Fresh eyes and wise words needed


Hello all

I have quietly followed this forum for some time, and have really been impressed by the quality of information and advice that comes out of this forum on a daily basis.

I am just about to start my post graduate life and thought that it would be fantastic if some of the great minds of this forum could cast a fresh pair of eyes upon my situation going forward.

My background, 27 yrs old, graduate (2.1) in International Relations and Politics from a Russell group university. I have all sorts of motivations for wanting to get back into academia and specifically into the subject I am returning to research - the subject is something of a passion, some would say addiction ,). But the short version is - that since graduating four years ago I have taught English in two Spanish speaking countries, and have now decided that teaching is for me, even if teaching English is not. My ultimate goal is a career in academia.

I will be starting a Masters by research in an aspect of Latin American studies (Political History of a Latin American Country, it is a very niche topic) in September. I have quite an extensive background in the research area (I have lived in and studied the theme extensively at undergrad. level and achieved first class results for my research. I applied for funding for my MRes and only managed first reserve (postgrad funding has been slashed by 50% in my department to be). Self funding the Masters has meant enormous sacrifices personally and professionally, I am confident that I have the ability to get a distinction and I am therefore 100% committed to aiming for nothing less.

This is all being said, I am coming back to academia with the clear plan of securing a PhD place in September 2013. Whilst I have managed to self fund the Masters (just), the PhD will be unthinkable without funding. This brings me to my question…..

I would much rather continue with the department I will be starting my MRes, for which there are a number of reasons. However funding has been slashed, is very far from guaranteed and I need a plan B…. I have already identified eight other potential PhD supervisors in the UK, I have not yet contacted them and am waiting until I have worked with my MRes supervisor for a couple of months so I sound him out about my plan B after having worked and got to know him first. The community in which I am entering is small in the UK, and I would hate for my current supervisor to hear that I have been `shopping around` for a plan B without having discussed it with him first.. but I dont want to put all my eggs in one basket, and do need a plan B.. does anyone think that he might be hostile to the idea of me contacting other potential supervisors, is it accepted in academia that students do need other options due to the funding crisis? all of this baring in mind that I believe he is very interested in my PhD research proposal – we have been discussed my MRes in terms of a 1 + 3 programme. However, if I do not get fundi


funding from my MRes department, I will be up the creek without a paddle if I don’t have a plan B…

Do fresh eyes think that, that a 2.1 undergraduate with an MRes distinction in quite a specific research area (a specific Latin American country), is likely to secure funding after having applied for 7 or 8 PhD programmes in the UK? Just how impossible is it out there right now? Would I stand much of a chance jumping to another university for a humanities at PhD and still get funding? (generally do supervisors usually have an abundance of Masters students they like to keep for PhD, which makes funding for outsiders extremely difficult?) I wonder how much of a say supervisors get when it comes to who gets the studentships?

I have also looked into applications in the US to broaden my chances of funding success, and have identified a further 5 potential supervisors on that side of the pond. Do US universities offer humanities PhD`s from afar? Or are face to face interviews the norm? I am basically willing to go anywhere on earth in search of a funded PhD. Do people think that an applicant with my credentials stands much of a chance of a funded Humanities PhD after 8-15 PhD applications in both the UK and US, part. in todays funding climate? How hopeful should I be? Is there anything I am doing wrong so far, or is there anything I have missed?

Sorry for the length of this, I have waited quite sometime before posting my question to the forum and I hope that my questions have been clear. Maybe somebody with much more experience of the jungle of academia could offer a fresh pair of eyes on my situation and offer some wise words..

Best Regards


I can't say anything about the US but I think there's a similar forum to this (possibly called gradschool cafe) that would probably be able to help on US applications and your chances.

Within the UK, it's not clear from your post whether you would be aiming at ESRC or AHRC funding. I think with either though, it's so competitive that you would be stupid not to apply everywhere that has allocated funding for your area and a suitable supervisor. I think your supervisor at the MA university would understand that.
Your experience in the country will be a plus (spin your networks, knowledge of sources etc as much as you can) but the 2:1 is going to be an issue (because it's so competitive there are lots with 1sts applying) and I would suggest that if you were unsuccessful in the next funding round, but were then awarded a MA distinction, that you didn't rule out a reapplication in 2014 with the distinction in hand, as I think it might make a difference. I'm assuming your Spanish is fluent - if so and it's ESRC that covers your topic, you might want to investigate which doctoral training centres were awarded specialist language-based area studies funding for Spanish / Latin-American studies. I understand that these studentships have to be awarded but because of the language requirement are a bit less competitive than straight politics. The info is on the ESRC website.
One other thing that I would suggest - if getting funding is hard, getting an academic job is even harder. Make sure you know from the beginning what it takes to be competitive on the academic job market (and the realities of what the job is like) and have a plan B that is feasible. Both Politics and History produce far more PhDs than there are academic jobs, and unless you're clued up from the beginning and also keep other options open, then it can all end in tears.
Hope this helps and sorry if it sounds discouraging.


Hi Robk,

Do you think it could be to your advantage to let your supervisor know that the reason you're considering a Plan B is because you're concerned about funding? I would think he could argue on your behalf if there's money available in your department.

Concerning programs in the U.S., one thing you could consider is looking for a professor, or university-based research center, that is working in a specific area that aligns with your interest. Write to this person expressing your research interest (as specifically as possible at this point). If they're interested, they may try to recruit you. Similar to applying for a job, you want to tailor your inquiry in such a way that demonstrates you're the ideal fit for a funded place in the department.