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Which phD program should I choose?


TheWanderingStudent
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I've just submitted Ph.D. applications and have started hearing back with invitations to interview (which is both exhilarating and terrifying). Of these, the 2 opportunities that most interest me are: 1) 3-year PhD fellowship at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, doing what looks like fairly groundbreaking work in my field—but very narrowly focused. 2) Normal 5-7 year PhD at the University of Chicago, which has one of the oldest and most renowned religious studies departments in the world and will give me excellent, broad training in the discipline. 

I know I might be jumping the gun a bit as the interviews are still to come (and who knows, I might totally bomb them), but my mind is going round and round trying to figure out which is the better opportunity career wise, especially since I know very little of how European PhD's work. Any insight is appreciated. Thank you! 

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I will add that Chicago has many iterations of the nickname PhNeverDone. They love to advertise 5-7 years but the reality is that the median is 7.75 currently. They still have a number of students that enrolled in the 2008-10 period that are still not done. Almost no one gets out of Chicago in 5. The reality is that you'll be in the 6-10 year range.

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I've also heard horror stories on PhD from UChicago. Not just the length of the program, but also the amount of stress going through it. Wonderful scholars seem to come out of it, but some of them have said those few years were some of the most painful periods of their life.

If you have a great connection with somewhere in the US for a possible hire, then maybe go with the Austrian route. If not, with the job market being so tight, maybe it won't hurt so much to go to Chicago to take more than 6 years to finish

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Of the two options Chicago is definitely better if you want to pursue a traditional career on the US job market. Aside from its greater "brand recognition," I suspect the different lengths of the programs is in part because there are no comprehensive exams in the Austrian program; unfortunately, many TT jobs in the US presuppose one's having completed such exams for hiring/teaching and look askance at European programs that do not include comps.

With that said, if you're fully committed to transitioning to the European academy (especially ERC-type projects), both are viable and the Austrian program may be slightly stronger for networking reasons.

13 hours ago, xypathos said:

I will add that Chicago has many iterations of the nickname PhNeverDone. They love to advertise 5-7 years but the reality is that the median is 7.75 currently. They still have a number of students that enrolled in the 2008-10 period that are still not done. Almost no one gets out of Chicago in 5. The reality is that you'll be in the 6-10 year range.

This is also an important point to consider. As you do more research on Chicago you may want to reach out to some of those who are staying there longer than the funding package you are initially offered to see whether/how they obtained funding for additional years (do not take admins or even TT professors at their word on this point, ask students or get it in the contract). Staying late at a PhD program can be acceptable or even beneficial, but it should not come with economic precarity and especially not debt.

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If you're from the USA and plan to say here don't even waste your time with the Austrian program. Seriously, you will have a heck of a time getting a job (ANY job). It's hard enough for Oxford/Cambridge grads to get a job in the USA. There are good reasons (ask if you don't know them). UChicago is one of the best. Mostly ignore the UChicago lore about time and difficulty (largely depends on subfield). The reality is that you will probably not get a good academic job after you graduate, regardless of whether you go to UChicago or any of the other big names. Note I said good job. You might be able to sneak into a decent teaching job (teaching 3 or 4 courses per term), but most of the big names are not structured to prepare you for the few jobs that actually exist. Whatever you decide, make sure you devote a healthy amount of time/courses to acquiring skills outside of academia that will get you a job (stats, programming, etc.). The traditional path will not get a you a (good) job outside of academia and the faculty at these schools won't be thinking much about the realty facing 90% of graduates. Plan accordingly.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 12/21/2021 at 1:51 PM, TheWanderingStudent said:

I've just submitted Ph.D. applications and have started hearing back with invitations to interview (which is both exhilarating and terrifying). Of these, the 2 opportunities that most interest me are: 1) 3-year PhD fellowship at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, doing what looks like fairly groundbreaking work in my field—but very narrowly focused. 2) Normal 5-7 year PhD at the University of Chicago, which has one of the oldest and most renowned religious studies departments in the world and will give me excellent, broad training in the discipline. 

I know I might be jumping the gun a bit as the interviews are still to come (and who knows, I might totally bomb them), but my mind is going round and round trying to figure out which is the better opportunity career wise, especially since I know very little of how European PhD's work. Any insight is appreciated. Thank you! 

Uchicago.

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