Torn between Durham and Cambridge for PhD

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flandalf
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Hello everyone - hoping for some advice on the decision I have to make as I'm feeling very conflicted!

I was offered AHRC funding for a PhD in History at Durham a little while back and felt pretty pleased about that and certain I wouldn't get any other funding so accepted it. I was all set to finish my current MA and go there with no hesitation, and have basically had 2 months to fall in love with Durham, but earlier this week I was offered joint Trust/college funding at Cambridge of equivalent value. This has come really out of the blue and I've asked for some time to make my mind up, but I'm still struggling to come to a decision.

I think at the moment it's all a bit heart vs head; I think Durham will be more personally nurturing and supportive, is a much more affordable location, but is a bit isolated and small in terms of postgraduate community, whereas Cambridge will leave me on my own a bit more and is more expensive but has a much richer academic community (though please correct me if I'm wrong on these points!)

I suppose what I'm interested to know is about the PhD experience at both unis, which is harder to grasp without speaking to students - I'm not at either of these places currently. Also, does it really matter that Cambridge is so prestigious when it comes to PhD? And - if anyone is familiar with Trust funding - will there be many opportunities to have research trips, conferences funded (the AHRC funding at Durham would provide for this)?

Sorry for the long post. I'm interested in student views on the question as so far I have only spoken to my own lecturers who are not on the inside, so to speak. Thanks in advance for your help!
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threeportdrift
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(Original post by flandalf)
Hello everyone - hoping for some advice on the decision I have to make as I'm feeling very conflicted!

I was offered AHRC funding for a PhD in History at Durham a little while back and felt pretty pleased about that and certain I wouldn't get any other funding so accepted it. I was all set to finish my current MA and go there with no hesitation, and have basically had 2 months to fall in love with Durham, but earlier this week I was offered joint Trust/college funding at Cambridge of equivalent value. This has come really out of the blue and I've asked for some time to make my mind up, but I'm still struggling to come to a decision.

I think at the moment it's all a bit heart vs head; I think Durham will be more personally nurturing and supportive, is a much more affordable location, but is a bit isolated and small in terms of postgraduate community, whereas Cambridge will leave me on my own a bit more and is more expensive but has a much richer academic community (though please correct me if I'm wrong on these points!)

I suppose what I'm interested to know is about the PhD experience at both unis, which is harder to grasp without speaking to students - I'm not at either of these places currently. Also, does it really matter that Cambridge is so prestigious when it comes to PhD? And - if anyone is familiar with Trust funding - will there be many opportunities to have research trips, conferences funded (the AHRC funding at Durham would provide for this)?

Sorry for the long post. I'm interested in student views on the question as so far I have only spoken to my own lecturers who are not on the inside, so to speak. Thanks in advance for your help!
I'm not sure I will be helping much if I say that it occurs to me that your reasons for preferring Durham (much more nurturing and supportive, more affordable) are almost certainly wrong, in as much as you will find that at both places, the differences are down to personal need and preference and are incomparable because no-one goes to both with the same needs. unless you have a specific need that you know is 100% resolved in Durham and definitely not available in Cam, then this doesn't sound like good reasoning.

One thing I'm not sure people consider enough, is talking to the potential Supervisors about the dilemma. Doing a PhD is very often the first step in a professional career that will be beset with making judgements about where to research and how much to follow the money, prestige and research environment. Your dilemma is just the first in a series that academics face all the time, so I think it is quite reasonable you should ask both Durham and Cambridge about your options.

On prestige, TSR PGs will usually tell you firmly it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter between Durham and Cam if you are definitely going to be an academic in the UK. If there is any chance of not going into academia or leaving the UK before you have established your own professional reputation, then of course the prestige of Cambridge adds slightly more cachet to a CV than Durham, but it may not be enough to make a difference. Durham is still blisteringly good.

If I was you, I'd book a phone conversation with your Cam Supervisor and explain that you have AHRC funding at Durham and are in a bit of a spot about which option to take, and see what they say. (Cam first because AHRC funding is slightly more prestigious, and they will then either tell you to take it, or try to 'sell' themselves to you, which gives you specific points to go back to Durham with, rather than have the Durham convo based purely on 'because it's Cam')
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flandalf
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(Original post by threeportdrift)
I'm not sure I will be helping much if I say that it occurs to me that your reasons for preferring Durham (much more nurturing and supportive, more affordable) are almost certainly wrong, in as much as you will find that at both places, the differences are down to personal need and preference and are incomparable because no-one goes to both with the same needs. unless you have a specific need that you know is 100% resolved in Durham and definitely not available in Cam, then this doesn't sound like good reasoning.

One thing I'm not sure people consider enough, is talking to the potential Supervisors about the dilemma. Doing a PhD is very often the first step in a professional career that will be beset with making judgements about where to research and how much to follow the money, prestige and research environment. Your dilemma is just the first in a series that academics face all the time, so I think it is quite reasonable you should ask both Durham and Cambridge about your options.

On prestige, TSR PGs will usually tell you firmly it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter between Durham and Cam if you are definitely going to be an academic in the UK. If there is any chance of not going into academia or leaving the UK before you have established your own professional reputation, then of course the prestige of Cambridge adds slightly more cachet to a CV than Durham, but it may not be enough to make a difference. Durham is still blisteringly good.

If I was you, I'd book a phone conversation with your Cam Supervisor and explain that you have AHRC funding at Durham and are in a bit of a spot about which option to take, and see what they say. (Cam first because AHRC funding is slightly more prestigious, and they will then either tell you to take it, or try to 'sell' themselves to you, which gives you specific points to go back to Durham with, rather than have the Durham convo based purely on 'because it's Cam'
Thanks for your advice! What you said about this being the first in a series of choices has really helped me to put this into perspective and, strangely, made me feel a bit calmer about the whole thing. I am keen on pursuing an academic career so it's reassuring to know that this maybe isn't as big a decision as it seems right now.

I do agree with your points about Durham - I think my perspective stems from the level of assistance I've had from the supervisor there really. But I agree that that may well be the case at Cam too.

I actually did speak to the Cam supervisor earlier in the week over the phone about the decision. He was quite even-handed and considered in his comparison of the two but did subtly sell the location and resources of Cam over Durham. But I hadn't thought about going back to the Durham supervisor with all of this, so have sent off an email to them today just to see what comes back. At the moment I'm leaning towards Cam, but want to be sure it's for good reasons and not about prestige! Thanks for your help
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