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Advice for U.S. Masters students for getting into UK phd?


Averroes MD
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I created a similar thread for U.S. PhD programs. What about advice for masters students looking to get into a phd program in the UK, specifically Oxford or Cambridge?

(I am in Islamic studies, btw.)

What admission requirements should we keep in mind ?

Thanks !

Edited by Averroes MD
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Admission requirements are basically the same across the board. Most UK programs don't require GRE scores, which attracts some Americans. I think Cambridge requires the GRE from Americans though.  Funding is a bigger challenge than admission.  It's tough for Americans to secure a fully-funded ride at UK programs.  It is also difficult for Americans with UK doctorates to compete for jobs against graduates from American programs who have spent 7 or 8 or more years doing far more than independent research.    

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Just posted on your other post!

But I'd say there's only one main difference between US and UK in terms of application materials.

For the UK programs, you'll need to have a much tighter, more specific research statement, very closely aligned to faculty in the program. I'd run this by the person you're hoping to work with at Oxford (or elsewhere) before submitting. This is pretty common, as lack of adequate supervision is one of the most common reasons people aren't offered admission. It isn't something you want to leave to chance.

You can also cut any sort of personal details on your experience or background from your statement as that can actually hurt you. Keep those points to the resume/CV and transcripts unless you have experience that is very specific/leads directly into your doctorate-level work. From what I've heard, the essay for UK admissions should be a solid research proposal you are pitching to specific faculty— not an essay that describes you, your ambitions, etc. You can even see this in some of the the prompts— I can't remember where but one of the prompts I read specifically advised against any personal narratives.

 

I think this is primarily because most of the programs are shorter, more independent, and less structured than ones in the US— so it is important to pitch yourself as being at the level where you can succeed in that kind of environment.

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These links should give you broad idea of the differences between the programs, dissertation proposals, and statement of purpose. They are more directly relative to a PhD in Biblical Studies, but they should still have quite a bit of information on the various facets of the UK PhD. I

 

Both Perique and motmot are quite correct. The UK application is almost solely based on the dissertation proposal (though Oxford takes into account GPA and recommendations), so you will need to contact whomever you are interested in studying under before applying. Do this your in the second semester of your penultimate year in the MA/MDiv program. Any early and you won't know what your proposal is or the current trends in research (unless you are writing a thesis). Any later and you won't have time to form a thesis (unless, again, you have already done this).

 

Fit is just as important here as in the US--perhaps more so. Always take into account that other "less prestigious" universities (Durham, Edinburgh, Nottingham, etc) as possibilities. It is possible that they might be better fits for you. Finally, your ultimate goal should always be taken into account. Since I am focused on teaching in a small Christian college or seminary, any PhD will work for my end goal--the standards are lower than university posts (as is the pay!). It's perhaps even more important for me to be involved in Christian ministry opportunities--preaching, missions, teaching, possible ordination, denominational affiliation, etc. All of that to say, your outside experience may be just as critical for the job hunt later down the road than a US vs UK PhD distinction.

 

Hope this helps!

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I would agree with all the posts above. I will add that getting employment is a challenge; however, I have noticed that evangelical seminaries have quite a few English PhD faculty. I have no idea why, but it is just something I've noticed.  

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I would agree with all the posts above. I will add that getting employment is a challenge; however, I have noticed that evangelical seminaries have quite a few English PhD faculty. I have no idea why, but it is just something I've noticed.  

 

It's a growing problem that makes Americans having UK doctorates suspicious. It seems a lot of conservative Christians are finding that they can go abroad and maintain their conservative beliefs/the appearance thereof. Having no coursework and 'checking in' with your adviser raises less questions about how 'indoctrinated' one becomes at the American 'secular' schools.

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It's a growing problem that makes Americans having UK doctorates suspicious. It seems a lot of conservative Christians are finding that they can go abroad and maintain their conservative beliefs/the appearance thereof. Having no coursework and 'checking in' with your adviser raises less questions about how 'indoctrinated' one becomes at the American 'secular' schools.

 

I think you hit it dead on. I know a handful of PhD students in England from conservative backgrounds who went there--despite the lack of funding--to avoid certain challenges and because they did not find placement in tier 1 & 2 PhD programs Stateside. I recognize this is a broad stroke; I only am speaking from a limited experience with a few friends.

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It's not a matter of 'indoctrination'--which is a gross oversimplification and an implication that no other group is 'indoctrinated'--it's a very complicated matter than cannot be boiled down so easily.  First, the fundamentalist/liberal controversies ended much differently in the UK and abroad, meaning it is easier to begin with evangelical presuppositions than in the US. Many universities have evangelical (or the closest thing to it) professors on staff abroad, making it a much more enjoyable environment than a university in the US that is hostile to your beliefs. This was especially the case ~20 years ago (which would explain the amount of UK PhDs in evangelical seminaries), but it seems things are loosing up. When Harvard Divinity promotes an evangelical to Dean, you know change is coming! For example, a quick glance at the faculty in Gordon-Conwell shows a majority UK PhDs from the older faculty (St. Andrews, Oxbridge, Aberdeen), but several American from the newer/adjunct faculty (Union NYC, Marquette, Drew, Notre Dame). Germany is a different case entirely. One of my professors who did his PhD in Germany told me it has been a very common practice for the last 60 or so years to fail the dissertation if any sort of conservative position is taken (e.g., historicity, chronology, etc). This would not be a reflection of any method, but simply a rejection of anything that is not classic liberalism. This also is slowly changing, though more slowly than the US.

 

Second, many evangelical seminaries are not focused on the academy as much as universities simply because the majority of the students they are teaching will be pastors, not PhD candidates. Spending three years obtaining a PhD in Scotland is much more bearable than 5 years in a university that is training you for the academy. As I said above, the level of academic training necessary for the job is much lower. After hearing I wanted to teach at a Christian college or be an educational minister, my adviser told me just to get a PhD and not be too concerned about the place I get it. Instead of waiting several years to get into an American school (my own GPA is quite average and non-competitive), I should simply do a UK PhD and minister in some way during that time.

 

Once again, it is all about fit. If you wish to teach at a university religion department in the future, do your best to get into an American school. If you wish to be involved in full-time church ministry or teach at a Christian organization, a UK PhD is just fine. God knows the American Church needs more quality PhDs. 

 

I'm not, of course, denying that a few of these colleages mentioned above did avoid critical issues, but I would be far more skeptical of those that receive PhDs from seminaries than UK universities.

Edited by RedDoor
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Like you, I would avoid claiming "indoctrination" as an impetus for evangelical's leaning towards UK schools. By "certain challenges" I mean the seminars and qualifying exams. I'd also agree that, generally speaking, a PhD from a UK school is perhaps more marketable than most ones from Evangelical seminaries. UK schools, regardless of a degree's marketability, seem to have very conducive environments and sharp faculty members. I don't think anyone would seriously claim otherwise.   

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It's a growing problem that makes Americans having UK doctorates suspicious. It seems a lot of conservative Christians are finding that they can go abroad and maintain their conservative beliefs/the appearance thereof. Having no coursework and 'checking in' with your adviser raises less questions about how 'indoctrinated' one becomes at the American 'secular' schools.

 

I think this is why you see so many conservative evangelicals doing UK doctorates focused on grammatical issues or textual criticism. It is especially easy to avoid difficulties.

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