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Uni of Toronto - PhD cultural Advice Please


SiSi26

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Hi Everyone,

I am seriously considering doing a PhD at the University of Toronto. I am wondering if anyone has had experience doing a PhD there or had experience making the difficult decision of whether to choose there or a different school?

I did my undergraduate degree in political science at Uof T and was not impressed with the Department. I found the Faculty to be mixed in terms of commitment and research; I found the education of very high quality but the support lacking; I found the Departmental research behind the times; I found the students competitive and pushed me to feel always inadequate; The administration was too bureaucratic and made my time way more stressful than necessary. ---do I want to spend the next 5 years in this circumstance? No. 

That being said, the PhD I am choosing is in a different Department that I have heard and understand the research as much more progressive; The faculty so far have been more than willing to support me and my application; but I have no idea about my peers or community. Also Toronto is my hometown and I am not sure how I feel about moving back.

If anyone has experience with this do let me know. I am looking for feedback on culture, support from faculty and peers because I fear more than anything being in the PhD world all by myself.

 

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Hi Everyone,

I am seriously considering doing a PhD at the University of Toronto. I am wondering if anyone has had experience doing a PhD there or had experience making the difficult decision of whether to choose there or a different school?

I did my undergraduate degree in political science at Uof T and was not impressed with the Department. I found the Faculty to be mixed in terms of commitment and research; I found the education of very high quality but the support lacking; I found the Departmental research behind the times; I found the students competitive and pushed me to feel always inadequate; The administration was too bureaucratic and made my time way more stressful than necessary. ---do I want to spend the next 5 years in this circumstance? No. 

That being said, the PhD I am choosing is in a different Department that I have heard and understand the research as much more progressive; The faculty so far have been more than willing to support me and my application; but I have no idea about my peers or community. Also Toronto is my hometown and I am not sure how I feel about moving back.

If anyone has experience with this do let me know. I am looking for feedback on culture, support from faculty and peers because I fear more than anything being in the PhD world all by myself.

 

 

Hi SiSI26,

 

I'm currently in my second year of a PhD program at UofT (not in poli-sci or geography, but I am in the social sciences). I only applied to places in Toronto, so my choices came down to two different programs at York (one of these programs was where I did my MA) and the one from U of T.

 

I'm not sure what "seriously considering" means (whether you have an offer that you're weighing or if you're thinking of applying this fall for entrance in the fall of 2015). But, I can give you a little insight on my experience of the "cultural" thing and if you want some more details, feel free to PM me.

 

Generally, I'm really enjoying my stint at U of T. I feel well-supported and awesomely stimulated by the abundance of incredibly smart people (both students and faculty). I did have concerns on my way in about the "cultural" element of U of T generally, mostly because I didn't much care for overt competitiveness either, so I empathize.

 

Here's what I've found:

- There are competitive people. But I have found them to be a slim minority. Moreover, in a PhD program, you can sort of choose to what extent you engage them. I mean, there's the mandatory classes where you probably see everyone in your cohort, and there are some circumstances that will bring certain people in to your orbit (maybe you share a supervisor or a sub-field interest), but beyond that, many of your pursuits are independant and you set your own work agenda and YOU CAN CHOOSE whom you engage with. There is a lot of solitary work, but there are also many occasions  where you can do stuff with other people (you can do conferences, writing or editing circles, co-authorships, socials ect; with colleagues - because U of T is big and prestigious, there are lots of opportunities for funding and facilitation for these kinds of interactions, but you also need to be okay working independantly and taking on the initiative of forging many of these).

- That being said, I do find sources of pressure independent of competitive peers that, in part, has to do with the high expectations of a U of T program. There are expectations about publishing and conference attendence and awards (and within this, there are hierarchies of preferable conferences and journals and awards that it takes some time to get acquainted with). I am mostly grateful for these pressures, as it helps to hone my energy to accomplish things that will hopefully assist my CV appeal. But yeah, feelings of inadequacy can spring from that.

- Again, I feel well-supported in my program. Financially, U of T has a good core funding package and a good Union (so good benefits and protection); there is an abundance of TA and RA work in my department (though you will have to check with students in yours to ascertain if that is the case). Academically, I have a great supervisor and we work well together; the faculty in my program are awesome. YOU will have to do some leg work to find someone that will support your interest and, ideally, will compliment your working style (you will probably want to look into this before you apply though, and have a prospective name to cite on your app). Here's the thing: I didn't do my undergrad at U of T, I did it at a tiny Canadian Uni. I REALLY enjoyed my undergrad institution, and honestly, I don't know if I would've enjoyed an undergrad at U of T. Classes are way too big and the institution's priority is research, more than teaching. The thing is, this priority BENEFITS you as a GRAD student at U of T.

- You might also want to consider the "academic incest" thing. It depends on what you want to do going forward, but there are different camps of thought on the implications of doing all or most of your degrees at the same institution.

- The bureacracy at U of T sucks across the board. That's just a thing that you need to contend with; you can't sneeze at U of T without needing to fill out a form for it. Once you understand the fundamentals of your funding package and the "major" application deadlines, this becomes easier, but you need to be on your game because things can change (say, if you get OGS or a SSHRC, this changes the administration/amount of your funding). I find my department's grad administrators to be invaluable; they only deal with our department, so I feel like less of a "number" because there's only about 100 of us in total (rather than the beleaguered registrar dealing with thousands of students). You also have Union reps to formally help with stuff, and senior students/candidates who will help less formally.

- I would recommend talking to current grad students in your program of interest (informally, over coffee or something, ideally). Ask them about the culture and believe what they say (that is, refrain from a tempting train of thought like, "Well yeah, that person said this was a problem, but he strikes me as too sensitive, it's probably not like that"). More importantly, as you do this recon, check with yourself and craft a little list of things that you "need" to have to feel supported versus thingas that you "want", within that, have a little list of "deal-breakers" and be honest with yourself about what you think you can deal with. For example, I mentioned that I work really well with my supervisor. There are a lot of great things about our working relationship: she knows my sub-interests and talks me up at socials and conferences, she doesn't micro-manage and really "trusts" me to process her data as well as my own (this last thing was on my "need" list). When I was considering my offer from U of T, I asked another student under her supervision what she was like as a supervisor. One of the things he told me was that the supervisor will go "off-radar" (like, won't answer e-mails or anything) in the two or three weeks leading up to a journal submission (and she publishes a lot). While I work well independently, I needed to decide if I could "deal" with periodic radio silence; would I be able to push through a mini-emergency or conceptual block if one arose during these periods? When I met with the supervisor early on, she affirmed that she was not a "hand-holding" type; Oprah is right: when someone tells you who they are, BELIEVE THEM.

 

That's what I've got for you! Feel free to send me a PM if you want to ask specific questions or want elaboration on the above.

 

Good luck!

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What other schools and programs are you considering? Have you been accepted into the other programs?

 

I have experience with grad school at UofT in a different department and it was anything but pleasant. That said, I wasn't in the department you are considering. One thing that comes to mind for me is do you want to go to the same school for multiple periods of your education? What are the pros and cons of doing so compared to, for example, attending a different school at each stage and in doing so demonstrating that you can thrive in different environments and network more broadly?

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These are really really good responses. The information I was looking for. All very relevant for what I am considering. Especially when thinking about deal breakers. For me a few deal breakers are:

- poor supervision - someone who has no experience with a PhD student who completed their degree. So far all of the supervisors are very hands on so I am not too worried
- poor funding

I have only been accepted to UofT so far because I think it is early acceptance. Other schools are getting back to me at the end of February and early March. The reality is that other schools in Canada are likely not going to give me the same funding offered here. The supervisors do not do exactly my research but I have heard only good feedback from other grad students who have worked with them. Also they both singled me out and went out of their way I think, more than most applicants (hence the early acceptance). Then again there are no supervisors in Canada who I have found who are doing exactly what I do...

Really the only thing I am seeing as a possible deal breaker in the community/culture. Speaking to students like Surefire have all said similar things, which to me speaks nothing of a deal breaker. They also seem very relaxed and quick to respond in their emails (well some do anyways). I found out a few days ago that 8-9 people are being admitted this year to the department and only half will likely be social science. Ive been told the Department has more social events than many others and that there are lounges and bi-weekly pub events people go to. In reality I am from Toronto so its not like I am going to a new City completely alone….
Also I am a bit more experienced with dealing with the UofT bureaucracy  since I put up with it for 4 years already and did build a strong community when I was there…I was just somehow still always stressed.

Both of you have mentioned the academic incest thing - something to seriously consider. My supervisors mentioned it before I applied but said that its ok if you have an undergrad at one place and a phd at the same…as long as its not all three or a Masters and PhD at the same place. Besides all my degrees are in different disciplines. I think I scream interdisciplinary which I hope means…adaptable? I have also lived and worked in 5 countries…so..what do you think? Should I care about this academic incest thing. I mean UofT is highly ranked in the world. Wouldn't it be better to have a PhD reputation wise even though it is two degrees, than to go to a lesser known school, especially if I choose to work abroad?

If you had to choose between a Geography program at UofT or UWO or Guelph, which would you choose and why? Keeping in mind the supervision is similar, the funding is relatively similar (Guelph and London are cheaper cities so I can get less funding), the course work is similar, the workload and everything…What would you do?

 

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Hi, I did my undergrad and my MA at U of T in a humanities/social sciences department. I chose to go elsewhere for my PhD for various reasons (one being the academic incest issue), but I actually had a really great time in my department and would have been quite happy to stay, so I guess people's experiences vary. I second what a previous poster said above about seeing whether you can meet with a few current grad students in your department. Additionally, some departments pay for potential students to visit, so you could try to set such a visit up and see for yourself what the culture seems to be (and you seem to live in Toronto or have family there, so it would probably be pretty easy to set up a departmental visit!). 

 

A few questions you might find useful to consider in making your decision:

 

- Re: funding, if you don't find your funding package to be very competitive, you should consider how simple/difficult it might be to supplement it. Are you eligible for SSHRC? OGS? Are you able to take additional TA-ships, say, over the summertime (most people in my department were able to do this) or at UTM/UTSC? Are you able to get an RA-ship? Can you get an instructorship at any point?

 

- Re: culture, I agree with this comment from your original post: "I found the education of very high quality but the support lacking," but would like to note that I experienced much greater support and much fewer bureaucratic issues as a graduate student than when I was in undergrad. This is partly because a lot of the admin issues I had as an undergrad were dealt with through my college, not through my department. How big is the graduate department that you're potentially interested in? What's the approximate faculty to student ratio? How many students do your POIs generally supervise?

 

I can't really say anything about the other departments/schools you're interested in, but I hope this helps! Feel free to PM me if you have any questions.

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Hi, I did my undergrad and my MA at U of T in a humanities/social sciences department. I chose to go elsewhere for my PhD for various reasons (one being the academic incest issue), but I actually had a really great time in my department and would have been quite happy to stay, so I guess people's experiences vary. I second what a previous poster said above about seeing whether you can meet with a few current grad students in your department. Additionally, some departments pay for potential students to visit, so you could try to set such a visit up and see for yourself what the culture seems to be (and you seem to live in Toronto or have family there, so it would probably be pretty easy to set up a departmental visit!). 

 

A few questions you might find useful to consider in making your decision:

 

- Re: funding, if you don't find your funding package to be very competitive, you should consider how simple/difficult it might be to supplement it. Are you eligible for SSHRC? OGS? Are you able to take additional TA-ships, say, over the summertime (most people in my department were able to do this) or at UTM/UTSC? Are you able to get an RA-ship? Can you get an instructorship at any point?

 

- Re: culture, I agree with this comment from your original post: "I found the education of very high quality but the support lacking," but would like to note that I experienced much greater support and much fewer bureaucratic issues as a graduate student than when I was in undergrad. This is partly because a lot of the admin issues I had as an undergrad were dealt with through my college, not through my department. How big is the graduate department that you're potentially interested in? What's the approximate faculty to student ratio? How many students do your POIs generally supervise?

 

I can't really say anything about the other departments/schools you're interested in, but I hope this helps! Feel free to PM me if you have any questions.

Thanks for sharing your experience as a grad student. My assumption is that your experience differs greatly as a grad student than a undergrad so thanks for confirming this. I also got glimpses of it when I did my undergrad by taking Masters courses.

Although I am from Toronto I cannot visit as I am currently living in Sierra Leone. But I had a chance to meet my Supervisors in December and really like them. I have been emailing other MA / PhD students and have had a mixed response. I emailed 7 students - 3 got back to me with detailed responses and they seem very chill, I can see them as potential allies; 2 shallow responses; 2 no responses.  

I got full funding to Toronto and because my family is there I should be able to manage the costs so I am not so worried. Just trying to figure out what the terms of the funding are because I would like to continue working on my consultancy project, but if I cannot travel for two weeks here and there then that might be a problem. Not yet sure what the TA /RA extra work is but its a good question.

My supervisors seem really great. All of their students who I emailed and work under them have said nothing but good things.

I do not think the Geography Department is very big compared to political science / international relations etc.

My supervisor mentioned out of 150 applicants this year to PhD Geography at UofT only 8-9 are admitted. This makes me feel good as its competitive but also does this mean I will not have as many colleagues in my position? Therefore not as many students at the same point in my PhD. You can basically half this number of students because some will be in physical geography which is not really my interest. 

 

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Hi friends,
I have some decisions about two  Geography Phds. Choice between University of Toronto / University of Western Ontario. I have a confirmed funding amount from UofT but not yet from UWO because they are trying to improve the offer.

 

Supervision - is similar at both schools. I have two supervisors at each: all related to what I want except one supervisor at UWO is from the community I want to do field research in. One supervisor at UofT has a project there as well but she is a scientist and Im interested in human geography. Spoken to students who have worked with all of these supervisors and I have only received good news about them.

 

Funding -will be similar with the possibility of UWO being a bit more. I have been told that the UofT program takes about 5 years but only have money for 4, not sure for UWO yet.

 

Community / culture- UofT is big and very intimidating. I had a really really good time at the lab at UWO

 

Reputation: UofT is a better department reputation wise than UWO

 

City - no competition, Toronto is better than London ON

 

Support - there are two other faculty (making 4) who I would like to work with at UofT, at UWO there are only 2 that I can say. But the administration at UWO is much better than UofT.

 

There is also the issue of academic incest with UofT, meaning I already have a degree from there….

 

You can see my dilemma right? What would you do and why? If you are not sure, tell me what more information you would need to make the decision?

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