    Offers from:
    Sussex
    Exeter
    Durham
    St Andrews
    Glasgow
    Bristol
    Queen Mary
    Cardiff
    Lancaster
    Birmingham
    York
    King’s College London

    Do any of these universities have perks for PhD students that outstrip the rest? Or is the PhD experience across the universities pretty much the same (i.e., contingent on your supervisor(s))?

    Rejections from:
    Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Warwick, Notthingam

    I inquired why this was and was told that they couldn't find any supervisors who shared my interests (indeed, the English author I wish to write about is not one that Oxbridge have any experts in). My tentative PhD would intersect philosophy and literature, and interdisciplinary research might not be the forte of ancient universities (why Warwick or Nottingham rejected me I don't know).

    That said, I will likely teach outside of UK post the completion of the PhD, and the Oxbridge name is trusted internationally. Should I reapply for next year? I could easily narrow the proposal so that it fits with their profile. By then I will have further publications (I now have three, two by the time I applied) so I expect that I would survive the absurdly high, 40%, acceptance rate.

    Please let me know what you think. Thank you!
    You made 17 PhD applications? Bloody hell! Why would you do that to yourself if you're not even dependent on funding?

    Anyway, I don't think waiting for another year just to have the chance for another stab at Oxbridge would be a very sensible idea, especially if you already know that what you're interested in is an exotic area that nobody in those departments is really working on.
    If I were you, and funding wasn't a consideration, I'd probably start by narrowing it down by library resources / accessibility of good libraries. Sussex and Exeter may have fine English departments, but Brighton and Exeter aren't the most accessible of places if you don't have a car. So if you found that the university library was insufficient for your purposes, you'd have to take a train to London and go to the BL for everything that wasn't at your university's library. Even if money is no objective for you and you could easily afford the train fare, and even if you actually have your own car, you'd still waste a lot of time that way.
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    Just reapply and write you are interested in something you know they do. Change your research interests if you need to. These people know what are the hot topics of the moment so it is best to let them choose what you will be working on. But you don't really have to abide by your proposal once you are there anyway so write whatever you think will get you in. None of these universities is nowhere as famous as Oxbridge so it matters if you want to work in another country.
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    Dear Hobnob,

    Thank you so much for your quick and helpful reply. I didn't actually find it too bad applying to 17 PhD programs. I did this in the hope of getting AHRC, but since EU students (who haven't resided in England for the last three years) are only eligible for a fee reduction, the Universities are unlikely to give away an AHRC scholarship to a non-British subject. Universities have x number of AHRC scholarships, not a lump sum of money to play with, so it follows that they would rather give away a full-stipend than a half-stipend. If I had known this, I wouldn't have applied to 17 universities.

    Since I only have to meet my supervisor once a month (I presume), I don't know why I would need to live in the vicinity of the university. I might as well live abroad, next to an awesome library, and skype with supervisor once a month, or fly to visit him/her.

    I am probably wrong in assuming this. Is it important to live on campus for any other reason than access to reading material?
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    Dear Ghost6,

    This is my exact thinking. My only concern is that I would sacrifice expert help (which I would get from Royal Holloway or Glasgow) for a brand name. But I should probably just realize that I need to go to Oxbridge to have a chance at employment later on.
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    (Original post by Ghost6)
    Just reapply and write you are interested in something you know they do. Change your research interests if you need to. These people know what are the hot topics of the moment so it is best to let them choose what you will be working on. But you don't really have to abide by your proposal once you are there anyway so write whatever you think will get you in. None of these universities is nowhere as famous as Oxbridge so it matters if you want to work in another country.
    That's nonsense. Academics at pretty much any department will have an idea of what the 'hot topics of the moment' are within their field, unless they're too old to know or care.
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    Another alternative is to start at, say, Royal Holloway, receive expert advice and accumulate, say, two good publications. Then, before they would give me any degree (e.g., an mphil for effort), I would quit. Since publications that have not been used towards a previous degree can count towards a PhD, I would then have the equivalent of 1/3 of the PhD finished -- which I can then use for Oxbridge. This is a very ****ty move (or maybe not, since I would be paying royal holloway), but it might be worth it from a selfish perspective. Any thoughts?
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    (Original post by Someonelik)
    Another alternative is to start at, say, Royal Holloway, receive expert advice and accumulate, say, two good publications. Then, before they would give me any degree (e.g., an mphil for effort), I would quit. Since publications that have not been used towards a previous degree can count towards a PhD, I would then have the equivalent of 1/3 of the PhD finished -- which I can then use for Oxbridge. This is a very ****ty move (or maybe not, since I would be paying royal holloway), but it might be worth it from a selfish perspective. Any thoughts?
    I wouldn't do that because at some point in the application process you will be asked what you are currently doing and they will question your motivation when you tell them you want to quit your current PhD. You are also unlikely to get good reference letters from your former department that way.
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    (Original post by Someonelik)
    Another alternative is to start at, say, Royal Holloway, receive expert advice and accumulate, say, two good publications. Then, before they would give me any degree (e.g., an mphil for effort), I would quit. Since publications that have not been used towards a previous degree can count towards a PhD, I would then have the equivalent of 1/3 of the PhD finished -- which I can then use for Oxbridge. This is a very ****ty move (or maybe not, since I would be paying royal holloway), but it might be worth it from a selfish perspective. Any thoughts?
    Hmm, I can't speak for Cambridge, but I'm pretty certain that Oxford wouldn't allow you to skip a year because of this. If you've got lots of publications, good for you, but you'd still need to have a thesis at the end of your degree, not just a loose collection of pre-written journal articles. Better check the relevant exam regulations very carefully before you try anything like that.:erm:
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    (Original post by Someonelik)
    Since I only have to meet my supervisor once a month (I presume), I don't know why I would need to live in the vicinity of the university. I might as well live abroad, next to an awesome library, and skype with supervisor once a month, or fly to visit him/her.

    I am probably wrong in assuming this. Is it important to live on campus for any other reason than access to reading material?
    Cambridge certainly and Oxford I think, both require you to live within a certain distance of a certain point in the city. In other words, you don't have to live in college or university accommodation, but you do have to live in Cambridge (or Oxford). I'm not sure if other universities have any similar rules, but I suspect complete absence from the university will not be possible in many of them.

    (Original post by Someonelik)
    Another alternative is to start at, say, Royal Holloway, receive expert advice and accumulate, say, two good publications. Then, before they would give me any degree (e.g., an mphil for effort), I would quit. Since publications that have not been used towards a previous degree can count towards a PhD, I would then have the equivalent of 1/3 of the PhD finished -- which I can then use for Oxbridge. This is a very ****ty move (or maybe not, since I would be paying royal holloway), but it might be worth it from a selfish perspective. Any thoughts?
    A PhD isn't like an undergrad or Masters degree where you can gain transferable credits. People only tend to change universities and Supervisors if their Supervisor dies. I suspect this would be professionally and politically a very dangerous plan that could backfire very badly.
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    (Original post by Someonelik)
    Another alternative is to start at, say, Royal Holloway, receive expert advice and accumulate, say, two good publications. Then, before they would give me any degree (e.g., an mphil for effort), I would quit. Since publications that have not been used towards a previous degree can count towards a PhD, I would then have the equivalent of 1/3 of the PhD finished -- which I can then use for Oxbridge. This is a very ****ty move (or maybe not, since I would be paying royal holloway), but it might be worth it from a selfish perspective. Any thoughts?
    Also that plan requires you to get into Oxbridge after quitting your previous Uni (on top of the other points already made).

    They would definitely question what you've done previously (especially if you do have postgraduate publications), and I imagine be somewhat apprehensive if their potential candidate has already quit one PhD.
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    Dear Threeportdrift,

    I'm curious as to why the universities require you to live in the vicinity. Surely, they must have a rational reason for doing so? By rational reason, I do not count seeing your supervisor once monthly or living close to the institution's library. I would be very much interested in participating in a Uni's academic, postgraduate life, but what is exactly on offer? Teaching opportunities are rare and tend to be offered first in the third year, for example. Is the idea to just hope for hang out time with similarly minded individuals who are stuck in the same place?

    As to your second point, I would certainly not argue that a PhD is anything like an undergrad or master's degree. And yes, the intuitive assumption is that I would annoy the professor who agreed to supervise me -- who I later abandoned for the better university. However, I don't see how I would have any moral obligation to fulfill my studies with the first professor unless he/she has offered a scholarship, and looks upon me in any other manner than as a paying customer. An average professor tends to supervise 10-15 students, in addition to teaching and doing research, so I would be very surprised if they even remembered me by name after a year of leaving the program. The great advantage would be, of course, a year of extra studies.
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    (Original post by gumball)
    Also that plan requires you to get into Oxbridge after quitting your previous Uni (on top of the other points already made).

    They would definitely question what you've done previously (especially if you do have postgraduate publications), and I imagine be somewhat apprehensive if their potential candidate has already quit one PhD.
    Dear Gumball,

    This is an excellent point. I will have to find a way around it
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    I very grateful for previous responses, but I feel like this thread is leaning strangely towards Oxbridge-speculation, but perhaps for good reasons.

    Anyway, I would be very happy to attend ANY university that would give me an honest, competitive offer with funding. This might also be a reason to reapply after starting a PhD -- simply stating that funds are low.
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    (Original post by Someonelik)
    I very grateful for previous responses, but I feel like this thread is leaning strangely towards Oxbridge-speculation, but perhaps for good reasons.

    Anyway, I would be very happy to attend ANY university that would give me an honest, competitive offer with funding. This might also be a reason to reapply after starting a PhD -- simply stating that funds are low.
    'Stating that funds are low'? Now you're contradicting yourself. I thought you said funding wasn't an issue for you, and now you're making it sound as though it was the determining factor in your decision?
    Also, in all fairness, you're the one who started on the whole Oxbridge theme in the first place, by talking about how you might want to reapply to Oxford and Cambridge and change your proposal to something that will 'fit their profile', despite holding 12(!) offers from perfectly fine departments.:erm:
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    My opinion (as I didn't really express mine before), is that you should go to whichever institution does research into (or as near to as possible) your field of interest. There's no point attending somewhere just for the name if you're going to do something you're not interested in, as that'll be evident in your research, which will be of lesser quality to those who actually enjoy it, and you risk burning out.

    If Oxbridge aren't interested in your field of study, so be it, and attend somewhere else. The institution which grants your PhD isn't particularly important, and I doubt a future job would penalise you for attending one establishment over another. Perform the research on the topic you're interested - especially if the money isn't particularly important, as you originally stipulated.
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    Thanks everyone for all the excellent advice.

    Funding is not important in the sense that I am not poor, but can afford to fund myself. Funding is important as a sign of merit; as a sign of saying that it is worthwhile to spend a further three years in school; and as a sign to future employers that I have a high academic caliber.

    I'm quite aware that British Universities supply the market with a large share of PhDs in English, most of the ones who attain these PhDs will not secure teaching positions (at least this is what the ones I interview with warned me). In short, an unfunded offer -- or several -- may not be an indication of merit. Add to this the rejection from high-caliber universities (oxbridge and ucl), and it makes perfect sense to question whether I am ready to embark upon this competitive career.

    Gumball: I agree with your comment about going to the establishment with the best research match, for the sake of producing high caliber research and getting a job in the UK. Also, if I do apply abroad, as I guess will be necessary given how difficult it is to find a teaching position in the UK, a degree from University of London should carry some merit. Royal Holloway offers after all one of the best supervisors.
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    (Original post by Someonelik)
    Thanks everyone for all the excellent advice.

    Funding is not important in the sense that I am not poor, but can afford to fund myself. Funding is important as a sign of merit; as a sign of saying that it is worthwhile to spend a further three years in school; and as a sign to future employers that I have a high academic caliber.

    I'm quite aware that British Universities supply the market with a large share of PhDs in English, most of the ones who attain these PhDs will not secure teaching positions (at least this is what the ones I interview with warned me). In short, an unfunded offer -- or several -- may not be an indication of merit.
    OK, fine, it's perfectly understandable that your ego feels a bit bruised, but there's no guarantee that you'll manage to get funding next year. You could easily spend a year waiting and still not get any further than you are now. Do you really want that?
    And as for most people not securing academic jobs after their PhDs, well duh. But that applies to all universities. Oxbridge postgraduates aren't somehow immune to the way the rest of the world works.
    Add to this the rejection from high-caliber universities (oxbridge and ucl), and it makes perfect sense to question whether I am ready to embark upon this competitive career.
    Oh, so Glasgow, York, Birmingham etc. aren't high calibre, then?:confused:
    Anyway, regarding the whole questioning your suitability for academia, I don't think you can really infer so much from the fact that those universities didn't like your proposal.
    The one thing I would slightly question, though, is whether you're really going into this for the right reasons, given that a) you seem to have indiscriminately applied to just about every department in sight, regardless of whether they were a good match for your research interests and b) you don't actually seem to care very much about those 'interests' even now, given how ready you are to throw them out / defer the PhD for another year even though you don't need to, just so you can have another go at getting the funding badge or the university name you think will wow the most people.:erm: Sorry if I'm sounding a bit patronising here, but a PhD is a terrible slog, and you'll make life a lot easier for yourself if you actually like and feel drawn towards what you're doing, at least to begin with.
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    (Original post by Ghost6)
    Just reapply and write you are interested in something you know they do. Change your research interests if you need to. These people know what are the hot topics of the moment so it is best to let them choose what you will be working on.
    From what I know, bad advice! I think that finding a good supervisor who fits "your" interests than "his" is important. After all, you have to live with the work, not them. In sciences and technology, where people are interested in the field and therefore finding the final topic and associated funding works differently. On the other hand, in arts and social sciences it is very important that you take up your topic.

    Remember, you can lie for 6 months feigning interest, not for 3-4 years.

    If funding is not a concern, my suggestion would be to take up the one where the guide is the best, and the library excellent, and the department supportive and encouraging.

    The rest is what you make of your phd: what papers, networks you write/build up.
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    I think people have offered sane advice.

    I agree that running after Oxbridge makes one doubt your aspirations from it all, after well: I mean is it only for the degree and the sure-shot job-after that you are chasing a PhD. Or is there a genuine love and desire for the subject you intend to research.

    I would rather move places than change my research interest!

    And you make some simplistic assumptions about how you can do it: live next to a good library and skype! PhD has a residency requirement, so that you benefit not just from your guide's advice but also the on-going events at your school/faculty/department. This is meant to enrich your world-view, learn how to make academic presentations, learn about other topics, and so on!

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