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Penn State vs UConn - English PhD


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Currently I'm down to deciding between these two schools and the decision is extremely difficult. I'd appreciate any information from other people who have been in either of these programs or know people who have enrolled.


My issues:


Ranking: for English, the NRC ranks both of these programs in the top 20 but Penn State is in the top 10. That's not an astronomical difference but given how dismal the job market is, phd.org rankings are something I am factoring into my decison making.


Location: I live in Boston so UConn would be a lot closer to my existing support infastructure and is in a community where access to outside scholarship  is extremely accessable. From what I've seen of Penn State's location, they are relatively isolated. My research is fairly specialized (I work with 16th century anatomy manuals and emblem books) so having the Yale medical history library close to hand would be incredibly beneficial to me.


Faculty: Penn State's graduate director (Garrett Sullivan) has published work very similar to what I'm working on and seems extremely enthusiastic about working with me. There is really no single faculty member at UConn that stands out to me. That being said, I've met all the early modern faculty there, and some of the medieval faculty and they're all awesome, helpful, and smart people who (according to the students I met) routinely do independent studies tailored to a student's interests.


Funding: This is the big one. UConn gave me a fellowship AND a juicy stipend AND summer support (totally around 33k a year for the first three years and then around 20k after that) along with full insurance coverage. Penn State is offering me a TAship with tuition remission and a measly 16.9k stipend with no summer support.


Additional Concerns: When I talked to Garrett Sullivan, he assured me that Penn State was NOT a feeder program (i.e. that over 90% of their MAs interested in PhDs got approved). But there is still this odd stopgap between their MA and PhD programs that worries me, and they seem to have a LOT of current MA students compared to the number of active PhDs for a program that's not a feeder program. Does anyone know anything about this?


Any advice, opinions or feedback would be helpful. The "courtesy date" for declining my fellowship is in two days.

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I'd take the UConn offer.  From what it sounds like, the location is better for your research (especially with access to Yale); you like the faculty and they seem willing to help you, and you have an actually livable stipend and summer support.  The TA thing is also pretty big; TAing takes up a lot of additional time and if you don't have those responsibilities in your first year, you can spend more time focusing on research and your own coursework.


I don't know a whole lot about the humanities but from what I've heard, it's not as important to have someone doing exactly what you want to do at your target program.  I'm in the social sciences and I came to work with someone who was doing research related to, but not exactly within, my interests.  I ended up really falling in love with the topic I do research on now in a big way, and I think I want to focus in this area for my entire research career.  Also my mentor has given me a lot of freedom and flexibility in the kinds of projects I've wanted to do.

I'm not really sure what you are asking about the MA program; them having a lot of MA students might mean that they simply have an attractive English MA program for whateverason  Maybe they have a lot of undergrads who stay on; maybe it's the most cost-effective + well-reputed program for PA residents.

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The question that you really need to ask yourself is what kind of job you hope to get when you graduate. Penn State is a really amazing program and their people tend to go on to teach at lower tier research Universities and well-known private schools. UConn graduates, as far as I can tell, go on to work at relatively unknown SLACs. As to the question of Penn State funding, they usually make it pretty explicit whether you're guaranteed the full six years of support or not. It is very unusual for anyone intending to finish the MA/PhD to not do so unless they fail to meet specific academic expectations. Penn State also considers itself a top ten program, so if that's important to you, I would consider it. I, personally, would take Penn State over UConn, because of the resources that Penn can offer you, but since you wish to remain close to the Yale Library, your decision may be different. The funding from UConn does sound amazing, but this is one of those instances where you have to decide whether financial considerations will tip the scales for you. As long as they give you enough to live on, there shouldn't be any problem.

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Just wanted to add that placement rates are extremely important. UConn boasts a placement rate of 80%, but if you look at those placements, the majority of them are for 1-3 year appointments; the tenure-track appointments look like there are one a year, maybe two. You want to go somewhere that will get you a job, whether because of prestige, or because they prepare you better for the job market.

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As someone who is currently attending a PhD program in literature, I would absolutely choose Penn State over UConn.  Don't be dazzled by more funding - as long as you can live off of the other stipend you should be placing more emphasis on the other factors.  Having someone you are interested in working with should weigh VERY heavily in your decision at this point, as should Penn's reputation...their placement rate definitely beats UConn's.  Just my two cents.

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