Jump to content

Career-defining decision - PhD in the US or UK?


DeMoomin

Recommended Posts

I would like an academic career in International Relations. I have been accepted for the PhD Political Science at Northwestern and the PhD International Relations at the London School of Economics. Northwestern is offering me a standard funding package (fellowship, TAship for five years). The LSE has yet to get back to me on funding(if I get it, it'll be a full fellowship), although my potential supervisor says he recommended me for funding. (I have yet to hear from six other universities, but only two would make me reconsider Northwestern/LSE, and they're also very, very unlikely. So it's really decision time.)

 

The LSE:

 

Positives: is ranked in the top 3 internationally for Politics and IR, while Northwestern is in the top 40 according to QS. LSE also has a bigger name brand in my field - I can walk into an interview with people who know and mention its name and everyone understands where I come from. It's in my home country and I'd have easy access to my family. London is expensive but an exciting place.

 

Negatives: But having had a discussion with my potential supervisor today, I really liked him but got the impression that the university is not really going to look out for my interests. He couldn't name a former student of his who went on to an academic career - mostly they went to work for governmental and non-governmental organisations. The university doesn't offer post-docs at all, just career-suicide teaching positions, after PhD. Furthermore, I keep hearing that European PhDs are seen as secondary to American in the US. So essentially, LSE is an advantage only in interviews outside the US. My plan wasn't specifically to work in the US, but having the most prominent market cut off based on one decision is still something to keep in mind.

 

 

Northwestern on the other hand... 

 

Positives: my potential supervisor is interested in very similar questions to what I want to tackle. She's published in top journals, she's amiable, and she's keen to get students who will do research for/with her. The 'fit' is pretty stellar, and I suspect this is why I got a place, because my GRE quant score was not the best. Campus is gorgeous, access to Chicago, Lake Michigan, and supposedly elite in the US (although can someone confirm this?). It also means direct access to the leading market in my field. 

 

Negatives: it is ranked in the top 40 in my field and it's far less known internationally. At least, I'd never heard of Northwestern until I started researching for applications, and I chose it on fit. I didn't find out it was elite until after I'd got an offer and an American friend of mine was like 'Oh wow!' If I walk into an interview outside of the US, that might not be a useful heuristic for employers. Not to mention, I finish in 5 years minimum instead of 3-4, which at the age of 28 means an even more protracted road to employment and independence.

 

 

I am just not sure what to make of Northwestern, to be honest. It looks great and I know my research interests are well served there, but what kind of Political Science department am I walking into? And to what other kinds of universities can Northwestern be compared in terms of status? I know brand name is not everything, but at least in my field I know it can make a difference.

Edited by DeMoomin
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes. Northwestern political science department has a general list,which shows some were able to get academic positions afterwards at okay institutions. With the LSE, my potential supervisor said all his former students tended to go into governmental or non-governmental organisations. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think to a great extent it boils down to whether you want a career in Europe/internationally or in the U.S. specifically. LSE has greate name recognition everywhere, and the 3-year PhD in Europe is definitely an asset! (I'll be entering a U.S. program in the fall at age 29, and the length of the program (and my age by the time I'll finish) make me feel a little queasy, so I try not to think about it too much.) U.S. universities seem to have better placement services and records, and if it is your ambition to stay in academia, then that's a good argument for Northwestern. On the other hand, I could imagine it's not overly difficult to establish yourself in academia if you hold a PhD from LSE. The funding situation and research fit being equal I would pick LSE if I was in your shoes. Time is money, as the saying goes, and LSE is an excellent school.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I can't say much to your particular field, but Northwestern is very highly regarded in the US and is ranked higher than several Ivy League schools for undergrad. I would put it on the same level as schools like Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Washington University in St. Louis, and Berkeley.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

With regards to "eliteness", the overall reputation and especially the undergrad program ranking of schools are not very important if you're going to try to pursue an academic career. The "eliteness" of the particular department/group you want to work with is far more important!

 

That said, going back to general rankings, I've only recently learned that Northwestern is a highly ranked school. Before moving to the US (I'm from Canada), I have never heard of it in the same way as Cornell, John Hopkins, Berkeley, etc. I only found out that the school existed about a year ago. So maybe it isn't as well known outside of the US. But I'm just one sample/data point!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't know that much about what academic careers in International Relations actually look like, research-wise. I know that I was advised against a UK PhD because, in my field, research is vital and 3 years is considered by some over here as too short to get a true grounding in research methods. American students who study in the UK also can be at a disadvantage because, (again, hearsay) the PhD programs there tend to provide less guidance. However, if you are originally from there, you would probably not have trouble with cultural differences in academic arrangements. 

 

When I was considering Cambridge, one of my advisors suggested that, were I to study there, I would probably need to do either a longer post-doc or a second one in order to be considered competitive in the US for faculty positions. So it might not save you time if you decide to work in the US, but there are ways to overcome it. But if you are leaning towards working outside the US, that could save you time and would give you a well-known alma mater, which would be a definite plus. Again, I don't really know if any of this applies to your field! 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

LSE and Northwestern are not heavy "quantitative" departments. Most of the professors at both schools emphasize qualitative methods, which really does not require much training and is easy to learn.

I know I am not helping you much with your tough decision. If you don't attend Stanford, Yale, etc. in the US you can pretty much guarantee that you will be placed at an "ok" school in the US. You are always placed lower than the school that you attend. Only way to move up is if you "discover" a brand new theory or method, but even then this is difficult to do if you don't attend a CHYMPS (academia is not so egalitarian). 

Northwestern has a good reputation and is a good school (no one will think that you are an idiot if you went there), but I would not put it in the same category for IR as Cornell, John Hopkins, or Berkeley. Actually, they are in completely different leagues (especially if you compare it to Berkeley). 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks very much for all the advice, guys!

 

I'm getting a really good picture of what to expect through this forum and also discussions with students of those universities. It's all very much appreciated.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would echo what leinlei said about having to do postdocs post a UK-PhD.  Although they are quicker in the UK, you miss out on a lot of the professionalization that is key if you want to continue in academia (teaching, publishing, etc.) that you are able to achieve in a longer US degree.  

 

I feel like something that may be more important than the elite status of the uni is your fit with your advisor.  You seemed to be hinting at an uneasy fit at LSE, whereas Northwestern sounds quite ideal (amiable, good fit with your research interests etc.).  In the job hunt, at least what I've been told, is that your letter of rec from your advisor means everything.  If you have a strong fit and feel positive about an advisor, then you might have a more productive working relationship with them and be better positioned in the job search because of that!  Just a thought :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Doing postdocs may not be ideal, but LSE PhDs tend to their postdocs at Princeton and Harvard, which is not a terrible thing to have on your CV. I believe LSE also has that option where you can spend one year at George Washington during your PhD, which wouldn't be a terrible thing to do if you end up going there. 

Congrats on the options you have though! You should be proud that you got into both!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Doing postdocs may not be ideal, but LSE PhDs tend to their postdocs at Princeton and Harvard, which is not a terrible thing to have on your CV. I believe LSE also has that option where you can spend one year at George Washington during your PhD, which wouldn't be a terrible thing to do if you end up going there. 

 

Ooooh! Where did you hear about where the LSE postdocs tend to go? This is easily something that might be another plus on the LSE side.

 

And thanks for the congrats!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

First I would like to state that I've lived and studied in the UK before (did my Bachelors in the UK. I know very odd for an American). I'm not just some random American who knows nothing about European programs.

I had a discussion with several American professors and they kept on bringing up the fact that job prospects for an American with a UK PhD in the US is not great (obviously the big question is "what is wrong with an American who does a PhD in Europe?" However, this shouldn't be a problem for you.), but several did mention that Oxford/LSE PhDs did do postdocs at Princeton/Harvard. One of my former supervisors graduated from Oxford and he did his postdoc at Princeton and later taught at Harvard (of course, he also was a lawyer, so he has a lot going for him). I also know of two other LSE PhDs who have done postdocs in the US.

Have you thought of emailing the head of the department at LSE or better yet their secretary (Hilary Parker)? I would imagine they would have a list somewhere or at least they should. I wouldn't want you making a decision based off of what I say or my observations, but this is probably something that you should look into. I also wouldn't recommend choosing a school based off of where PhD students end up doing postdocs.

Obviously, it is no guarantee because if you don't have a good proposal you won't be accepted for a postdoc, but having a PhD from Oxford or LSE will not rule you out of doing a postdoc at top US schools. It will probably make it difficult to get a tenure track position in the US.

I still think that Northwestern will provide better training overall, but it does emphasize qualitative methods like LSE, so you don't have a quant vs. qual. problem on your hands. However, you should keep this into consideration. Also, Northwestern has a better campus (prior to living in the UK, I've lived in the midwest) than LSE, but LSE has a better library.

Edited by phdhope2013
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks, phdhope2013.

 

My career goals are to work in Europe/internationally. I actually have very little interest in being an academic in the US. This would only change if, having done my PhD in the US, I was offered a really decent job. 

 

And while a postdoc is not everything, it can still boost your CV nicely if you have another great university to attach to your name. And of course it will all depend on my proposal, but I know LSE is not a barrier. Thanks for bringing up this angle of the post-PhD experience!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use