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PhD - how important is the choice of university ?(12 Posts)
I may be over-thinking this but could do with some objective opinions. I've been offered the chance to do a PhD at a university that is very up and coming in this particular field (education/social sciences). My first degree and MA are from Rusell Group universities. This university is more of an ex-poly type place. I personally think it's excellent in its field and will give me access to fantastic supervisors and resources. However every time I tell anyone where I am thinking of studying they pull a face and imply that it won't be worth the paper it's written on! I find this academic snobbery all a bit ridiculous, but I've encountered so much of it now that I'm beginning to wonder! Does it matter that much where the PhD is from?
If the best for the subject and supervisors then all fine on my book. Topic wise, I work more internationally and my uni truly does not matter. This differs topic to topic of course.
If it is somewhere like University of Essex for social sciences, then there's no issue- it ranks higher than many RG universities in the world rankings of universities, for example. If you have access to great supervisors and think you'll do well there, I'd take it- are you going to get a grant?
Who's pulling faces? If it's other academics, or possibly (possibly!) PhD students, it might be worth being slightly cautious and trying to find out whether there's more than just snobbery. It might be the place is less up and coming than you think, or it might be there's something else it has a reputation for.
But if it's random friends, your family, or Bob down the pub, then ignore them.
I agree with the others that it's largely the prestige of the supervisor, and the level of support you get, that matters for a PhD. People in my field are much more likely to ask me who supervised my PhD than where I did it. Some of the biggest names aren't attached to universities that have a particularly high reputation for undergrad courses, or an overall high reputation, but that doesn't matter.
For me (it might be field-specific but I bet someone else here will say if so), a good guide was to look at what other recently graduated PhD students had gone on to do, and how long they took to finish their PhDs. If you're studying somewhere where most people finish on time and where some of them go on into academia, that's comforting.
One issue to consider is what the general environment for research and the extent to which there is a community of FT research students for you to belong to.
I started a PhD somewhere with no research student community at all. In fact, I was the only PhD student in the entire department. It was awful. Really isolating, particularly as many of the staff really resented me because I represented a direction they did not want their department to go in. So I left to do a 1+3 at a university where I could be part of a great research community. It was the best decision I could have made.
I feel really dreadful for research students in my department. There is no sense of community, or any meaningful culture of research to participate in. They don’t even belong to a named department and, apart from their supervisors, are pretty much on their own. The supervisors tend to be snowed under in teaching too, so they can’t adequately substitute for a vibrant atmosphere that values research and all that comes with it. We do try our best, but it’s a losing battle.
Thanks everyone for your responses - each and every one helpful and thought-provoking - really appreciate you taking the time to respond. You are all helping me get closer to a decision!
feministdragon it's work colleagues, friends and other people I know with PhDs who are pulling faces! However, none of them has done anything in any way connected with my field so they don't have a sense of where might be good for research in my area. They just keep barking on about the solidity of RG Universities for research. All of which I get. But none of those universities can offer me the type of PhD this particular university can, as it's more of a professional doctorate intended to be done part-time.
The department seems pretty solid, has some up and coming names involved with it and what's more there's a 100% completion rate (a bit too good to be true?!)
I'm not getting any funding so that's not an issue. And I have no intention of becoming an academic as I like my chosen profession - I just want to further my interest in a particular area and like the look of this course (but maybe that in itself is not enough of a reason to do it....or so I keep being told!)
OP, there was a similar thread a few months ago here that you might find useful.
Also, don't underestimate the importance of the wider research environment so it's not all dependent on your supervisor. What if your supervisor goes on leave, gets ill, or turns out to be a complete dickhead? Is the dept good enough with research students to support you if things go wrong, or would your PhD be left to sink?
It depends on your field, but a vibrant PhD community in the dept would be a good sign.
If you know the field, good - although if a post-92 university has 'up & coming' researchers, don't be surprised if they are lured to go elsewhere.
As long as you're sure you'll get the quality of supervision. The problem about post-92 universities - in my field, at any rate (Humanities subject) - is that some of them are in this rather vicious circle of not attracting particularly hot-shot researchers, so the students aren't pushed.
My concern would be that you won't have the wider research culture, nor the research resources that are taken for granted at research-intensive universities (which are not all members of the RG eg Lancaster, and I think, York).
Nor will you get teaching practice with the really bright students, usually. There is a hierarchy of quality in UK universities, and I'm not talking about league tables ...
I agree with everything Household says. It’s very true of my experience in a post-92 that can not retain any of the staff they’d actually like to keep.
The most important thing is who is supervising you.
Thanks very much everyone for your posts - really useful to get a wider perspective as at the moment I can't see the wood for the trees!
I'm feeling less inclined to accept now I think based on much of what has been written here. It feels like a huge risk as potentially it could be 6 years+ as I'd be doing this part-time, and a lot can change in that time. The department feels solid for now but there has been a delay in assigning supervisors -they may not actually have anyone who knows enough about my field - and that does make me wonder how robust their structures will be.
Thanks again everyone - so helpful to get so many professional perspectives on this!