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Stanford MA vs LSE PhD International History


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A quick solicitation of opinion as I make a final decision between these two schools. I was accepted to an international studies MA program at Stanford and the PhD program in International History at the LSE. Originally, I was selected for the PhD studentship at the LSE (full tuition+stipend for up to 4yrs), and received no funding from Stanford. However, a week ago I received an email from Stanford offering a first-year full tuition fellowship, and RA/TAship to cover costs in the second year. I had just about made up my mind on LSE (financial reasons were very important), but now--great problem to have--I am torn.


I would love to keep academia open as an option during/after my degree, but I am realistic as to the miniscule prospects provided in the field by a PhD from the UK--particularly a non-Oxbridge PhD. That said, I've been told the LSE PhD is a useful professional credential, and at the end of the day, it is a PhD (even if a UK PhD-light) not an MA. Yet Stanford, is, well, Stanford. The program is interdisciplinary, with flexibility to take courses across the University, including in the History department. ~30% of graduates continue on to a PhD (Econ, PoliSci or History) at Stanford or peer institutions. I also already have a one-year UK masters in a related field studied on a fellowship immediately post-undergraduate, which adds to my hesitation to go for "just" another MA. 


So, as decisions must be made soon, I guess I'm just soliciting any opinions, particularly any that can offer more insight into the reputation/value of the LSE International History department and the value of going for an MA at a prestigious university with a sub-50% rate of placement in PhDs.



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LSE is definitely a prestigious school with worldwide recognition. And I believe that their International History program, while not as well known as their Economic History one (arguably the most prestigious out there) is very, very well thought of. I think it has a lot of to do with the influence of Odd Arne Westad, who is one of the biggest names in International History and especially the Cold War. 


More generally, LSE, as well as many of the Colleges in the University of London system, are very prestigious. If you do a PhD there and work with a very respected adviser (if he is, he'll be well known in the US as well), you'll be in as a good a position as anyone for any job. (This is coming from someone studying in a History program in an Ivy League: recent searches have included as finalists recent graduates from English universities). 


Having said that, there's always a lot of tension between that kind of International History,which tends to be in dialogue more with International Relations than with local historiographies or other social science or humanistic disciplines, and the other subfields.


Unless you are not sure you want to start a PhD yet, want to wait and see if you can get an offer in the States (but I'd say only places starting in University of Chicago or Columbia can be compared to LSE) or don't want to move to London, I'd say the LSE offer is extremely tempting. I'd rather be careful in thinking if I really want to focus on International History and not in History tout court, but the institution and the location are amazing.

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I didn't realize that the other program at Stanford was in IR. In that case, that is also a huge door-opener: if you're not sure you want to do history, that MA will be extremely helpful for whatever you want to do. 


It probably all comes down to what it is that you see yourself doing in the future. If it is academic work as a historian of International Relations, the London thing seems great. 

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Thanks very much for the insight, itsevolutionbaby! It's been very tough to get perspective on the value of a UK PhD in the US these days. In floating these options to historians and other professors, I've heard numerous statements as to the decline in quality in UK universities (from budget cuts and slow modernization), and humanities scholarship in particular. It's nice to hear that this isn't the only opinion...


A major concern, beyond the value issue (and a slight fear of the imminent collapse of British academia, thanks profs), is the lack of professional training in the UK. I feel I'm a somewhat competent researcher, but I'm a far cry from anything approaching a professional historian. The LSE IH department has something of a methods training plan for new entrants (1 term of 3hr/week seminars on research methods and a couple of UofL-wide courses), but it is no where near as rigorous/extensive as in the US. I'm just not sure I'm equipped to have a archival research-based chapter of the dissertation completed at the end of the first 8mos.

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