Doing a PhD at a 'non red-brick' university


Slight aside, but one of the things I've also noticed when reviewing applications and references, is that the refs from top profs at prestigious unis do not tell us much about the candidate. Perhaps it's an assumption that the institution will "speak for itself", or because the established profs don't have time to write comprehensive refs, but either way it doesn't help. I've seen some 5 line ones that say "Candidate was my PhD student for X years in Y subject, and did A, B, and C. I recommend them for the position".

All well and good, but no matter where they studied it doesn't tell us much about someone's general ability and character. Even if we see that the person has been to oxbridge, references like that convey nothing about their suitability for the job and would probably be viewed cautiously.


Some supervisors probably hardly know their students. The general advice is that if you have a big name supervisor then all you will get is the benefit of association with that name - and nothing else, i.e. probably no actual supervision.


I agree with Badhaircut - it does matter actually. I was lucky eough to get my PhD from a redbrick after having got my degree at a former poly. No-one will let me forget the poly. Its like I am a bit less worthy. I have had colleagues laugh in my face. I was given the advice by an eminent academic that I should ALWAYS choose institution over all other factors. Sorry


DrWho, I'm really sorry you feel that way. It sounds like you've had a rough time with very narrow minded peopple, but I think your situation is uncommon. IMO, people who denigrate others' academic backgrounds (especially when those others have gained high quals) harbour deep insecurities themselves. And I am sure if I met the "eminent academic" s/he and I would have a few words. When deciding to go for a PhD studentship - in which you invest a huge amount of time, not to mention academic and personal endeavour - such advice is, frankly, ridiculous.

No one gives two hoots about my first degree (also from an ex poly) I worked hard and got a good academic position straight after my PhD. I am treated with equal respect as everyone else. Always have been, always will be. I don't consider myself "less worthy" and certainly don't let others make me feel thay way (in fairness, no-one tries).

It's not about where you go - it's about how you market yourself


"No-one will let me forget the poly"...for those people that say that doesn't/shouldn't happen, heck I've even had it said to me ON HERE!


"No-one will let me forget the poly" This statement saddens me too. Why would anyone want to forget about something they've worked hard to achieve? People will only look down on you if you let them. We need to lose this uncertainty and speculation as to whether we're "good enough". If you're accepted for a PhD, you ARE good enough.

Maybe my view is coloured my subject (psychology), I don't know. I do know that there are basic standards that have to be met in terms of practical application of the discipline. People have to meet certain criteria before they can even apply for doctoral study, let alone post doc jobs. This means doing an accredited undergrad or conversion course (lots of these being ex polys). When we recruit, it's essential that someone's done an accredited course rather than if they went to a new or old uni. And if we are recruiting post doc jobs, it really doesn't matter where they did the Phd as long as they have one and it's relevant.


My two cents.

More prestigious universities are probably likely to have higher funding - so can afford to pay for better / more lab equipment.

However, at the end of the day, it is the people in your department and, most importantly, yourself that are going to have the biggest impact. If you get a post-doc research position, and you worked with Professor X (not that chap from the X-Men, though that would help I guess) who is a world expert, it can't hurt. However, most of us won't be in that position, so it is your own reputation that matters, and that will be most definable by the research that you do and the papers you submit.

When you go to conferences to discuss your research, the university you go to will only be useful as an ice-breaker for conversations, really, the only thing people really want to hear is the research you are doing.


I Agree.

I have an undergraduate from an old poly, a MSc from an old poly, and am doing a PhD at an old poly.

This partly because I was offered 4 years fully funded after my undergraduate studies, partly because I get on so well with my supervisor. What a am learning is Publication Publication Publication!

Luckily my supervisor knows this so we are working on lots of research. In my area it is papers that are important. So if you are from a red brick university but have no publications, bottom of the pile for you! Also, at conferences I have been to I have met snobs from red bricks (almost entirely postgraduates). Then looked at their CV and seen nothing of much worth. It is all about you. You are the brand!


Well yes DoingPhD I understand your reasoning. That said, when you come to look for an academic job you'll know doubt come up against PhD's who 'do' have a similar publications record to you, but who also went to a 'glamourous' University. In those cases, I would imagine a good big 'un beats a good little 'un every time (other things being equal).



A fair point. At the end of the day these questions are always going to come around. I think the main thing is to simply do the best you can with the circumstances and opportunities that arise in each case.

If there is the choice then as you say red brick is probably best to go for. However, the idea of self funding specifically for that reason, I think is a bit much.


Pretty much sums it up nicely DoingPhD.


*So if you are from a red brick university but have no publications, bottom of the pile for you!*

So true. While doing my PhD (at a top 10 uni) they advertised for lecturers in the dept. A friend of mine was on the shortlisting panel and talked about the process. Apparently they had 60 odd applications for two posts. The first stage of screening was not where people studied, grades/degree class, etc. It was list of publications. Anyone who had less that 5 papers was rejected outright, irrespective of anything else. They then prioritised those who had already been awarded their PhDs, as opposed to those who were nearing completion. So someone who had completed from a ex poly was more likely to be shortlisted than that someone from a redbrick who hadn't quite finished.

The outcome? The jobs went to an internal applicant (a postdoc who'd done her PhD there) and to someone from an ex poly.


If the uni is less prestigious, it is harder to get a job in academia later on. However, if you have intelligent profs, then you are more likely to be treated as a prize. In a good uni, where your fellow students are all close to geniuses and dynamos, you can feel inferior.

In prestigious ones, it is also harder to complete your PhD quickly - they criticise too much. You can feel useless in the end...


Thank you all so, so much for your replies. It's brilliant to read through all the differing opinions, it's just what I needed! It seems like this is quite a contentious issue. The reason I brought it up was a mixture of insecurity, and even ingrained snobbery, on my part. The majority of my friends have attended 'red-brick' universities and I've always felt a bit intellectually inferior as a result. However, *if* I get offered this studentship I am going to accept it with my head held high - it would be stupid to turn down such an opportunity.


My potential supervisor, and the department, have a good (maybe not excellent/amazing) reputation and it looks like it would be a nice environment to work in. The PhD community looks very friendly and I've been told the supervisors are very involved. So, although it would be wonderful to be offered a studentship at a 'red-brick', we don't all get those opportunities so we should make the most of the ones we do get.

Thanks again for all your replies, it's very interesting to read the different viewpoints.