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PhD A or PhD B?


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I'm currently finishing an MA in a small field in the Humanities and plan to go on to a PhD in the same field next fall. I'm feeling stuck between two programs and could use some outside advice.

Program A:

This is my current program and it's very easy to move on to the PhD, it only requires a formal announcement of intent of continuing on (which the faculty decides to approve or reject). I really like my department, I have good rapport with the faculty and librarian, feel valued and supported, and get along with my cohort. I know I'd have funding and teaching positions for the duration of my program. I also know that I would be allowed to do the interdisciplinary research I want with little obstacle. There is also the possibility that I could pursue a joint PhD program with another university overseas that I have contact with and my project would greatly benefit from the international collaboration. The main cons of Program A are location - which isn't terrible, but is not my favorite place to live - and institutional support - the Humanities are not loved by the administration ?‍♀️.

Program B:

The second program I'm considering requires a pretty elaborate application. The school is more prestigious and while this does not have so much impact within my small field (the programs are pretty equally ranked), it does impact the quality and rigor of some of the other departments I might have classes/contact with as well as name recognition, etc. The prestige also comes along with greater institutional resources and support for the Humanities. I have met some of the faculty and students from the program and have had positive interactions with them. If accepted, I would have funding and teaching opportunities (and the potential to teach more original/self-created courses than at Program A). There is some question about how closely I could stick to my proposed research plan, as Program B takes a more traditional approach to my field and is not as receptive to the interdisciplinary project I'm proposing. I would also not be able to pursue a joint PhD as institution B unilaterally does not accept these joint agreements. The main reasons I'm considering Program B are the rigor/prestige/quality of the institution and the location - I would love to live there and have a community of friends that are already located there.

While I believe I would be much happier in the location of Program B, the unknowns/uncertainties in regards to my research plan and the inability to pursue a joint PhD cast some doubt on the choice. I wish name recognition didn't matter as much, but it's a reality of the job market, but is that a big enough bonus to risk leaving a program I am generally very happy with?

Your feedback is appreciated :)

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I am assuming that you haven't applied to either yet so you haven't been accepted to either? 

When your offer is in hand, you might want to consider:

  • Prestige: I don't agree with the way you are reading it. Prestige is not the amount of resources/support that you have, prestige is the idea others have of your school/program based on other people. It is *highly* subjective and you cannot control who thinks what. Since it looks they are roughly the same, it is also useless to use this as a point for comparison.
  • Advisors: what are the pros and cons of working with the same people? How can you benefit from being exposed to other faculty? What type of mentorship would you get in each place? What type of mentoring support would you get? 
  • Interdisciplinarity: I didn't understand what you meant by 'joint PhD'. I know this exists in some schools, but I don't understand how you would benefit from it if it is not 100% what you want to do (because otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation). I you do want a joint PhD, then go and get one! Certainly, this would outweigh everything else. I do encourage you to speak to people that have that degree. 
  • Research: it looks you have a research in mind and are worried that at Program B you wouldn't be able to stick to it as much. Bear in mind that seldom do we stick to our plans. Be honest with yourself about how important this exact plan is to you. The way you put it, it looks that you are invested in this project but a more interdisciplinary program would make it more difficult to carry out that research as is. What if, as part of your doctoral program, your project changes from being exposed to other theories, scholarship, and disciplines and becomes even more interesting? Not sticking to a plan that you designed during your MA could be a good thing. Similarly, what are the benefits from doing a project in one discipline (not joint)? 
  • Teaching load: I understand you want to gain classroom experience, but also you don't want to drown in it. Are you aware of the precise teaching responsibilities in each program? 
  • Other requirements: What other requirements do you need to fulfill and when? (Languages, training, ethics, TAing, internships, etc).
  • Other opportunities: Are you aware of other ways in which you could make each program work for you? Are there, say, campus opportunities to present your work, support for conferences, diversity, etc? 
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I suggest applying to Program B. If you get in, then go and visit and see how you feel about the two places, considering the many factors @AP has mentioned. It might be the better choice. It is hard to know for sure until you get a sense of what they would offer you if you are admitted in terms of teaching fellowships (or preferably other funding arrangements so you can spend more time on research), advisors, etc.

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On 11/28/2018 at 12:33 PM, name-less said:

Your feedback is appreciated :)


IMO, program A sounds like a better choice overall than program B. If one were to draw a series of concentric circles with you in the innermost circle and your community as the outermost circle and then chart the benefits of each program, I think one would find that program A's benefits are much closer to the inner circles and B's benefits align closer to the outer circles. Conversely, the drawbacks of program A would fall into the outer circles while program B's appear to fall into the inner circles.

A question: Are you 100% certain that if you go to program B that you won't have to start over even though you will already have a master's? And by 100%, I mean a signed document?

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