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Option 1: Well recognized university, full funding and competitive TA stipend

-or-

Option 2: Less known university but better vibe from faculty, less funding.

 

I wasn't expecting to get into Option 1, but I just got accepted. So now I have a choice. What is your wisdom? 

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Just my opinion, but I'd say go where you think you'll be the most comfortable and the happiest. PhD is long, hard, stressful road. If you think option 2 will be a better environment for you as you go down it, why wouldn't you? Obviously, money is important, but if the less funding is manageable, then I think happiness should be top priority. But that's just my two cents and I wouldn't know any better than you. Good luck with whatever you choose!

Edited by Straparlare

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On the other side--obviously I only know as much as you've posted, but I was thinking Option 1 would be better, if it's that much better funding. Vibe from faculty is extremely hard to gauge before you're in it, so unless there were very obvious turn-offs/problems with #1 (for example, if it were notorious for not supporting graduate students adequately, or there was only one faculty member you'd have to work with based on your interests and you've learned that this professor is Not someone you want to work with on a personality basis)... I'd go with it for the chance at better financial stability, both through the stipend period and in a future career. This is assuming that the relative stipend amounts hold after considering cost of living.

But also, maybe I'm biased because I assumed that your Option 1 is Duke Lit, which I applied to and expect to receive a rejection from very soon! And I'm a very risk-averse person by nature.

Either way, it's great that you're in a position to weigh options--wishing you the best of luck wherever you choose!

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If by better or lesser "known" you mean more or less prestigious, go with option 1. As I've said elsewhere, prestige is the name of the game if you're looking for work in higher ed. That should be your priority over the other things you mentioned (including the money). 

I'll also add that "vibes" are usually a bad way to gauge a program, especially given that whatever vibes you can discern at this point in the application cycle are going to be superficial markers of faculty and program quality. If you go to an acceptance day at a program and the faculty members are total dicks to you and blow you off, that's one thing. But if you're just talking about the few sentence emails from faculty that you may or may not have received, then don't read too much into those one way or the other. 

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3 hours ago, Ramus said:

If by better or lesser "known" you mean more or less prestigious, go with option 1. As I've said elsewhere, prestige is the name of the game if you're looking for work in higher ed. That should be your priority over the other things you mentioned (including the money). 

When you're considering prestige at the graduate level, do you look primarily to the reputation of the given department, the institution as a whole, a bit of both? I'd think to defer mostly to placement record, which is sort of an index for prestige? I ask this because there are obviously brand-name schools with relatively weak comparative literature and national language/literature departments. 

EDIT: especially curious when you're considering teaching internationally, where the prestige of a program might not survive the transatlantic voyage. 

Edited by caeiro
clarification

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This is how I would do it, for whatever that's worth: take a long, hard look at placement records. The "supportive climate" thread has some really good advice I hadn't thought about regarding finding a way to talk to senior PhD students and asking them about how supportive the program is in the later stages, so see if I could do that. Budget things out ruthlessly. Then take a long, hard look at placement records again, particularly in my area.

Your intuition is a valuable tool that shouldn't be ignored (this has been a long, hard lesson for me personally!) but it's one variable among several imo. 

Edited by merry night wanderer

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On 2/7/2020 at 10:16 AM, caeiro said:

EDIT: especially curious when you're considering teaching internationally, where the prestige of a program might not survive the transatlantic voyage. 

I can't remember the topic where this was discussed, but as I recall someone said anecdotally that they'd never seen someone outside of the top 10 placed in other countries, and they don't tend to emphasize publication history the way American universities do. I think it was NowMoreSerious' AMA thread.

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15 minutes ago, merry night wanderer said:

This is how I would do it, for whatever that's worth: take a long, hard look at placement records. The "supportive climate" thread has some really good advice I hadn't thought about regarding finding a way to talk to senior PhD students and asking them about how supportive the program is in the later stages, so see if I could do that. Budget things out ruthlessly. Then take a long, hard look at placement records again, particularly in my area.

Your intuition is a valuable tool that shouldn't be ignored (this has been a long, hard lesson for me personally!) but it's one variable among several imo. 

Some of my "favorite" programs haven't updated their lists in years — doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence. Am hoping that, if accepted, they'll be able to give me access to internal lists. And even those that make this information easily accessible are often posting only a fraction of their student outcomes, due to poor tracking over the years. 

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15 minutes ago, merry night wanderer said:

I can't remember the topic where this was discussed, but as I recall someone said anecdotally that they'd never seen someone outside of the top 10 placed in other countries, and they don't tend to emphasize publication history the way American universities do. I think it was NowMoreSerious' AMA thread.

Interesting. I'm a dual US-EU citizen, with a strong desire to work on both sides of the Atlantic, so this is a major question for me — and a very hard one to answer at that. 

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10 minutes ago, caeiro said:

Some of my "favorite" programs haven't updated their lists in years — doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence. Am hoping that, if accepted, they'll be able to give me access to internal lists. And even those that make this information easily accessible are often posting only a fraction of their student outcomes, due to poor tracking over the years. 

That's an excellent point, and there was some analysis on other threads about how places like Rutgers have been fudging it. Rutgers being a highly ranked school*,  that does not bode well. I would personally balk a little at a school that isn't transparent about this. I know Rice is, for instance, and that's a huge point in their favor for me - even though the last couple years they've landed a lot of postdocs, not TT jobs (but I mean, in a market where Columbia doesn't place TT jobs? idk, I have a lot of thinking to do about this, still). 

I think it's fair to ask a place about their numbers, and compare what you get with the placement record with total awarded Ph.Ds etc., though, and that would at least be a start... 

* For the record, I feel really uncomfortable talking about rankings and have spent a whole, whole lot of time thinking about classism in the academy, what it really means, etc. I just think it behooves us all to be realistic about this, even though I'm not sure anyone knows how direct a role rankings actually play. Again, there's been great, honest, pragmatic discussion about this on these forums from NowMoreSerious, Bumblebea, etc.

Edited by merry night wanderer

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Well, one reason a lot of places might not be updating placement statistics is because there ... aren't jobs? Obviously this has been a problem for years, worsening ever since 2008, but it really struck me when one of my closest friends said "There was literally only one tenure-track position in North America in my field on the market in last year's cycle, and I know that because it was mine" (she was leaving for another TT position at an institution in another country). And her field is ... not super niche and obscure. I guess I can see in that sense why it might be ludicrous (more ludicrous than in 2012, or 2015) to compare placement data among top institutions for, say, 2018-2019. I mean, even with strenuous placement efforts, what can you do, really except place people in postdocs? I also wouldn't discount the possibility that some universities are just lazy when it comes to updating their websites—I know Yale's most recent year indicated is 2015-16 but they def have placed people since then, for instance.

I wonder if we're much better off speaking anecdotally to current students and faculty at the institutions (and/or your mentors, if they have an idea of the place's placement efforts and reputation in that area) about their placement efforts: how seriously is this taken? Are there workshops about going on the job market, and if so when do they start and how often? Is there a placement officer, how good are they at their job, and how much longer are they planning to do it? Etc

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For sure, I wouldn't assume not putting numbers up meant lack of transparency. From what I understand, the Rutgers situation was a little different (folding successful years on the market into their percentages, for instance, and omitting more-recent, even more brutal years, but I'd defer to those threads since I haven't looked at Rutgers or investigated it personally). It does seem very fair to ask departments about this directly when you've received an offer, to me, and that's probably the most reliable source of info overall. 

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On 2/6/2020 at 1:03 PM, jedeye said:

Option 1: Well recognized university, full funding and competitive TA stipend

-or-

Option 2: Less known university but better vibe from faculty, less funding.

 

I wasn't expecting to get into Option 1, but I just got accepted. So now I have a choice. What is your wisdom? 

It's difficult to give an answer without more information. 

What are your goals when it comes to a Ph.D. in English?  Are you trying to get a job with the degree? a TT job? 

Are there any factors pulling you into the less-known university, such as location, family, partner, etc? 

When you say better vibe, do you mean from the dept as a whole, or the specific people you wish to work with? 

When you say "less known" for Option 2, how many tiers/rank lower are we talking? 

***Oh, and people might argue with me about this, but if your goal is to get a job, especially a TT job with the degree, and Option 1 is a top 10 and option 2 is outside of the top 20, then forget all the rest of the questions and choose Option 1.  

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1 minute ago, merry night wanderer said:

For sure, I wouldn't assume not putting numbers up meant lack of transparency. From what I understand, the Rutgers situation was a little different (folding successful years on the market into their percentages, for instance, and omitting more-recent, even more brutal years, but I'd defer to those threads since I haven't looked at Rutgers or investigated it personally). It does seem very fair to ask departments about this directly when you've received an offer, to me, and that's probably the most reliable source of info overall. 

Oh yeah—I've heard of other places doing this too. It's bad practice for sure.

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10 minutes ago, meghan_sparkle said:

I wonder if we're much better off speaking anecdotally to current students and faculty at the institutions (and/or your mentors, if they have an idea of the place's placement efforts and reputation in that area) about their placement efforts: how seriously is this taken? Are there workshops about going on the job market, and if so when do they start and how often? Is there a placement officer, how good are they at their job, and how much longer are they planning to do it? Etc

This seems to me like exactly the right approach for evaluating placement, particularly for schools that aren't posting placement statistics or full lists of placements. Current G4, G5, and G6 students can tell you a bit more about how seriously the department takes professionalization--are these workshops offered often? Do graduate students and/or the union have to fight to have them (riffing off what a friend in a different department had to do to get teacher-training for her cohort)? Do students feel that their mentors are helping them learn about opportunities? In some cases, it might also be possible to find recently-placed graduates, who can tell you about their experience and possibly the experiences of others in their cohorts. 

I'm also looking at how programs prep for alt-ac careers, on the rationale that if I can't get into a TT job, I'd much rather go into academic publishing than take a job outside the field entirely, and I could have a better shot at that if the program actively supports alt-ac careers. As a relatively knowledgeable outsider, it strikes me as irresponsible for PhD programs to fail to professionalize students for multiple types of jobs. There just aren't enough TT jobs to train your 6- or 12-person cohort for one thing. But anecdotally I've heard that some schools really make no effort on this front, even if that means that they're graduating two or three new PhDs per subfield into a job market that has only one job in that subfield every year. 

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11 minutes ago, caffeinated applicant said:

This seems to me like exactly the right approach for evaluating placement, particularly for schools that aren't posting placement statistics or full lists of placements. Current G4, G5, and G6 students can tell you a bit more about how seriously the department takes professionalization--are these workshops offered often? Do graduate students and/or the union have to fight to have them (riffing off what a friend in a different department had to do to get teacher-training for her cohort)? Do students feel that their mentors are helping them learn about opportunities? In some cases, it might also be possible to find recently-placed graduates, who can tell you about their experience and possibly the experiences of others in their cohorts. 

I'm also looking at how programs prep for alt-ac careers, on the rationale that if I can't get into a TT job, I'd much rather go into academic publishing than take a job outside the field entirely, and I could have a better shot at that if the program actively supports alt-ac careers. As a relatively knowledgeable outsider, it strikes me as irresponsible for PhD programs to fail to professionalize students for multiple types of jobs. There just aren't enough TT jobs to train your 6- or 12-person cohort for one thing. But anecdotally I've heard that some schools really make no effort on this front, even if that means that they're graduating two or three new PhDs per subfield into a job market that has only one job in that subfield every year. 

Agree on all of these fronts. On the last point it seems to me like departments have only cottoned on to the fact that they need to offer institutionalized support or training in pursuing alt-acc career paths in the last couple of years (a lot of debate in CHE and on Twitter about this, most notably around the time that article targeting Columbia came out—don't get me wrong, some people have been saying it for years and years, but I only noticed it in a more widespread way recently).

Annoying as it is, a departmental shift that would funnel resources and faculty/administrative labour toward that area is likely something that has to go through a slow meat-churning process in committees—a bit like chipping away at e.g. GRE requirements, wide desire for change looooong prefaces it actually concretizing, simply because English departments are so unimaginably slow. And it's something I know there's a fair amount of disagreement about it, too—the main line of it I hear being that a doctoral program is 5-6 years of a highly, highly specific kind of specialized training—to be a professor. Faced with the reality of the collapse of the profession, does it make sense to keep the program and its coursework/training as is, and create side efforts for alt-ac tracks, rather than just whittle down cohorts, or change the PhD as we know it? Which, if fewer and fewer people can find meaningful academic employment, will just feel bleaker and bleaker? I know that sounds drastic and I don't think that would happen anytime soon, but the way the market is going, I'm not sure there's an easy answer, really. 

Edited by meghan_sparkle

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9 hours ago, merry night wanderer said:

I can't remember the topic where this was discussed, but as I recall someone said anecdotally that they'd never seen someone outside of the top 10 placed in other countries, and they don't tend to emphasize publication history the way American universities do. I think it was NowMoreSerious' AMA thread.

I agree with much of what is being said here and just want to push back on this one point— I have seen international placements (eg in strong universities in the UK) from schools in the top 30 (and possibly more, I just don’t remember atm), not just top 10. I think your chances of an international job at a non-top 10 school will hinge largely on the types of training you seek out on your own, in an departmental environment that has not necessarily planned on training students to be attractive to the non-US market. “Chances” in quotations because no one has control over their chances in this market.

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On 2/12/2020 at 12:29 PM, meghan_sparkle said:

Well, one reason a lot of places might not be updating placement statistics is because there ... aren't jobs?

I think how universities decide how to respond to the job market will ultimately decide the success of a program. Different universities have responded in different ways. I think one of the best ways they can respond is by decreasing cohort sizes and increasing the number of resources they have to put everyone in the best possible position they can be in. Decreasing the sizes also allows for more time for committees to spend with each individual that they're trying to mentor.

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Option 1, period point blank. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Absolutely no equivocation here whatsoever, from someone now on the other side of the process. 

Money talks. If this program is recognized and has funding to throw at you (and the other program doesn't), then that tells you how you'll be valued, and that's it, end of discussion.

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On 2/6/2020 at 7:49 PM, caffeinated applicant said:

I assumed that your Option 1 is Duke Lit

Option 1 is Miami University of Ohio.

Option 2 is Ball State University.

Both have great reputations in my region, but most folks outside the Midwest don't know anything about Ball State.

 

On 2/12/2020 at 12:46 PM, NowMoreSerious said:

What are your goals when it comes to a Ph.D. in English?  Are you trying to get a job with the degree? a TT job? 

Are there any factors pulling you into the less-known university, such as location, family, partner, etc? 

When you say better vibe, do you mean from the dept as a whole, or the specific people you wish to work with? 

When you say "less known" for Option 2, how many tiers/rank lower are we talking? 

I'd like to get a TT position teaching English lit and/or environmental humanities. 

#1 is Miami University of Ohio, and #2 is Ball State University.

They're both about equidistant from home. Miami is 40 minutes from home, and Ball State is 1 hour.

I mean better vibe from the profs I'd be working with. I've made several visits to both places, and made really good connections at Ball State. I've made good connections at Miami, but not as many yet. I'll be going to a visitation day soon.

I don't know anything about program rankings (where would I find a list, if there is one?). It's the prestige of the school. They're both tier 2. Miami is a public ivy.

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1 hour ago, jedeye said:

Option 1 is Miami University of Ohio.

Option 2 is Ball State University.

Both have great reputations in my region, but most folks outside the Midwest don't know anything about Ball State.

 

I'd like to get a TT position teaching English lit and/or environmental humanities. 

#1 is Miami University of Ohio, and #2 is Ball State University.

They're both about equidistant from home. Miami is 40 minutes from home, and Ball State is 1 hour.

I mean better vibe from the profs I'd be working with. I've made several visits to both places, and made really good connections at Ball State. I've made good connections at Miami, but not as many yet. I'll be going to a visitation day soon.

I don't know anything about program rankings (where would I find a list, if there is one?). It's the prestige of the school. They're both tier 2. Miami is a public ivy.

With all due respect to you and others considering these programs, I wouldn't seriously consider either of them if you want a TT job teaching literature. Neither are highly ranked and neither will lead to a tenured position on the lit track. (The outlook may be slightly better for rhet/comp at Miami.)

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2 hours ago, Ramus said:

With all due respect to you and others considering these programs, I wouldn't seriously consider either of them if you want a TT job teaching literature. Neither are highly ranked and neither will lead to a tenured position on the lit track. (The outlook may be slightly better for rhet/comp at Miami.)

ETA: Now that I'm in front of my computer, allow me to elaborate.

The most common (if much maligned) ranking system is the US News one: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-humanities-schools/english-rankings. People like to grumble about it, but it's a decent approximation of prestige within our field. According to this list, Miami ranks #77 nationally. Ball State does not place in the top 153 programs surveyed here. Make of that what you will. I'll just say that if I knew the realities of the academic job market when I was applying for schools, I wouldn't consider programs outside the top 20. 

Here's some more information about the PhD placements at Ball State: https://www.bsu.edu/-/media/www/departmentalcontent/english/pdfs/graduateprograms/graduate program alumni.pdf?la=en&hash=B292055CC6E80F7A38700693FC0A09C595B4453D. The long and short: they've placed two Literature PhDs into professorships in the last ten years. Neither of those appointments was in the US.

Here's some more information about PhD placements at Miami: https://miamioh.edu/cas/academics/departments/english/academics/graduate-studies/literature/lit-grad-achievements/index.html. There's little long term information listed on their site, but they Miami place someone into a high-teaching-load TT line last year, along with a couple of VAPs. That's better than Ball State, but not much better. 

Edited by Ramus

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1 hour ago, Ramus said:

I'll just say that if I knew the realities of the academic job market when I was applying for schools, I wouldn't consider programs outside the top 20. 

I think the University of Maryland and Washington University in St. Louis have both "punched above their ranking". As a graduate of WashU with a tenure-track position at an ivy-league institution, I can say that with confidence. Part of this had to do with the abundance of resources available at WashU along with the connections to various universities they have and the good graces of multiple professors to advise me how to best revise my articles for potential publication. Several members of cohorts were also fortunate enough to receive multiple offers at various types of research institutions while others chose to not enter the job market for personal reasons. I don't think the USNews rankings does a good job of capturing job placements or rankings for cohorts that have always been smaller.

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55 minutes ago, Regimentations said:

I think the University of Maryland and Washington University in St. Louis have both "punched above their ranking". As a graduate of WashU with a tenure-track position at an ivy-league institution, I can say that with confidence. 

That may be so—though I'd caution applicants placing too much stock in  this kind of anecdotal claim—but it isn't especially relevant to the present discussion about Miami University of Ohio and Ball State University. 

 

1 hour ago, Regimentations said:

I don't think the USNews rankings does a good job of capturing job placements or rankings for cohorts that have always been smaller.

As I've said elsewhere, the ranking systems are by no means perfect. My concern is that critiques of them, like yours, @Regimentations, might lead young applicants to believe they don't measure anything or that they can be outright ignored. In fact, they are especially important for cases like OP's. In the present case, the US News ranking system, even with its warts, helps support the conclusion that the two schools OP is considering would leave her/him/them with at or about a snowball's chance in hell of getting a tenure-track job. For the sake of OP, let's not have yet another quibble over the methodology of US News distract us for that reality. 

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5 minutes ago, Ramus said:

That may be so—though I'd caution applicants placing too much stock in  this kind of anecdotal claim

Which is why placement records are a better indicator than USNews rankings: https://english.wustl.edu/phd-careers
Universities with bigger pockets are often able to provide certain resources that attract more faculty and provide its students the resources that cash-strapped universities may not always be able to provide. I think the USNews is a good place to start and would caution going beyond the top 50 with very few exceptions. However, I don't think all universities ranked in the 20s or 30s are equal. Some might be better than top 20 schools based on individual subfields. I think it's important to remember that the top 20 can shift a lot depending on which 13 or so percent of those surveyed respond. I'd advise against entering a program that is in the top 20 if there are stronger programs outside the top 20 which might have a better success in placing students inside one's field. If someone can't complete a program due to feeling unsupported, it won't matter where they've been accepted. 

 

10 minutes ago, Ramus said:

For the sake of OP, let's not have yet another quibble over the methodology of US News distract us for that reality. 

I agree with you that neither Ball State nor Miami have placement rates which indicate a good chance of succeeding academic job market in Literature. However, I think their placement rate allows others to see their record.

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