Master's Degree University importance for History PhdWatch
If prestige is unimportant, what are the main factors for being successful in securing funding for a history phd? What can I do throughout my master's degree in order to have the best chance at succeeding in securing phd funding?
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The important thing is that you do the right Masters for your emerging research interests. That you get the background knowledge in that area on which to base your PhD research, and the practical research skills that research councils/other Unis will want. Where you do that is pretty much irrelevant in terms of the Uni brand name - look instead for people working in 'your' area (academics, researchers, PhD Students) and where you will have the best environment to develop intellectually.
The same goes for undergrad degrees btw - 'RG' doesnt equal 'better' - '2i or First with good do-able research proposal/two supportive references' DOES equal 'better'.
In general, for academia prestige is considered by: supervisor>research group>department>university
There are some excellent researchers who act as supervisors for PhDs and masters projects, who will make more of a difference in your application than having an unknown researcher even from a top university. There are also excellent research groups within otherwise average departments or universities - for example Exeter's physics department gains much of it's kudos from it's graphene and exoplanet groups. It's biophysicists are mainly the ex-chemistry faculty from it's now defunct chemistry department (which while not necessarily shut down as a cause of directly, did shut down shortly after they imploded their NMR spectrometer), and it's electromagnetic materials group has one major researcher and most of the rest are relatively unknown.
being well known does not equate with being respected. I've worked with international experts whose names it would be unwise to drop in most unis. Some look and sound good but are arrogant arses and over-published gasbags - I fell into the trap myself as a naive undergrad. It pays to be able to discriminate!
Just remember that 'well known' often equals 'far too busy' or 'dismissive/jealous of anyone younger'.
More important for me was always that my supervisor 'understands what I'm trying to research' and 'is enthusiastic about my research'. That meant I always felt what I was doing was worthwhile and in moments of doubt that was worth far more than 'my supervisor has written heaps of books'.