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Author Topic: UK PhDs (Humanities)  (Read 6456 times)
hunterwali
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« on: March 14, 2012, 4:18:43 PM »

Long time lurker, first time poster, as I suspect I ought to identify myself.

I did my PhD in the U.S. and then took a job in the UK. I was one of the lucky people who had a job immediately after completion. I'm not saying that as bragging so much as pointing out that my only experience in Higher Ed has been in the U.S. as a student and in the UK as a lecturer. And these days I'm finding myself aghast at what the PhDs here seem to demand. I've had students demand meetings to suit their own schedules (one actually complaining when someone undergoing radiotherapy requested a few extra days). and others complain about teaching loads (one complained loudly about having 25 essays to mark in a week's time).  I could provide even longer lists of aggravation and things that have made my jaw drop, but I don't know if this is typical of a larger shift on both sides of the Atlantic or something specific to here.

I will say that in my experience, I pressed when necessary but never expected feedback within days or at my convenience, and that I had far more teaching which I took on without complain. It could also be a very person thing: I was a swot and a glutton for punishment (why else choose such work?).

Now, there are some great students here, but is it that I'm just more aware of the entitlement now that I'm a lecturer or is there more entitlement? And to continue the endless questioning, is it that they are a different generation (although not that far behind me) or is this about a U.S. v UK PhD mentality?

I'd love to hear of anyone's experience-- either comparative or in the UK.

(Apologies for any typos, gross grammatical errors or unjustified fist-shaking at those kids on my lawn; it's been a very long day and I'm shattered.)
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spiralworm
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« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2012, 7:57:56 PM »

I've seen US PhDs with a sense of entitlement and UK PhDs who work like dogs...
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hegemony
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« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2012, 10:22:53 PM »

There is more entitlement, but you are also seeing it more clearly because it's not as easy to spot when you're a student.  In my experience having been a student on both sides of the Atlantic, and having taught on both sides of the Atlantic, there is more of it in the U.S.  That's not to say there's none of it in the U.K.  But in the U.S. the customer model of education has taken off in spades.  If you were teaching in the U.S. right now, you'd find just as much or more as you're seeing in the U.K.
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Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight.
cayenne
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« Reply #3 on: March 15, 2012, 5:37:14 AM »

Are these entitled PhD students UK-educated? Or from overseas?

It's my sense that the subjective experience of what counts as "hard work" is different in the US and the UK. In my current Oxbridge university, UK-educated students from undergraduates to PhD students moan about how busy they are, while newly-arrived US-educated students with exactly the same workload moan about how bored they are.

Yet in my experience the product inevitably ends up the same. Among the undergraduates I teach, both the "I haven't slept for three days!" and the "Is this all there is?" types are making the same good-but-not-fantastic grades.
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hunterwali
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« Reply #4 on: March 15, 2012, 2:45:15 PM »

Thanks for the thoughts so far. It's difficult to explain the types of entitlement without getting into particulars, but I will say that overall, there seems to be a sentiment that we're there to cater to them, and that they somehow are to receive priority in matters of resources (For example, they wouldn't even think that perhaps sorting out a lecturer's office may need to take precedence over finding a third computer room in which they might work. These demands seem to come from students hailing from a range of places (Europe, Americas, Asia). In one case, we received complaints because they wanted a study group and we hadn't created one for them. (This was a moment in which I may have shocked other members of the department, calling them 'babies' and recalling the self-starting dissertation support group that my cohort started so we could keep on task whilst adjuncting like mad in order to make ends meet.)

Those who complained most about having to teach have been from Europe and Asia with the Americans seemingly eager for professionalisation. That may be because this is what is emphasised in the U.S. whereas in the UK I see more support for student research and finding outlets for output. It may also be a class issue in which PG study here, particularly because a PhD is not the commitment it is in the U.S. means that this is a decision taken by those still trying to decide what they might want to do.

I don't have enough data to make even the grossest assumptions although i seem to be doing quite the job with generalisations (for which I apologise). With UGs it's different, and I'd say that although entitlement grows, it's not as rampant as it in the U.S. where the consumer mentality dictates.





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hunterwali
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« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2012, 2:50:55 PM »

I just want to add that in no way am I one of those who has come here and refused to learn the language or the ways things are done. Nor am I someone who runs around spouting off about the superiority of the American ways (hardly).  There are benefits and drawbacks everywhere, and in fact, I very much like working here even if admin can be a bit wearying.

That said, I do think the U.S. PhD, with all its hazing and demands may help in creating someone suitably damaged to accept the terms of working in academe anywhere. (I am pretty happy, but I can't help but question my judgement sometimes.) 
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sandgrounder
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« Reply #6 on: March 15, 2012, 3:54:31 PM »

Interestingly enough I had a run-in with a colleague from the US about our jointly supervised PhD student only last week, and it did suggest there was a bit of a transatlantic divide on this one. I wonder whether it's because more PhD students in the UK are self-funding compared to the US, and that having to find the fees for each year makes them more demanding that their progress is not delayed by ourselves? Said colleague for instance thinks the student is being wholly unreasonable to expect him to read and comment on a chapter delivered to an agreed deadline within a fortnight, I disagreed. Similarly they are expected to finish their thesis within a relatively tight timespan and the tolerance for the drawn out PhD experience that my US-educated colleagues experienced, is non-existent, so I can see why when teaching takes longer than expected that they can get panicked about the consequences. I'm not sure this is entitlement necessarily - rather a reaction to a very different set of parameters. It also seems more common in Europe as a whole to do a PhD without the desire for an academic career, which I suppose might also change what the students want and expect.
But yes I agree that there is an irritating degree of passivity among our current lot and a lack of willingness to organise their research community themselves - that drives me mad.
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hegemony
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« Reply #7 on: March 15, 2012, 4:38:27 PM »

In my experience the students on the short postgraduate courses in the UK -- the one-year MPhils, etc. -- are more of a mixed lot than the PhD students.  So many of them are from foreign countries and pay high fees that the degrees have become a cash cow, with all the problems with standards that that can cause.  Not that all short-degree students are weak and entitled -- but I've seen some who are.
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Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight.
cranefly
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« Reply #8 on: March 16, 2012, 6:07:18 PM »

Having taught in both UK and NA, my experience was that NA students were far more entitled and demanding. But it does depend a lot on the way that you begin a relationship with those students, and your attitude towards them can influence this behaviour significantly.  Moreover, different schools have different cultures, and you could find things very different at another school.
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Oh yeah--Professor Sparkle Pony. "Follow your dreams, young genius, and you will meet with success!" Students eat that up.
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