Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Applying to history Ph.D. Programs


I'm applying to some Ph.D. programs in history in the UK for this fall. Late in the game, but I figure with rolling admissions I still have a shot and I have funds to pay my way. I have a BA (3.30 GPA) and MA (3.80) in history, I've presented at conferences, and I had a paper published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. I'll be applying to:
- MPhil Early Modern History at Cambridge
- PhD University College London
- PhD King's College London
- PhD University of York
- PhD University of Edinburgh
- PhD University of Sheffield

The questions I have are:
1. Although they accept applications up until a month before programs start in October, is it too late in the game to apply?
2. How difficult would be to get into these programs as an American who can pay her way (at least for a while).
3. How detailed do universities usually want research proposals? In the US they want them to be more general, but I know the UK expects you to come in ready to research your topic. I know the topic and the basic research question but I know things will develop more cohesively once I start researching. Do I need to be able to name exact sources, archives, collections, etc. or would detailing my research experience, question, the sources I've used and a general sampling of sources I plan to use suffice?
4. What is the difference in the UK between the personal statement and research proposal? King's asks for a personal statement.
5. Do you always have to send transcripts in through the post or are uploaded official copies on the web applications enough?

Thank you so much for your help!


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 3rd, 2012 09:00 pm (UTC)
1-2: It's not too late, but do it soon--and being an overseas student with your own funding has been attractive to universities in the past. Things are changing this year though as the home fees are going up as well, so they may be less dependant on that as a source of funding. But especially for things like history where the departments are usually a bit small, they will find space for you if they want you.

As for the other things they'll depend on the individual university, so your best bet is to get in touch with the department ahead of time and ask them your questions. I assume you already know who you want to work with anyway, so send them an email, say you're looking at applying there and have some questions, and they'll surely help you out!
May. 3rd, 2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I've contacted professors and I'm filling out applications for the schools where they said they'd be interested in supervising my topic. I'm almost done with my apps - I am just trying to put the finishing touches on my research proposals for each school. That part is always the hardest.
May. 4th, 2012 12:15 am (UTC)
i don't know if this translates to a principle, but for me getting into really well-respected programs seemed like the easy part. I couldn't pay, though, and once that came out .... well, I couldn't go.

But I got in. So if you can pay....
May. 4th, 2012 12:15 am (UTC)
(I was applying to PhD programs in the humanities)
May. 4th, 2012 06:47 am (UTC)
1. No, it's not too late.

2. Being an American isn't a disadvantage. Not having all your funding available upfront is. When you say 'at least for a while', do you mean you'd be reliant on getting funding for part of your PhD? That is extraordinarily hard and competitive; if you can't get funding up front, you are unlikely to get it mid-way through.

3. Very detailed. The day you rock up is the day we expect you to start researching, so, yes, you need to name archives. This should be done through negotiation with a potential supervisor, however, who should be able to help you (especially with UK archives, if you're not familiar with them).

4. Personal Statements are the bits where you get to explain why you as an individual should be doing this, and why you're interested in it. There's a real difference between EU/UK applications at grad school level and North American ones - the latter always seem to have a lot more personal detail (personal inspiration to study X, grand ambitions fired by favourite teacher to change the world, charity work and hobbies, etc.) none of that should be in a research statement. Some of it can go in a personal statement.
Having said all that? Email Kings and ask them what they want!

5. I can't say blanket for all the places you're applying to, but I would suspect they need hardcopies.

Additional questions you didn't ask.

6. Check the course requirements hard. Your GPA is below what I think is the Cambridge minimum (I don't know specifically about the Early Modern course, but it would prevent you getting on similar humanities courses, unless you'd done amazingly in history and your score was dragged down by a couple of 'irrelevant' courses).

7. If you want an academic job in North America, in history, afterwards, do not come here. You will find yourself at a significant disadvantage on the market over there when you go back (you may find the Cambridge name works some magic, but no guarantees there). The shorter PhD programme here significantly disadvantages people who pitch back into a market with fewer publications, and who 'age' quicker (e.g. 3 year PhD + 2 year post doc makes you look 'older' and less hirable than a 5 year North American PhD candidate holding their ABD status strategically for the job market). In addition, UK academics (in history specifically!) are not clued up on how the American job market works, and even write references which don't quite 'work' in the same context, don't make phone calls to lobby for you, don't network in the way I've seen US academics do.
Given that you're applying to a host of institutions, you're obviously not picking the One Great Historian to be your supervisor (that *can* make up for being in the UK), so - seriously - I am sure you have thought about the upheaval and the difficulty, but if you want a career, go back and check the statistics. We can't get jobs in the US. it is a nightmare.
May. 4th, 2012 12:41 pm (UTC)
What she said. I did all of my graduate work in the UK (Cambridge M.Phil. and Oxford D.Phil.) and despite working as an adjunct in two major US research universities and publishing my thesis with a reputable academic press, I haven't even made it to a campus interview. Part of that is the horror of the current market, but from what I can see, the people who get US jobs are the ones whose supervisors do their networking for them. It's patently unfair but there it is.

Edited at 2012-05-04 12:42 pm (UTC)
May. 5th, 2012 12:55 am (UTC)
I would like to second this. I chose my supervisor based on many factors, but one being that I knew she would root for me and network for me, etc etc.

I have also come across brilliant academics that studied in the UK that cannot get jobs in USA.
May. 5th, 2012 03:23 pm (UTC)
I chose my supervisor based on many factors, but one being that I knew she would root for me and network for me, etc etc.

I wish that was something that had even occurred to me when I first applied to do a PhD! It is possible that I was simply naïve, but I started my degree in 2006, when things were not nearly as bad as they are now, and I knew people with UK degrees who had managed to get jobs in the US. As far as I'm aware, the only person from my year who managed to land a job in the US (and a three-year visiting job at that, not even TT!) was a Rhodes Scholar. A number of them picked up jobs in the UK but most have apparently just left academia.

It's tremendously frustrating.
May. 5th, 2012 06:43 am (UTC)
Augh, I am sorry to hear that, although glad to have some anecdata to back up what I'm saying. I really wish we were more honest with North American students up front - it breaks my heart to see great students (I don't think there's an intellectual divide between the US and EU PhD...) shipped back to the US or Canada the minute their funding/visa runs out, finding that no one knows them, no one understands their qualification, and no one will even short list them for a job, while we sit back either unwilling or unable to do what's necessary to give them half a fighting chance against the Ivy ABDs.
(Not that life's much better in the UK with an EU PhD, but at least we didn't shoot ourselves in the foot by getting an apparently useless foreign qualification, at huge cost, first...)
May. 5th, 2012 03:43 pm (UTC)
I don't think there's an intellectual divide at all. The perception seems to be that UK postgraduates are more narrowly focused than US ones, but I really don't think that is the case--by the time you're writing a thesis, regardless of your program, you've narrowed down your field. I'm actually having an easier time getting teaching outside of my perceived subject area than some of my friends who did their degrees in the US. I did find that at least in Oxford, interdisciplinary topics were regarded with a certain degree of suspicion, although I've been told this isn't the case at other unis. I had to fight tooth and nail for my thesis, which sat quite firmly between history and literature, included elements from multiple countries, and did not fit into either the "medieval" or the "early modern" time period but attempted to deal with the grey area between them. Obviously it worked in the end, but it was something of a slog.

You do get a lot more teaching experience in a US university, which is part of why their ABDs have an edge on paper, but I do think a major factor in the current market is who you know and who is willing to speak for you, to pull you out of a pile of 300+ applications (at least in my field, English Literature) and give the committee a reason to not reject you. And even as far as teaching goes, I had no training to speak of, aside from a single-day session mostly focused on tutorial teaching, but I was able to start teaching three upper-level literature classes at once at three different universities with (relatively) little trouble. It was nerve-wracking, yes, and a logistical nightmare, but I think most of those problems would have faced anybody in that position regardless of where they did their degree.
May. 5th, 2012 08:01 pm (UTC)
"it was nerve-wracking and a logistical nightmare"
haha this totally captures teaching. Especially your first year.
May. 5th, 2012 08:07 pm (UTC)
Ironically, some of the best teaching evaluations I've had were from my first term! To this day, I have no clue how it happened. ;)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


Union Jack
North Americans at UK Colleges and Universities

Latest Month

December 2012


Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow