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11/28/2016

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Pendaran

My advice is not to do a PhD unless you are economically comfortable. Giving up 4 years of income (few finish in three years) to pursue what is basically a hobbie that is unlikely to make you any money is irresponsible for most people. If you have a million pounds in the bank that's a different story. You'll still need an income eventually but you're sitting comfortably and so can afford to pursue a hobbie for awhile. If you're really rich, then just do what you want. However, I suspect you'll regret racking debt and getting a PhD if you need money not to live in poverty. If you want to pursue a PhD do it in a subject that's more employable.

Pendaran Roberts

I take the absence of other comments to mean everyone agrees with me.

Chris Stephens

I do more or less agree with Pendaran, but I'll comment anyway. It's hard to answer the question of whether you should go without knowing more details. Can you do so without "racking up debt"? Maybe you're not a millionaire but have enough to get by or have a fall back plan that will make you enough money (background in computer programming, for example) after you graduate.

But one red flag for me was your observation that "I'm not sure if I want to spend three years focusing on one narrow subject."

A philosophy PhD really is about professionalizing (mostly) and to do that you have specialize, especially after you've already gotten your Masters. You might not spend three years on ONE narrow subject (but you might), but some graduate students do find that they don't enjoy the focus required to receive a PhD. You can always just enjoy philosophy in your spare time doing something else. But if you can't see spending a lot of time narrowly focused, then it might not be for you.

Now, one (possible) advantage of considering a PhD program where you'd do more course work first (rather than going straight to a dissertation) is that it might give you a chance to find a topic (perhaps different from your MA focus) that you do care enough about to focus on for three years. But taking courses is different from writing a dissertation. You might also be just putting off discovering that you don't want to specialize on any narrow subject in philosophy.

If you can find a graduate program that funds students really well, maybe that's splitting the difference. I dunno.

Ambivalent PhD

Hi, Potential PhD!

I am a UK PhD student - who also works in a field focused on a demographic I am part of, who is also very ambivalent about the idea of pursuing academic philosophy, and who has considered working in other university based roles.

Things which you might want to consider in making your decision:
- People's areas of focus change and broaden hugely during the PhD process. I am working in areas I didn't even realise existed before I started. Supervisors are also used to 'project drift' - so shiftng your project to follow changing interests is possible to an extent (and so is realising that your argument focus and conclusion has totally changed - you could think of the research proposal and a test of your ability to pitch and plan a project, rather than a commitment to details).

- On that note, consider what the department and institution is like beyond the single supervisor. Are there people working on different things that you are interested in or which tie into your area of interest? I've learned so much and had a lot of fun just sitting in on talks by other PhD students. And hearing someone else talk about their project can be really helpful for boosting your own enthusiasm.

- On the difficulties of working on an issue affecting your own demographic...I still feel weird about this one. I am trans, working on a project about trans subjectivity, and it's been a bit awkward. Partly because I worry people will think I can ONLY do that, but also because I feel really strongly about it and that can make academic detachment hard. On the other hand, I'm in favour of doing things which make funding more likely (see below). And again, focuses can change. It's far more okay than you'd think to work on a variety of things (particularly if you aren't aiming specifically for an academic career)

- If you don't pursue a PhD now, will you have a chance to do so again that you can see? What about the other opportunities that may occur? For me, it came down to the simple calculation that I try to do things to increase my oportunities. PhDs can be started and not finished, or you can switch to part time after starting if that works for juggling other commitments. But if you never start, then you cut off a lot of possible opportunities. (Also, it's really common for people to apply, be accepted and then pull withdraw in August / early September. If you are having trouble deciding, I would encourage you to keep your options open by making applications and seeing what happens)

- Funding. Oh my word funding is like gold dust. If you get it, go for it. If you will have to go into debt, then consider it very carefully indeed.

Best of luck with making your decisions!

Helen De Cruz

There are several factors to consider.

First, funding. At a small university like ours (Oxford Brookes), you'll first need to do a one-year master's. At Oxford University, you need a 2-year BPhil diploma first. Many people pay this through student loans. There are some funds for master students available, but they are rare. Then there's the funding for 3 years PhD study. Most people, as Pendaran points out, take well over 3 years, and sometimes 4 years to finish. I believe the funds you can receive are about £ 16,000 per year (a large part of this is tax-free). If you live frugally (e.g., house share) it is possible to live on this and even save a little. But then you will need to dip into your savings, and even get into debt to finish your PhD. I would be hesitant to start a PhD without being fully-funded. I don't have any figures to back this up, but in my experience, people who are fully funded have better academic career prospects.
As a comparison, in Belgium and the Netherlands, you get 4 years of funding (and it is possible to finish in that period - I did 2 PhDs, one in Belgium, one in the Netherlands, both in a bit over 3 years), and the funding is more generous. You actually earn the wage a university graduate working full-time in the public sector would earn. So if you are considering a PhD, I would argue the Netherlands and Belgium are better in terms of funding (of course, funding is competitive as well - let me know if you want to know more on how to obtain it).

Second, career prospects. US universities prepare you better for an academic career. You can TA or even (co)teach a course. In UK universities, teaching opportunities are rare. You only have 3 years, which is brutal and brief. It also means that you may have fewer papers than a US PhD student who has a total of 5-7 years to create a solid publication record. So both in terms of teaching and research, US graduates have an advantage.

Third, prestige. I hate to say it, but the career prospects of people at Oxford and Cambridge seem much better than from other universities. For one thing, they have 3-year postdoc fellowships (JRFs), and they are not averse to hiring from their own pool. Some universities have good placement records, others not so good, but prestige is a major factor. If you can get a place at Oxbridge, I would go for it!


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