Need general advice on returning to studies

posted
16-Jan-17, 14:26
edited about 28 seconds later
Avatar for blueisthecolour
posted about 2 years ago
Hi,

I'm considering returning to studies and was after some general advice. I'd been pondering this for the last year or so, but after getting some news at work that my position might end soon i'm now looking into it more seriously.

To summarise: I got my 2:1 in Economics and Politics from a decent university back in 2004. At the time I had no idea what I wanted to do but I never really considered staying on beyond the BA . However 12 years on and the best I can say about my career is that 'it pays the bills'.It not just that I don't like my work, I hate the entire corporate culture.

So i've come to the conclusion that I would like to pursue an academic career in a politic. I never lost interest in the subject and I continue to read around it. I contacted my old university who suggested that I should apply for their MA in Social Research and then continue into the PHD. They said that there were good funding opportunities open for this. I've looked at the course and it certainly appeals to me and just the idea of using my brain every day.

I'm trying now to work out all the things involved and whether this is a good idea or not. I have no responsibilities, no relationship or kids. I have a house with plenty of equity that I could use to fund at least the first couple of years if the other funding opportunities fall though. I suppose my main worry is the same as everyone else that considers this - that I will miss the money and comfort that my career gives me and that if I decide that the grass wasn't greener after all that I won't be able to go back to it.

Any help welcome.
posted
16-Jan-17, 15:16
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 2 years ago
Only you can make this decision. I left a career to pursue a PhD and I have never looked back. I was financially secure at the time, with a mortgage, car and nice things, so it was fine for me to take a pay cut for a few years. Now after my PhD I am finally making decent money again (in academia) so I can start spending for things I need (new car, new clothes etc) that I couldn't buy when I was student on £14k per year. But it could have easily gone the other way and I could be earning £10-15k less than I am now.

I wouldn't do it unfunded, especially not the PhD. Career opportunities in academia are few and far between and may involve movement of city and countries for several years (10?) before the minute chance of landing a permanent position.
posted
16-Jan-17, 15:38
Avatar for bewildered
posted about 2 years ago
Do not do an unfunded PhD in Politics, just don't. It's a field (my own) that produces far far too many PhDs for the academic jobs out there and where a PhD is not much more help than an MA in other politics-related careers (it may even be a negative). If you get funding, then at least if it doesn't work out, then you can look on it as an interesting if poorly paid job for three years, but I know too many self-funders who now bitterly regret having risked it, to recommend doing that. Look beyond your undergrad university as well for the PhD - there will be funding and suitable supervision in many places, so it's worth checking out what's out there.
If you've been away for twelve years, you might also be shocked by how much universities have changed. Many are very corporate and target-driven indeed these days. It might not be the environment you want - might the third sector be better? With your current job, it might be worth investigating whether you can take a career break to do the MA (social science research methods can often be sold as 'useful'), so you could test the waters and see how you like it but with the safety net of a job to return to if not?
posted
16-Jan-17, 17:03
edited about 10 seconds later
Avatar for blueisthecolour
posted about 2 years ago
Thanks for the advice so far:

When I contacted my university they said that there was an option to have both the Masters and PHD funded - however the application date for that is the 1 February and I would already need an offer from them before I applied and that could take 6 weeks. Also I need a copy of my academic transcript, which i've ordered but can take up to 15 days. So basically I don't have the time to apply. However there is nothing stopping me from doing the MA (possibly with some university funding included) and then applying for the PHD funding next year.

When I say I don't like the corporate culture I mean I don't like the office politics and meaningless 'double speak' that goes on on a daily basis. I've no issue with a target-driven environment that expects results at an efficient cost, in fact that appeals to me. I worked in the public sector for 4 years and I disliked the lack of professionalism and focus that I experienced.

I really need to look into this more as at the moment i'm not even sure what doing a PHD entails or what career options would be available. But like you said, if it was funded it would at the least be learning new skills and open up more opportunities for little cost. A large part of me wants to do this because I really want to make a fundamental change to how i'm living my life - earning a good salary has it's benefits obviously but it's also leading me down a road of consumerism that I really don't like. When you spending your days on Amazon or weekends in Ikea just decided what else to buy.
posted
17-Jan-17, 13:48
edited about 6 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 2 years ago
The option for funding and actually getting funding are two different things... students are often accepted without funding and then have to withdraw when they realise how competitive the funding is and they don't get enough, or any at all.

You can probably apply without your transcripts and add these later if need be.

Bear in mind with a PhD you may find that there's very little direction and you are left to your own devices in terms of research questions, day to day workload, training etc. All the opportunities are there for you but you get out what you put in.
posted
17-Jan-17, 16:31
edited about 17 seconds later
Avatar for blueisthecolour
posted about 2 years ago
Thanks

Do you think that the fact that I did reasonably poorly in my final year exams (mid to high 2:2s rather than the mid to high 2:1s I got in the second year) would impact my chances of being offered a place or even funding? I'm honestly not sure what happened with those exams, I probably slacked of a bit in my final year but not massively. I remember that I only finished with 61.7% in the end.
posted
17-Jan-17, 16:45
edited about 12 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 2 years ago
I'm sure a final 2.1 is all they look at.
posted
17-Jan-17, 16:47
Avatar for bewildered
posted about 2 years ago
Honestly yes particularly for funding in Politics where a 1st is usually required in practice. You'd be better applying after completing the Masters if you got a distinction.
posted
17-Jan-17, 17:00
edited about 9 seconds later
Avatar for bewildered
posted about 2 years ago
Hi, I think there's massive differences between the arts/social sciences and sciences in how funding is applied for and awarded. There is a lot less funding around for a start. In Politics the main funder is the ESRC, which funds you either as 1+3 or +3 (so MA + PhD or just PhD). You apply to a university in one of their doctoral training centres (a consortia of universities but only some institutions are in DTCs so check the ESRC list) with a fairly advanced research proposal usually separately to your application to do a PhD there (adverts tend to go out before Christmas). To be competitive you need to have worked on this with your proposed supervisors for quite a while, so it's not very feasible for the OP at this stage. To have a good chance of funding generally you need evidence of a u/g 1st or an MA / MSc distinction and a very strong proposal, so for the OP, the best strategy would be to begin the MA and try to impress so that people are willing to work with him/her on a PhD funding application. You might though get a partial scholarship to go towards funding the MA - there are pockets of money around eg fee reductions for graduates of that university etc. A 2:1 is all they need for a place on the Masters though so that wouldn't be an issue.
posted
18-Jan-17, 10:26
edited about 11 seconds later
Avatar for blueisthecolour
posted about 2 years ago
Once again, thank you for the replies - especially bewildered.

Yes, my university (I might as well say, York) has recommended the ESRC as the funding avenue. The tone of the email I received from their politics office suggested that applying now was a realistic opportunity, but I suppose they have to deal with a lot of queries and they don't want to put people off. Having read your post it just confirms my own suspicion that my chances of submitting an application now would be negligible given that i've only just started looking into it and my BA result.

Funding the Masters myself wouldn't be an issue, assuming that there was a good chance of getting the PhD funding to carry on.

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