What matters most for a PhD: prestige or money?

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Jane Lane
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Hi everyone,

the question is pretty clear

I've been accepted at Oxford and Cambridge for a PhD but with no scholarship I've applied also at another German uni, which should be offering also a monthly grant (I'm waiting news....fingers crossed!)

Apart from my particular situation (any advice is welcomed ), this is a question I've been asking myself since I decided to do a PhD. I'm from Italy, and here a no-funded PhD is almost pointless (unless you are able to publish many essays and your thesis).

So, again, my question is: in your opinion, which one is more important, doing a PhD at a prestigious uni, or being funded from a not-so-well-known uni?
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moonriseking
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(Original post by Jane Lane)
Hi everyone,

the question is pretty clear

I've been accepted at Oxford and Cambridge for a PhD but with no scholarship I've applied also at another German uni, which should be offering also a monthly grant (I'm waiting news....fingers crossed!)

Apart from my particular situation (any advice is welcomed ), this is a question I've been asking myself since I decided to do a PhD. I'm from Italy, and here a no-funded PhD is almost pointless (unless you are able to publish many essays and your thesis).

So, again, my question is: in your opinion, which one is more important, doing a PhD at a prestigious uni, or being funded from a not-so-well-known uni?
A very similar discussion happened recently here which is worth reading through:
http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/show....php?t=2657139

Essentially it comes down to whether you can afford to self fund or not.
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Jane Lane
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Thank you
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gutenberg
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It also depends on where you can see yourself working after your PhD - do you want a career in the UK, or back in Italy? My understanding of Italian academia is that it's very patronage-based and 'who-you-know', so perhaps think about how you can build networks; that is also important in the UK & elsewhere of course, although perhaps not quite as strongly.

In the UK, many would argue that if you are not offered funding, it is a 'polite rejection' from the university: if they really really wanted you, they would have backed up the offer with money. I'm not sure how much I agree with this, but it's worth thinking about carefully. And assuming you would like to go into academia of some kind, I don't know whether I'd want a massive debt from self-funding a PhD hanging over me when I entered the precarious world of the academic job market, even if you did have an Oxbridge degree.
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The_Lonely_Goatherd
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Go with the funding! Ability to attract funding is something that future employers will want to see (presuming you want a career in academia after your PhD) :yes:
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c2uk
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(Original post by Jane Lane)
I've been accepted at Oxford and Cambridge for a PhD but with no scholarship I've applied also at another German uni, which should be offering also a monthly grant (I'm waiting news....fingers crossed!)

So, again, my question is: in your opinion, which one is more important, doing a PhD at a prestigious uni, or being funded from a not-so-well-known uni?
At PhD, it's more about the reputation of your supervisor and the research group / subject reputation - how well is your supervisor connected, how many conferences could you expect to attend, etc... Some German universities offer excellent reputations - thus, could you shed some further insight into your particular situation?

With no scholarship in place at Oxford / Cambridge, how do you intend to fund your studies? Have you got savings, or money from your family, or do you have to work part-time? The latter can be an incredible drain on you personally and may impact on how well you perform in your PhD.

Besides funding, the other thing to consider is, how much support are you going to get. British universities have started to provide an excellent framework of PhD / early career researcher support with extensive training programmes, from how to get started with your PhD, how to get published, how to present at a conference, your career after your PhD, to even more detailed and subject specific knowledge, i.e. how to conduct PhD research, research methods, ... I haven't come across too many German universities that offer anything as comprehensive.

Speaking about future career, what's your intention? Do you want to stay in academia / academic research? The routes are quite different in Germany vs. the UK.

In the UK you could essentially apply for a Lectureship straight after your PhD - though sometimes you've got to do a PostDoc / Research Associate first to get some more research experience and a few publications under your belt before you can compete for a lectureship. Then you progress through the ranks, Senior Lecturer, Reader and ultimately Professor

In Germany, under the new system you can apply for Junior Professor positions, these limited to six years and your progress is monitored. After a successful six years you can apply for a full professor post. Under the old system, you do a Habilitation, which is essentially another PhD but slightly longer - five to six years - and the possibility to start your own research group - basically the same as Junior Professor but with the small difference that you again have to work under the tutelage of a supervisor. But once you're past that, you can again apply for a full professor (though I've seen these apply to Senior Lecturer positions in the UK as well) - this makes the German system slightly more attractive than the UK - though in Germany too you may need to do a postdoc first to get some more research experience under your belt.
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Klix88
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(Original post by moonriseking)
Essentially it comes down to whether you can afford to self fund or not.
Agreed.

If you can't afford to self-fund, then going with the money is the only way you'll get a PhD.

If you can afford to self-fund, go to the organisation which is the best fit for your research interests. It's worth noting that Oxbridge don't lead the UK in all subjects, so even if you're looking at reputation or prestige it's worth shopping around just in case.
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Jane Lane
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Basically I don't think I'll be back in Italy because as gutenberg said, university is kinda patronage-based and there are no opportunities at the moment (especially in Humanities).

I thought too that not winning an award was like a polite rejection, but on the other hand one of my potential supervisors told me this year they were cut and there were very few grants for the entire dept. Again, a supervisor told me there is no difference between a self-funded or a funded PhD, while another one told me the opposite. I'm so confused.


(Original post by c2uk)
At PhD, it's more about the reputation of your supervisor and the research group / subject reputation - how well is your supervisor connected, how many conferences could you expect to attend, etc... Some German universities offer excellent reputations - thus, could you shed some further insight into your particular situation?
The university I have applied for is Freie Universitat in Berlin, for a PhD in American Studies. It's a great uni for American studies but it can't be said the same for the Italian dept. I had my interview on April 25th, but I'm still waiting the outcome. The main issue is that my research project is kinda borderline between American Studies and Italian Studies. In fact, at Oxford and Cambridge I have been offered a place in Italian Studies and they have the programme I like the most (especially Cambridge, which would be my first choice). By studying in the UK I would do what I like the most, while American studies would be a compromise (it's a long story....).



(Original post by c2uk)
With no scholarship in place at Oxford / Cambridge, how do you intend to fund your studies? Have you got savings, or money from your family, or do you have to work part-time? The latter can be an incredible drain on you personally and may impact on how well you perform in your PhD.
I have savings and my family could help me, but I will also try to find some casual work...


(Original post by c2uk)
Speaking about future career, what's your intention? Do you want to stay in academia / academic research?
Yep, and as I know the academic market is quite saturated, I'm also wondering if the prestige can make the difference.

Your explanation about the two systems is great, thanks.
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c2uk
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(Original post by Jane Lane)
Basically I don't think I'll be back in Italy because as gutenberg said, university is kinda patronage-based and there are no opportunities at the moment (especially in Humanities).
Okay, humanities is a tough area regardless where these days. Without securing funding for your PhD, it's going to be even tougher to find relevant work after. So your supervisor's network (and your ability to network) could be crucial here.

There are some places where you could look for external funding for your PhD, with an offer from Cambridge / Oxford, and some money on your own, you might have a decent chance at getting money from charities / trusts. You may want to approach your potential supervisors at Oxford / Cambridge and ask them about tips where you could apply. I don't know too much about the PhD process at those two, but at Cardiff, they'd happily wait for you a while to make a decision, and may even transfer you to a slightly later starting date if you haven't secured sufficient funding in time.
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madamemerle
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(Original post by Jane Lane)

The university I have applied for is Freie Universitat in Berlin, for a PhD in American Studies. It's a great uni for American studies but it can't be said the same for the Italian dept. I had my interview on April 25th, but I'm still waiting the outcome. The main issue is that my research project is kinda borderline between American Studies and Italian Studies. In fact, at Oxford and Cambridge I have been offered a place in Italian Studies and they have the programme I like the most (especially Cambridge, which would be my first choice). By studying in the UK I would do what I like the most, while American studies would be a compromise (it's a long story....).

Hey! I do transatlantic stuff, so I sympathize! I feel more comfortable working within an American Studies environment (mainly because the methodology is so distinct from a lot of the work done on British Lit and culture - I'm on the literary-ish side of American Studies). Honestly, if it's American strengths you're after, I wouldn't hesitate with choosing Berlin: they have the amazing JFK Institute, loads of funding and loads of specialists...you'd be hard pressed to find a better supported place to do American Studies in Europe. If you're keener on being rooted in the Italian side of things, then the UK unis might be a better choice. But, I'd think too about which perspective/methodology/disciplinary grounding is going to be more marketable when you finish. It's my sense that there are probably more jobs for Americanists, particularly comparative Americanists, than for people coming out of Italian departments and you will probably be more able to apply to a wider variety of departments with an AmSt degree - though this depends on your particular project. Your project may be fairly similar at either, but the framing could make a difference.
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Jane Lane
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(Original post by madamemerle)
Hey! I do transatlantic stuff, so I sympathize! I feel more comfortable working within an American Studies environment (mainly because the methodology is so distinct from a lot of the work done on British Lit and culture - I'm on the literary-ish side of American Studies). Honestly, if it's American strengths you're after, I wouldn't hesitate with choosing Berlin: they have the amazing JFK Institute, loads of funding and loads of specialists...you'd be hard pressed to find a better supported place to do American Studies in Europe. If you're keener on being rooted in the Italian side of things, then the UK unis might be a better choice. But, I'd think too about which perspective/methodology/disciplinary grounding is going to be more marketable when you finish. It's my sense that there are probably more jobs for Americanists, particularly comparative Americanists, than for people coming out of Italian departments and you will probably be more able to apply to a wider variety of departments with an AmSt degree - though this depends on your particular project. Your project may be fairly similar at either, but the framing could make a difference.
The thing is: I'd rather study at Cambridge because in the Italian Dept I could handle my project more comfortably.
On the other hand, I know how Berlin is strong in Am Studies, so again, I do not know which one would be more marketable. Italian studies is a very specific field compared to American studies, but there are plenty of Americanists and I would be a cultural and comparative Italianist.
My research project is basically the same, it "only" changes the point of view.



(Original post by c2uk)
Okay, humanities is a tough area regardless where these days. Without securing funding for your PhD, it's going to be even tougher to find relevant work after. So your supervisor's network (and your ability to network) could be crucial here.
And that's the main reason why I'm not so sure I would like to leave the prestige out of the picture!


(Original post by c2uk)
You may want to approach your potential supervisors at Oxford / Cambridge and ask them about tips where you could apply. I don't know too much about the PhD process at those two, but at Cardiff, they'd happily wait for you a while to make a decision, and may even transfer you to a slightly later starting date if you haven't secured sufficient funding in time.
I met both my potential supervisors. While the Oxford Prof didn't seem interested in me (and that's why I decided to give up Oxford despite he would be perfect for my project....), my Cam potential supervisor seemed a nice person and suggested me to try to contact different colleges. He told me that is hard to find funding or a job to self-fund the PhD, but that is not impossible and he is the one who states that there is no difference between fully funded or self-funded PhD in terms of future opportunities. Obviously all I have is a first good impression, but I don't know how much he will be effectively willing to help me.
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c2uk
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(Original post by Jane Lane)
I met both my potential supervisors. While the Oxford Prof didn't seem interested in me (and that's why I decided to give up Oxford despite he would be perfect for my project....), my Cam potential supervisor seemed a nice person and suggested me to try to contact different colleges. He told me that is hard to find funding or a job to self-fund the PhD, but that is not impossible and he is the one who states that there is no difference between fully funded or self-funded PhD in terms of future opportunities. Obviously all I have is a first good impression, but I don't know how much he will be effectively willing to help me.
Any chance you can talk to some of his current PhD students, or better yet some of his recently graduated? That may help you get some idea.

Regarding funding, the university should really help and support you find external funding. There's various databases, some of which should be available to you once you're a student - researchprofessionals.com ? - or try the alternative guide to postgraduate funding - gradfunding.co.uk

Once you know from Germany, you should use some of the feedback you got in this thread to map out how they fare. Also, don't be afraid to ask them why you should do a PhD with them when you could do a partially-funded at Oxford / Cambridge.
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madamemerle
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(Original post by Jane Lane)
The thing is: I'd rather study at Cambridge because in the Italian Dept I could handle my project more comfortably.
On the other hand, I know how Berlin is strong in Am Studies, so again, I do not know which one would be more marketable. Italian studies is a very specific field compared to American studies, but there are plenty of Americanists and I would be a cultural and comparative Italianist.
My research project is basically the same, it "only" changes the point of view.
Yeah, it's tough decision. You're right that there are more Americanists looking for jobs, as well as more jobs...I didn't explain myself very well when I mentioned being more marketable. I should have said: ask around among people you respect who are in the kind of departments you see yourself working in - ask them if they would favour a comparative Italianist, with American secondary interests or a comparative Americanist, with Italian secondary interests (since those are likely the sort of broad labels by which you'll be viewed on graduating from your two possibilities). Do you see yourself only being interested in working for Italian departments? If you do, then the Italian Studies PhD will not be a problem, but I imagine (with the more saturated markets) that it would be quite difficult to move outside of Italian departments. On the other hand, would Italian departments not want to hire an AmSt PhD? Would you be OK with working in other humanities departments, which an AmSt PhD might potentially prepare you for? I think you have to weigh these things up, as well as the funding. Professors that have served on hiring committees can give you some sense of these things, maybe.

Anyway, like I said....I sympathize: I nearly quit my PhD in my second year because of falling between two camps and not managing to properly navigate the AmSt/English divide. I didn't quit, obviously, but realized I needed to find myself a home in one or the other....and I'm much happier now, thankfully!
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Jane Lane
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(Original post by c2uk)
Any chance you can talk to some of his current PhD students, or better yet some of his recently graduated? That may help you get some idea.
That's a good idea. I think I'll try this one.

(Original post by c2uk)
Once you know from Germany, you should use some of the feedback you got in this thread to map out how they fare. Also, don't be afraid to ask them why you should do a PhD with them when you could do a partially-funded at Oxford / Cambridge.
Isn't kind of rude asking them this question? Should I ask it to my potential supervisor?



(Original post by madamemerle)
Do you see yourself only being interested in working for Italian departments? If you do, then the Italian Studies PhD will not be a problem, but I imagine (with the more saturated markets) that it would be quite difficult to move outside of Italian departments. On the other hand, would Italian departments not want to hire an AmSt PhD? Would you be OK with working in other humanities departments, which an AmSt PhD might potentially prepare you for?
Wow, you gave me a lot to think about! I'm afraid I cannot answer these questions because I'm...well, outside the academic world. My MA supervisor basically dumped me, he thinks that students should be on their own and I don't have a "guide", someone who can give me an insight opinion.

(Original post by madamemerle)
Anyway, like I said....I sympathize: I nearly quit my PhD in my second year because of falling between two camps and not managing to properly navigate the AmSt/English divide. I didn't quit, obviously, but realized I needed to find myself a home in one or the other....and I'm much happier now, thankfully!
May I ask which field have you chosen?
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Scooby, PhD
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(Original post by Jane Lane)
Hi everyone,

the question is pretty clear

I've been accepted at Oxford and Cambridge for a PhD but with no scholarship I've applied also at another German uni, which should be offering also a monthly grant (I'm waiting news....fingers crossed!)

Apart from my particular situation (any advice is welcomed ), this is a question I've been asking myself since I decided to do a PhD. I'm from Italy, and here a no-funded PhD is almost pointless (unless you are able to publish many essays and your thesis).

So, again, my question is: in your opinion, which one is more important, doing a PhD at a prestigious uni, or being funded from a not-so-well-known uni?
I have a PhD and used to work as a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford. When I was at Oxford I was surrounded by PhD graduates from all over the world, and what they had in common was (1) PhD funding as a student, (2) world class PhD supervisors, and (3) a small list of good publications which made them "REFable". Some of the postdocs I was working with were from very low ranked UK universities which had great departments nonetheless (i.e. critical mass in terms of specialist research teams, equipment and resources for graduate students). On the back of this, I would argue that you should ignore "prestige" and go for the best supervisor/research team out there.

On a related note, having funding is something of a "badge of honour" - it's difficult to secure (particularly in the arts and humanities) and tends to be reserved for the best applications on the day. In some sense, having funding is prestigious in itself. If you have a place with a great supervisor/research team AND funding, then the answer is to turn down Oxbridge. Once you graduate with a PhD universities will judge you on the quality of your research and your published outputs.

(Edit: of course, there are other things you will be judged on depending on the job. For example, if you are applying for a lectureship then universities want to know what teaching experience you have had etc.)
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c2uk
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(Original post by Jane Lane)
Isn't kind of rude asking them this question? Should I ask it to my potential supervisor?
Of course, you've got to be careful of how you phrase the question, and yes some people may take offense in you asking the question whatever way you phrase it but at the end of the day, it's your time and your career that's at stake here and they should understand it. Alternatively, you could simply do your due diligence and find out through less direct questions how they compare with Oxford.
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madamemerle
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(Original post by Jane Lane)



Wow, you gave me a lot to think about! I'm afraid I cannot answer these questions because I'm...well, outside the academic world. My MA supervisor basically dumped me, he thinks that students should be on their own and I don't have a "guide", someone who can give me an insight opinion.


May I ask which field have you chosen?
I've sort of housed myself intellectually within American Studies, but looking out

I'm actually not in an American Studies department, but all my advisors are Americanists and my teaching is American Studies focused/ with a transatlantic bent. In some ways, I wish I had conceived of my project slightly differently to begin with and just applied to American Studies dep'ts as it would have been easier.

That's a shame about your MA advisor. It's possible that The BAAS, or EAAS might be able to offer some advice on the matter (and the equivalent Italian Studies groups). The BAAS have been extremely helpful whenever I've contacted them.
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Jane Lane
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Thank you everyone for your advice and experience. I just received a letter from Berlin and....I didn't won the award so....it's gonna be Cambridge

Maybe I was too optimistic, I knew my interview wasn't great but my potential German supervisor was very interested in my project and being interviewed was already a success.

Anyway, now I have to prepare myself for this new challenge I'm a little bit scared and....well, maybe disappointed, but even without a scholarship and at a postgraduate level, Cambridge should be a good choice for my future.
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c2uk
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(Original post by Jane Lane)
Thank you everyone for your advice and experience. I just received a letter from Berlin and....I didn't won the award so....it's gonna be Cambridge

Maybe I was too optimistic, I knew my interview wasn't great but my potential German supervisor was very interested in my project and being interviewed was already a success.

Anyway, now I have to prepare myself for this new challenge I'm a little bit scared and....well, maybe disappointed, but even without a scholarship and at a postgraduate level, Cambridge should be a good choice for my future.
Sorry to hear that, did they provide you feedback as to why you didn't get it? Might be worth a try to get some details.

Regarding Cambridge, as I said, try and get some funding from other organisations.

All the best!
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Jane Lane
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They just say the committee decided not to support my project, that's all. I wasn't at my best for the interview, so I guess it's my fault.

Now I just hope things will be fine in Cambridge. What should I start looking for? Am I too old to live in College for the first year (I'm turning 27 this summer)? But I guess now I'm really on my own...
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