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PhD in US or MSc in London?


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Alright friends...I need advice: 

The TL;DR: I've been out of school for 10 years, and I was accepted to one US PhD program and one UK MSc program, and I need help figuring out the pros and cons. (I live in the US -- California to be exact.) 

The programs: 

  • I got into my first choice PhD: UW-Madison Rhetoric
  • I got into LSE's Gender, Media, and Culture program 

The dilemma: 

  • I've been out of school for 10 years working in a "career" I hate. I've been doing "armchair research" for the past two years, and I started writing a podcast documentary that's turned into an audio ethnography and the basis of my proposed research. 
  • All of the profs at Madison are doing work that is, in some way, related to my project: gender/performance, religious rhetoric, health comm, neoliberalism, etc. 
  • HOWEVER. The head of the dept of comm at LSE is doing work that is DIRECTLY related to my project, and she wants to work with me. 

Why I'm conflicted: 

  • I got into a PhD program, and it's funded. I am still in debt from school 10 years ago. Getting a PhD should be the no brainer, especially since getting a masters doesn't guarantee that I'm going to get into a school later
  • However. It's LSE. And I could be studying in London, which is the central hub of work being done on neoliberal feminism. And I could then apply for a PhD in London after I have a masters. (I didn't apply for the PhD program there because I had to already have a masters in hand to apply.) 
  • But. I love the professors at Madison and I'm really excited about working with them too. And I want to get started on my doctoral research asap...I'm going to be in my late 30s by the time I finish, and I don't want to keep dragging it out. 
  • But...London. 

Complicating factors: 

  • I'm getting married this summer, so this isn't a sole decision to make. 
  • My partner is finishing school and changing careers, and he's worried about finding work in either Madison (because he doesn't want to have to commute for half the week to Milwaukee or Chicago) or London (because...visas). 
  • We have pets (so London's gonna be hard)

I know the conservative move is UW, but he's not excited about it. We're visiting next month, so maybe things will change by then. And I'm really excited about potentially working with the prof in London, so that makes it really hard to say no...

What say you, internetland? Your advice and input is very much appreciated. Thank you in advance!!

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First off, congratulations! You have good choices before you. 

I would lean towards Madison for a couple of reasons. 1) It's funded and a cheaper living situation than London; 2) If you don't have a MA you can get one as part of the PhD program without paying for it. If after a year you still want to go to London, you can try for a PhD program with MA in hand without (hopefully) accruing more debt. Finally, I imagine it will be easier to move husband and pets to Madison, where they can support you during the stress (and joy) of a PhD. 

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Do you think it’d be possible to work with the LSE professor even if you went to Madison? Like could they collaborate on your project, and/or could they be on your dissertation committee? Maybe there’s a way you could have the best of both worlds. When you hit the research portion of you phd program you could always travel to London to do additional research.

 

I’m in a vaguely similar situation in that I got into one program in my top choice location, a fairly prestigious school, although not so much the comm department, with tons of funding, and faculty that is excited about me, but no one is doing exactly what I’m interested in, and another program that is highly ranked, has two people doing exactly what I’m interested in, but that I might not be able to work with as much because they’re technically in another department, and they are offering much less funding. I’m leaning toward the funding and looking into ways I can possibly still work with the professor(s) at another school. So tough.

 

I think you can’t really go wrong either way - I don’t think you’d have a problem getting into a program after LSE, but debt is no joke, and London is VERY expensive. I think right now the pound is like what, double the dollar? If there’s a way you could get the best of both worlds, I would try that!

Edited by Psyhopeful
Tried to fix the giant font and failed.
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Hello,

This is a really tough decision to make!  I assume we are talking about Sarah Banet-Weiser here?  SBW is a powerhouse and I was crushed when she left USC bc I really wanted to work with her too.  That being said, here is my advice:

-Madison has one of the best comm departments, and is so highly regarded in the field.  Their placement record is insane!  (I was admitted too just full disclosure)

-I think it seems like student debt is one of your main concerns here.  I still have debt from undergrad, and I am in a very affordable MA program now paying barely any tuition bc I TA and am still accruing debt bc of the cost of living.  The cost of living where I am now is nowhere near what it would be in London, so that's a huge consideration.

-In terms of location and jobs, w/o knowing the field your partner is in (and since I have been in school / working in the service industry) I feel like I can't really help you there. But in terms of finding a job, I feel like finding a job in a small city or potentially having to commute vs. having to look for one abroad and deal with visas are both super difficult.  Maybe there is someone on the forum talking about work visas for partners that can help you out! 

-You might have already looked into this, but my understanding is that some funding options for MA and PhD programs in the UK and Canada are unavailable to international students.  Would be worth looking into!

-I think this might be a different conversation if they were both PhD programs, or the PhD program you were admitted to wasn't so highly ranked.  But, I say Madison is the better option, especially thinking long term (and I say this as someone who ADORES London).

 

I hope this is helpful, and I assume we will meet at the Madison visit day!

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39 minutes ago, jansport said:

Hello,

This is a really tough decision to make!  I assume we are talking about Sarah Banet-Weiser here?  SBW is a powerhouse and I was crushed when she left USC bc I really wanted to work with her too.  That being said, here is my advice:

-Madison has one of the best comm departments, and is so highly regarded in the field.  Their placement record is insane!  (I was admitted too just full disclosure)

-I think it seems like student debt is one of your main concerns here.  I still have debt from undergrad, and I am in a very affordable MA program now paying barely any tuition bc I TA and am still accruing debt bc of the cost of living.  The cost of living where I am now is nowhere near what it would be in London, so that's a huge consideration.

-In terms of location and jobs, w/o knowing the field your partner is in (and since I have been in school / working in the service industry) I feel like I can't really help you there. But in terms of finding a job, I feel like finding a job in a small city or potentially having to commute vs. having to look for one abroad and deal with visas are both super difficult.  Maybe there is someone on the forum talking about work visas for partners that can help you out! 

-You might have already looked into this, but my understanding is that some funding options for MA and PhD programs in the UK and Canada are unavailable to international students.  Would be worth looking into!

-I think this might be a different conversation if they were both PhD programs, or the PhD program you were admitted to wasn't so highly ranked.  But, I say Madison is the better option, especially thinking long term (and I say this as someone who ADORES London).

 

I hope this is helpful, and I assume we will meet at the Madison visit day!

 

Ha -- yes, it is Sarah Banet-Weiser. I interviewed her for my podcast a couple of times, and she -- and so many of the women in London -- are doing exactly the work I want to be doing. It's such a tough decision, because Madison is also SUCH a good school...And the work that I want to do is pretty "American" at its core (interrogating neoliberal feminism  through the lens of fitness entrepreneurship online), so staying here seems like a good choice...sigh. A lot of things to consider. 

 
And I'm so sad I won't get to meet you at the visit day! I'm actually going a week later. I'm currently the lead in a play at a local theatre here, and visit day coincides with our closing weekend. I don't have an understudy or else I'd be there in a heartbeat...
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My PhD is from Madison, and I work now in a department with several colleagues with PhDs from LSE. First of all, congratulations -- those are both top schools. In terms of the quality of education you'll receive at either place, it will be excellent.

In your shoes, though, I'd go with Madison. As great as it is to have someone of Sarah Banet-Weiser's stature interested in your work (and that's fantastic), there's a danger, too, in choosing a school to work with one specific person. I've seen enough people do that only to discover that the match wasn't as good as they thought, but then they're stuck. Not to say that would happen to you, of course, but it's a risk worth considering. 

Add to that the question of cost and a job for your spouse. I left Madison pre-Scott Walker and the decimation of public employee unions, including the TAA. We had an excellent TA contract while I was there, and I imagine it's still a good contract, especially because it came with tuition remission. I got through my PhD loan-free, although it helped (a lot!) that my spouse had a job. We even bought a small house (which I miss a great deal). Many of our friends did, too. Not that I'd necessarily recommend it, but I did love that house.

And my spouse had little trouble finding a job in Madison, which is small, but not that small. Dane County has half a million people -- San Francisco it is not, but there were more than a few married students in my cohort, and their spouses all found jobs they liked. (Mine administered federal grants in a state agency.) You didn't mention your spouse's line of work, but Madison has a wide range of industries (tech, non-profit, banking, medical), not to mention the state government -- the opportunities are greater than you might perceive.

London certainly has its appeals, too, but it's not worth going into debt for, especially for a master's program. If you're looking for an academic job, keep in mind the market is very, very hard. I'm the DGS in my department (this is me, if you're curious), and I recommend to all our incoming students to think about what they'll do if an academic job doesn't pan out. (Sorry for being such a downer -- I've just seen a lot of people struggle, and it's hard.) Figuring out Plan B is a lot easier if your debt is limited -- you'll have a lot more freedom.

Plus, to go back to the upsides of Madison, the comm arts department is incredibly strong. The people who teach there now are doing cutting-edge work, and the excitement of working with people pushing the boundaries is contagious -- if you let them, they'll push you, too. Everyone I know has supervised students doing things outside their area of expertise, and from a prof's point of view, that's fun -- students can push us, too. When that happens, as it certainly did for me at the UW, students find ways to become inventive and creative.

So, my two cents worth. Good luck choosing!

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Oh wow, @KyleC...That is REALLY helpful. And worth way more than two cents. I'm really excited about Madison and all of the professors I've spoken with, so the decision is only hard because London feels like such a fun opportunity and I'm just worried about my fiancé finding work he likes. (He is way more excited about London than Madison, and he's also in the middle of a career change, so there's a lot of decision-making going on in our household this month.) We're going to go and visit next month, so he can get a feel for it. One of the things that drew me to Madison in the first place was the work that the Rhetoric profs are doing, and I like the idea of being able to draw on different areas of expertise as I work toward my doctorate...I think I just needed to hear that my impulse was the not wrong. Thank you so much! 

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I'm glad that was helpful.

Another thing to think about, with respect to LSE -- as head of the department, Prof. Banet-Weiser is, I'm sure, terribly busy. Even if she carves out time for students, she won't have as much time as the profs at the UW. Beyond that, though, not going to LSE, as someone pointed out upthread, doesn't mean you couldn't work with her later, in some other capacity.

And Madison might grow on you (and your spouse) -- never have I been as happy as I was there. Of course, not everyone had the same experience I did, and some of my friends had very bad experiences, but that's true everywhere. But for me, at least, it was the best place to be.

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