Does it matter where you do your PhD?

(37 Posts)
HettyLou Sun 21-Apr-13 22:19:21

I plan to start a full time PhD in September and ultimately hope to pursue an academic career. I am torn between a distance learning offer from an excellent but far away university with experts in my chosen field or the local, respectable but not distinguished university that is 15 minutes from home (where I would have to compromise a little on my research focus).

Thinking ahead, will it matter to an academic career where I did my PhD? The Russel Group university vs the non-Russell Group university? My BA and MA are from top UK unis but I am now 40 with young children and am unlikely to move from the town where I live for many years to come. For this reason the local university makes career sense, but should I aim for the most well respected university I can get into? It seemed so important at undergrad level which university you got into, but is it the same for a PhD? Thanks.

(Also posted in Further Ed)

badguider Sun 21-Apr-13 22:24:50

Ime it doesn't matter where but it does matter who with. Your supervisors can open doors to all sorts of opportunities.

HettyLou Sun 21-Apr-13 22:29:46

Thank you badguider, that's interesting.

jkklpu Sun 21-Apr-13 22:32:09

Do it where you can get the best supervisor for your area. You can do supervision sessions by Skype (my Mum's aiming to finish hers before she's 70 this summer and she does this) and web resources are amazing if your local libraries aren't that great. Best of luck.

MagratGarlik Sun 21-Apr-13 22:34:27

An ex-lecturer here, I've supervised quite a number of PhD students. I'd absolutely agree with badguider. If you are planning an academic career, it matters who supervised your PhD more than where it was done - your supervisor should be someone well known in the field, not an early career academic. If you do have an early career academic supervisor, make sure your second supervisor is well known/respected.

That said, if you ever plan to leave academia you should make sure it was also at a good university.

BrienneOfTarth Sun 21-Apr-13 22:40:53

Yes it will matter hugely - but more because of the WHO as per badguider so it doesn't matter about being Russell Group or not, it does matter whether your supervisor is highly respected - look at whether he/she is on the editorial boards of relevant journals. Depending on your subject of study, you may be able to get info on how often your prospective supervisor's published journal articles are cited by other researchers in reputable journals. How often is your prospective supervisor invited to speak at high profile conferences? Can you see their submitted impact evidence from the recent REF assessment?

On the other hand - If you are intending to pursue an academic career you will need to get your own papers published, get to present your work at conferences and build up some teaching experience while you are studying for your PhD - there are dozens of PhD-holders chasing every postdoc place so you won't be at the front of the queue if you don't have these - make sure that wherever you do your PhD you have the chance to do these. A distance learning option may not give you these oportunities, so be cautious.

MagratGarlik Sun 21-Apr-13 22:49:48

I'd like to say, in response to Brienne's comment that the REF had not been completed yet, so you will not be able to access this information (it will be completed in 2014). You will be able to look this up for the RAE on 2008 though, assuming your prospective supervisors were at the same institution in 2004-2008 (or you know where they were).

You can find their h- index on Google scholar. This tells you the number of papers they have written which have been cited at least the same number of times I.e. a h- index of 25 means they have 25 articles cited at least 25 times each.

MagratGarlik Sun 21-Apr-13 22:50:47

Please excuse the countless typos, I'm on my phone.

HettyLou Sun 21-Apr-13 23:03:17

Thanks everyone for your comments. I will investigate further but I believe both potential supervisors to be quite well respected in their fields. The distance learning, RG opportunity would provide me with a supervisor who shares my research interests exactly and is renowned in that area. The local, non-RG option means I would have to approach my particular area as a case study within a specific theoretical context in which the supervisor specialises. Its not ideal, but it may offer better career prospects since it is probably with the local university that I will be looking for work in future.

You're right, BrienneofTarth, about the distance learning option. That point had been worrying me. Lots to think about.

Jkklpu, well done to your mum!

BrienneOfTarth Sun 21-Apr-13 23:04:30

Magrat is quite correct that REF submissions won't be published for a while yet, but the system is open for submissions now and many researchers will have a draft of what they are intending to submit if they haven't done so already - whether your intended supervisor(s) will let you see what they submit is going to be an individual decision, you won't be able to look it up without asking them.

HettyLou Sun 21-Apr-13 23:10:06

Thanks very much MagratGarlik, I'll look them up on Google scholar.

niminypiminy Sun 21-Apr-13 23:41:54

HettyLou -- I've posted on your other thread

MagratGarlik Sun 21-Apr-13 23:58:56

I've read the advice on your other thread and have to say, I sat and nodded throughout. I was lucky, disc a PhD with a leading supervisor, leading university, got a postdoc straight away, followed by another and a permanent post 3 years after PhD. I am not a typical case there. I also left as I hated the culture of academia, and realised that with both dp and I as academics, the dc's were missing out due to excessive working hours (working till 3am was not unusual and I don't remember the last family holiday I had were I didn't take work with me).

Sorry, I'm sounding very negative. It's a fab job in many ways, but I wouldn't go back.

HettyLou Mon 22-Apr-13 00:13:44

Thanks Magrat. Please don't apologise, I need a reality check. I've thought a lot about how I would manage a PhD with two primary school age dcs, but very little about how I would manage an academic career in those circumstances, tied to schools and making sure the dcs don't lose out etc.

I have hated the culture of other areas I have worked in and left jobs because of it, but have only seen academia from a student's perspective. Your input is very welcome, thanks.

louisianablue2000 Mon 22-Apr-13 00:32:03

I left academia after one postdoc (in the sciences) for a job in industry. Where I did my DPhil impresses customers more than who with or what in. I also have a permanent job, reasonable working hours, a generous benefits package and a supportive boss. Things that none of my friends who stayed in Universities have.

I read an interesting article that compared academic research to being a popstar. There are a lot of people chasing the glamourous jobs but most of them end up doing shitty jobs to make ends meet, only a few people get to be Brian Cox.

Posted on your other thread. smile

Tasmania Mon 22-Apr-13 23:10:18

If you aim for an academic career - then yes, WHO with is mega important.

If you decide not to go for an academic career, however, the typical "which uni" question is quite important...

Navdeep Tue 23-Apr-13 11:17:32

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

Somehow, what with the fact you've not read the thread at all (the OP already has her undergraduate degree and is starting a PhD), and the fact your only other post has the same link, I think you're advertising and not a genuine poster.


lljkk Netherlands Tue 23-Apr-13 20:07:12

I will put forward another view which is an aspect of who:
Who will you get the most support from? Friend ended up with MPhil because her supervisor decided to stop supporting her, just couldn't be asked.

So many PhD students find their supervisors inaccessible in other ways. So if you find local supervisors with whom you can establish a good rapport then that is by far the best option; they will be both physically and socially accessible.

Go so far as to ask them what support they offer, how do they keep in contact. A good lecturer/etc. will often try to normally meet weekly with all their RAs/PhD students for social cohesion (coffee!), and individually at least once every 1-3 weeks, even if it's only 20 minutes. You will not get that feeding off each other's energy/enthusiasm/little bits of feedback from distance learning.

You drop off a draft copy of a PhD chapter in someone's pigeonhole you can see if they picked it up. You email it and it's easy for them to take ages to even get around to printing it out.

Once a week?! Jesus. Not in my subject, at least no-where I know of.

Once a month maybe.

I totally agree about support, I just wanted to say that this might be a differences-between-subjects thing. Nothing wrong with skype, either, IMO.

Highlander Tue 23-Apr-13 21:07:29

No, it'sthe reputation of your supervisor and the impact factors of the journals that you publish in.

Less than 2% of post-docs make it to a tenured academic post.

please make sure you have a plan B during your first post-doc.

Tasmania Tue 23-Apr-13 21:26:25


Really??? DH had daily interaction with his supervisor. All the PhDs pretty much lived in the department during the day (not many working from home). My friends all had daily interaction with theirs either... all at RG unis.

God, even at undergraduate level, I could see my professors / lecturers whenever I wanted (within reason) - again, a RG uni.

teacherwith2kids Tue 23-Apr-13 21:27:54

LRD - for my subject (lab based), contact with my supervisor was daily....they'd be snooping around at 8 pm checking up on who was still there [and commenting snottily on those who weren't]

happyon Tue 23-Apr-13 21:34:58

Yes, who the supervisor is is key. Also how much financial support you can get from the university/department? Some places just have more money to go around for conferences, research trips etc...

I am an academic in the humanities and I see my graduate students around every 4 to 6 weeks, more if they need it. I think that's quite normal.

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