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Getting a PhD in the UK through a distance-learning program


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Good morning, everyone.

I'm so glad I found this website. It's been insanely helpful! I've been thinking so much about my goals for academia. I'll just tell you a bit about my background.

I graduated from NYU with a master's degree in 2014. For the last five years, I have been working as a high school English teacher and adjunct professor. I've been so happy teaching high school, but still, I would love to earn my PhD. 

I got an offer of admission to a university, but it's partially-funded. My school (where I work) is offering to cover the remaining fees, so long as I remain a full-time English teacher. The only downside is this: there are no night classes. All the classes take place in the morning, which conflicts with my job. I can't leave my teaching job because then I won't have funding for the remainder of tuition.

I thought long and hard about this, and I decided against it. I know this may sound counterproductive or silly, but I think I want to engage in a distance-learning program. I know that online degrees are not given the same prestige as a traditional PhD, but I wonder if it's worth it for someone like me: I don't mind being an English teacher for the rest of my life, but I want to research as well. I want the best of both worlds, I guess. 

I found a few distance-learning programs in the UK, like the University of Birmingham and the University of York. I know they're terribly expensive, but I think my school would be willing to help me cover the expenses. Would it be worth it to go for a PhD from the UK? 

I do apologize; I know I've been posting many questions, but I just really wanted to analyze every angle and leave no stone unturned. I appreciate all the advice and feedback from the users here. Thanks in advance! 

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I forgot to mention something. For the UK PhD in English, it seems that there are no classes. You would just jump right into your dissertation project. I'm not sure if this is a good thing because I really do want to take classes to broaden my scope of literature, perhaps revising my dissertation proposal. 

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6 minutes ago, LittleShakespeare90 said:

I forgot to mention something. For the UK PhD in English, it seems that there are no classes. You would just jump right into your dissertation project. I'm not sure if this is a good thing because I really do want to take classes to broaden my scope of literature, perhaps revising my dissertation proposal. 

Just want to preface by saying that I am not familiar with those specific programs nor do I know enough about your circumstances/goals to say if it's worth it, but in case it's helpful I thought I would talk a bit about the differences between UK and US PhDs. Sorry if this is repetitive as it sounds you are aware of this already.

The main thing to be aware of is that UK PhDs are research-only degrees where you dive right into the dissertation process, instead of having a few years of coursework beforehand like in the US. Because of that, you need to have a more or less defined project and a specific supervisor in mind at the time of applying--that also makes the application process slightly different. If what you want out of the PhD is just to do research alongside your job AND already have a project in mind, this might be a good arrangement?

Depending on your school they might allow you to sit in on classes or have some optional research seminars for PhD students--but you really would not get the same training that you do from the US PhDs, the teaching portion is done at the MA level here. Also, even though you do need to have a very developed project from the get go and know who you want to work with, most people I know end up writing slightly different dissertations than what their original research project proposed, since their research ends up taking them in slightly unexpected direction.

Can't really speak to the financial aspect--common wisdom is not to go into debt for a humanities degree, and I personally would not, but like I said, I don't know your personal situation/how much funding you might get from your employer or the university, etc.

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3 hours ago, LittleShakespeare90 said:

Good morning, everyone.

I'm so glad I found this website. It's been insanely helpful! I've been thinking so much about my goals for academia. I'll just tell you a bit about my background.

I graduated from NYU with a master's degree in 2014. For the last five years, I have been working as a high school English teacher and adjunct professor. I've been so happy teaching high school, but still, I would love to earn my PhD. 

I got an offer of admission to a university, but it's partially-funded. My school (where I work) is offering to cover the remaining fees, so long as I remain a full-time English teacher. The only downside is this: there are no night classes. All the classes take place in the morning, which conflicts with my job. I can't leave my teaching job because then I won't have funding for the remainder of tuition.

I thought long and hard about this, and I decided against it. I know this may sound counterproductive or silly, but I think I want to engage in a distance-learning program. I know that online degrees are not given the same prestige as a traditional PhD, but I wonder if it's worth it for someone like me: I don't mind being an English teacher for the rest of my life, but I want to research as well. I want the best of both worlds, I guess. 

I found a few distance-learning programs in the UK, like the University of Birmingham and the University of York. I know they're terribly expensive, but I think my school would be willing to help me cover the expenses. Would it be worth it to go for a PhD from the UK? 

I do apologize; I know I've been posting many questions, but I just really wanted to analyze every angle and leave no stone unturned. I appreciate all the advice and feedback from the users here. Thanks in advance! 

Respectfully, this does not sound like a good idea. 

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3 hours ago, LittleShakespeare90 said:

Good morning, everyone.

I'm so glad I found this website. It's been insanely helpful! I've been thinking so much about my goals for academia. I'll just tell you a bit about my background.

I graduated from NYU with a master's degree in 2014. For the last five years, I have been working as a high school English teacher and adjunct professor. I've been so happy teaching high school, but still, I would love to earn my PhD. 

I got an offer of admission to a university, but it's partially-funded. My school (where I work) is offering to cover the remaining fees, so long as I remain a full-time English teacher. The only downside is this: there are no night classes. All the classes take place in the morning, which conflicts with my job. I can't leave my teaching job because then I won't have funding for the remainder of tuition.

I thought long and hard about this, and I decided against it. I know this may sound counterproductive or silly, but I think I want to engage in a distance-learning program. I know that online degrees are not given the same prestige as a traditional PhD, but I wonder if it's worth it for someone like me: I don't mind being an English teacher for the rest of my life, but I want to research as well. I want the best of both worlds, I guess. 

I found a few distance-learning programs in the UK, like the University of Birmingham and the University of York. I know they're terribly expensive, but I think my school would be willing to help me cover the expenses. Would it be worth it to go for a PhD from the UK? 

I do apologize; I know I've been posting many questions, but I just really wanted to analyze every angle and leave no stone unturned. I appreciate all the advice and feedback from the users here. Thanks in advance! 

The worry I have is you'd be pretty dependent on your job to fund this, which you might be very happy with at the moment, but a lot can happen in the years it takes to fulfil a PhD programme. Whether you would want to do a UK PhD is another consideration-- as @harlethhas pointed out it's a very, very different process. According to my friends completing UK PhDs, you're essentially left alone to work on your dissertation with the occasional meeting. The UK system in general is pretty isolating and highly independent/unguided, especially so with distance learning. If you're not 100% okay with that I personally would not do it-- really you should be completely invested in a specific project before doing a UK PhD.

That said, I think you're in a particularly complicated situation and I'm not totally sure what I'd do in your shoes... I don't think a second MA is a bad idea, unless you're no longer considering that?

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36 minutes ago, onerepublic96 said:

Respectfully, this does not sound like a good idea. 

Thank you so much for your reply. I'd love to hear your thoughts. What are some pros and cons? I'm trying to make a spreadsheet for myself weighing the pros and cons.

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1 minute ago, queenofcarrotflowers said:

The worry I have is you'd be pretty dependent on your job to fund this, which you might be very happy with at the moment, but a lot can happen in the years it takes to fulfil a PhD programme. Whether you would want to do a UK PhD is another consideration-- as @harlethhas pointed out it's a very, very different process. According to my friends completing UK PhDs, you're essentially left alone to work on your dissertation with the occasional meeting. The UK system in general is pretty isolating and highly independent/unguided, especially so with distance learning. If you're not 100% okay with that I personally would not do it-- really you should be completely invested in a specific project before doing a UK PhD.

That said, I think you're in a particularly complicated situation and I'm not totally sure what I'd do in your shoes... I don't think a second MA is a bad idea, unless you're no longer considering that?

Thank you so much for your reply! :) Oh yes. When I was doing some research about the UK programs, they seemed so wonderful, but to be honest, I'm a bit worried. I want some more classes in English literature first before going on to write the dissertation. I can see that the UK's PhD programs require much more discipline. I think I need some guidance along the way.

I was on the fence about getting a second MA. It just seems so costly. I feel like I'm ready for a PhD, but I also want the flexibility of a distance-program. My mentor at NYU mentioned that it might be worth it to get a graduate certificate in English literature so I can become more well-rounded in literature. There are a few schools that offer this (I think University of Missouri was one that he mentioned). 

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3 hours ago, LittleShakespeare90 said:

Thank you so much for your reply. I'd love to hear your thoughts. What are some pros and cons? I'm trying to make a spreadsheet for myself weighing the pros and cons.

There is, of course, always a grain of salt, but in my honest opinion this is not a very good road to go down for several reasons, some of which @harleth has already mentioned. First of all, deciding against the PhD offer you discussed in another thread is not silly nor counterproductive, because, for all the reasons discussed in that thread, along with the class scheduling conflict, it would put you in a rather risky position. However, this online UK PhD is not without potential problems, either. First of all, is it funded? I won't pretend to know which program this is, but funded PhD positions (especially for overseas students, which I assume you are) are very hard to come by in traditional residential programs. I would be super surprised to learn that there is an online program out there that will fully fund an international student. As others have mentioned, going into any kind of debt for a PhD is not a good idea. You've mentioned in some places that this is a purely personal goal, but at other times you talk about wanting to be an English professor, eventually. I would think very honestly about what my primary motivation is. You probably know how terrible the academic job market is right now (it is not likely to become any better in the foreseeable future). A "traditional" PhD from the very top program is not a guarantee of a job, and even though so much of the job market is about luck, "non-traditional" degree paths (like an online-only program) are more likely to harm one's chances. Aside from this, I would be concerned about how much support I'd have in my research as an online-only student. Will I be able to build the same kinds of relationships with my supervisor(s), peers, other members of my academic community as I would were I to attend in person? The point about UK PhDs launching straight into research is also a very valid one. I seem to recall from another of your threads that one of the reasons you considered an MA at first was because you felt like you had more to learn. A UK PhD is unlikely to give you that, as you probably won't be attending any classes. Moreover, to apply in the first place you need to have a pretty well-sketched research proposal (rather than the statement of purpose that is a US admission requirement). Do you at this point have enough of a research focus and a scholarly apparatus to construct a competitive proposal? I'm not saying that you don't, but this is one of the main questions I'd ask myself if I were in your position. 

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7 minutes ago, onerepublic96 said:

There is, of course, always a grain of salt, but in my honest opinion this is not a very good road to go down for several reasons, some of which @harleth has already mentioned. First of all, deciding against the PhD offer you discussed in another thread is not silly nor counterproductive, because, for all the reasons discussed in that thread, along with the class scheduling conflict, it would put you in a rather risky position. However, this online UK PhD is not without potential problems, either. First of all, is it funded? I won't pretend to know which program this is, but funded PhD positions (especially for overseas students, which I assume you are) are very hard to come by in traditional residential programs. I would be super surprised to learn that there is an online program out there that will fully fund an international student. As others have mentioned, going into any kind of debt for a PhD is not a good idea. You've mentioned in some places that this is a purely personal goal, but at other times you talk about wanting to be an English professor, eventually. I would think very honestly about what my primary motivation is. You probably know how terrible the academic job market is right now (it is not likely to become any better in the foreseeable future). A "traditional" PhD from the very top program is not a guarantee of a job, and even though so much of the job market is about luck, "non-traditional" degree paths (like an online-only program) are more likely to harm one's chances. Aside from this, I would be concerned about how much support I'd have in my research as an online-only student. Will I be able to build the same kinds of relationships with my supervisor(s), peers, other members of my academic community as I would were I to attend in person? The point about UK PhDs launching straight into research is also a very valid one. I seem to recall from another of your threads that one of the reasons you considered an MA at first was because you felt like you had more to learn. A UK PhD is unlikely to give you that, as you probably won't be attending any classes. Moreover, to apply in the first place you need to have a pretty well-sketched research proposal (rather than the statement of purpose that is a US admission requirement). Do you at this point have enough of a research focus and a scholarly apparatus to construct a competitive proposal? I'm not saying that you don't, but this is one of the main questions I'd ask myself if I were in your position. 

You’re so right. To be honest, I truly didn’t know that the UK degree didn’t provide classes. I didn’t realize how different it is from a US degree. But I would actually love to take more classes and learn more content before diving into the dissertation.

After thinking about this for a long while, I think I’m going to stick with a US PhD. I really want a PhD in English as it has been my dream since I was a baby. I always wanted to stand up there and talk about books! :) I am happy working as a high school teacher, but I would love the opportunity to potentially move up if I ever want to. I know the job market is tough, but you’re right: an online PhD might not be received well.

I cannot thank you enough for your help. It truly means the world to me! :D 

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4 hours ago, LittleShakespeare90 said:

Thank you so much for your reply! :) Oh yes. When I was doing some research about the UK programs, they seemed so wonderful, but to be honest, I'm a bit worried. I want some more classes in English literature first before going on to write the dissertation. I can see that the UK's PhD programs require much more discipline. I think I need some guidance along the way.

I was on the fence about getting a second MA. It just seems so costly. I feel like I'm ready for a PhD, but I also want the flexibility of a distance-program. My mentor at NYU mentioned that it might be worth it to get a graduate certificate in English literature so I can become more well-rounded in literature. There are a few schools that offer this (I think University of Missouri was one that he mentioned). 

 

7 minutes ago, LittleShakespeare90 said:

You’re so right. To be honest, I truly didn’t know that the UK degree didn’t provide classes. I didn’t realize how different it is from a US degree. But I would actually love to take more classes and learn more content before diving into the dissertation.

After thinking about this for a long while, I think I’m going to stick with a US PhD. I really want a PhD in English as it has been my dream since I was a baby. I always wanted to stand up there and talk about books! :) I am happy working as a high school teacher, but I would love the opportunity to potentially move up if I ever want to. I know the job market is tough, but you’re right: an online PhD might not be received well.

I cannot thank you enough for your help. It truly means the world to me! :D 

hard agree with everything @onerepublic96 said.
 

If you think you’re well prepared for a PhD and really want it, I would keep trying for fully-funded, stipend-included programmes. Maybe apply to funded MA programmes too- there are some great ones around. you’ve got this !!!

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10 minutes ago, queenofcarrotflowers said:

 

hard agree with everything @onerepublic96 said.
 

If you think you’re well prepared for a PhD and really want it, I would keep trying for fully-funded, stipend-included programmes. Maybe apply to funded MA programmes too- there are some great ones around. you’ve got this !!!

Thank you so much!!! ❤️ 

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I have been watching your journey through posts for a while and feel very supportive toward you (perhaps that's because of your handle and the fact I'm an Early Modernist :) ).  I did want to ask, though - why do you really want a PhD?  It seems as though you're interested in doing a research project and maybe taking some more classes, but aren't interested in giving up your job (which sounds amazing, by the way).  I am wondering if you have considered that other options may lead to a better outcome, even though it seems like it will all be easiest through the "traditional" route.  Have you considered being a research librarian at night, perhaps at a university?  You wouldn't necessarily be able to research your interests right away, but it would allow you to be steeped in a more research-heavy academic environment for a bit as you perhaps take advantage of the courses available to you already.  Have you watched Dr. Garber's lectures on Shakespeare's later plays?  https://marjoriegarber.com/online-lectures.php  Have you tried out Dr. Greenblatt's open courses? https://online-learning.harvard.edu/catalog?keywords=shakespeare&op=Search  This would give you the freedom you're looking for, while also allowing you to get started on developing research ideas.  Then, you may want to go for a masters, where you can do a big research project and meet with advisors who can help you publish for the rest of your life.  It seems you also have a previous masters, and perhaps those people could help advise your project.

 

I understand you've always dreamt of getting a PhD.  But it seems like you're keeping one foot in two worlds, and you have to make a leap to live a dream.  Do you think the PhD is the leap for you?  If so, go out there and apply for fully funded, residential programs that will immerse you in that world.  But if you're holding back because you love your job, maybe that's the dream.  You said you want to stand up there and talk about books.  If you can already do that, what's missing?  If it's research that's missing, can you do that in other ways?  If it's just the title of PhD, I'm not sure that's as meaningful as being happy with what you do, rather than just the letters after your name.  You have to make a big decision here, and I absolutely think this forum is the right place to talk it out, but when the time comes you have to know you'll be happy with what you're doing.  If you won't be happy without a PhD, get that degree.  If you won't be happy to leave your job, then listen to that and stay.   

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On 3/2/2021 at 11:31 PM, 1 Pint of Ricotta said:

I have been watching your journey through posts for a while and feel very supportive toward you (perhaps that's because of your handle and the fact I'm an Early Modernist :) ).  I did want to ask, though - why do you really want a PhD?  It seems as though you're interested in doing a research project and maybe taking some more classes, but aren't interested in giving up your job (which sounds amazing, by the way).  I am wondering if you have considered that other options may lead to a better outcome, even though it seems like it will all be easiest through the "traditional" route.  Have you considered being a research librarian at night, perhaps at a university?  You wouldn't necessarily be able to research your interests right away, but it would allow you to be steeped in a more research-heavy academic environment for a bit as you perhaps take advantage of the courses available to you already.  Have you watched Dr. Garber's lectures on Shakespeare's later plays?  https://marjoriegarber.com/online-lectures.php  Have you tried out Dr. Greenblatt's open courses? https://online-learning.harvard.edu/catalog?keywords=shakespeare&op=Search  This would give you the freedom you're looking for, while also allowing you to get started on developing research ideas.  Then, you may want to go for a masters, where you can do a big research project and meet with advisors who can help you publish for the rest of your life.  It seems you also have a previous masters, and perhaps those people could help advise your project.

 

I understand you've always dreamt of getting a PhD.  But it seems like you're keeping one foot in two worlds, and you have to make a leap to live a dream.  Do you think the PhD is the leap for you?  If so, go out there and apply for fully funded, residential programs that will immerse you in that world.  But if you're holding back because you love your job, maybe that's the dream.  You said you want to stand up there and talk about books.  If you can already do that, what's missing?  If it's research that's missing, can you do that in other ways?  If it's just the title of PhD, I'm not sure that's as meaningful as being happy with what you do, rather than just the letters after your name.  You have to make a big decision here, and I absolutely think this forum is the right place to talk it out, but when the time comes you have to know you'll be happy with what you're doing.  If you won't be happy without a PhD, get that degree.  If you won't be happy to leave your job, then listen to that and stay.   

Thank you so much for your response! That's so wonderful that you want to study Modernism as well! Hemingway is my main man! :D

I guess I have to think more about it, but I know I would love to pursue a PhD program someday. I'm feeling a bit of pressure, too. My family thinks the distance-learning option would be best for me, but I don't think that Old Dominion University (in Virginia) is worth going into debt for. The degree doesn't seem to hold a lot of merit. Even my professor at NYU said it's a no-go. It's so complicated. 

I do have an offer of admission now to a university in the USA, and it's partially funded. My dilemma is that I would need to keep my full-time high school teaching job so they can fund the remainder. I'm just scared because the classes take place during the morning, and I don't want to sacrifice my job. I was hoping I could take classes at night, but it may be difficult. I guess I just need to pray and think about this some more. 

Thank you so much for all your help. I'm in great appreciation. :)

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2 hours ago, LittleShakespeare90 said:

Thank you so much for your response! That's so wonderful that you want to study Modernism as well! Hemingway is my main man! :D

I guess I have to think more about it, but I know I would love to pursue a PhD program someday. I'm feeling a bit of pressure, too. My family thinks the distance-learning option would be best for me, but I don't think that Old Dominion University (in Virginia) is worth going into debt for. The degree doesn't seem to hold a lot of merit. Even my professor at NYU said it's a no-go. It's so complicated. 

I do have an offer of admission now to a university in the USA, and it's partially funded. My dilemma is that I would need to keep my full-time high school teaching job so they can fund the remainder. I'm just scared because the classes take place during the morning, and I don't want to sacrifice my job. I was hoping I could take classes at night, but it may be difficult. I guess I just need to pray and think about this some more. 

Thank you so much for all your help. I'm in great appreciation. :)

*No* PhD degree is worth going into debt for, no matter the program. I know this sounds disappointing, but in terms of getting the best "value" for your time and effort, I truly believe the best bet is to try again for a fully-funded residential program (with stipend) in the next cycle. Since we're just coming off the end of the current cycle, this would be the prime time to start re-thinking your application portfolio and making preparations for how to improve in the next round. I'd reach out to the places that turned me down to see if they could offer any feedback (it's often the case that they can't but sometimes you can get lucky), re-assess my academic goals, and start from scratch in choosing which programs are the best fit for me. 

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