Wanting a PhD in English via distance-learning

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by LittleShakespeare90, Apr 20, 2021.

  1. LittleShakespeare90

    LittleShakespeare90 New Member

    Hello, everyone!

    I'm a bit new here. I've been reading these forums for quite some time, and I would love to ask you for some advice.

    I graduated with my BA in English from a college in New Jersey in 2012, and then I went to NYU for my master's in humanities. I consider NYU to be the biggest mistake of my life. I was so unhappy there, and it wasn't the right fit of a school. I took so many classes irrelevant to my field of study, and I encountered so much coldness from the professors and students. I did learn a lot while I was there, but if I could go back in time, I would have chosen a different school.

    For the past six years, I have been working as a high school English teacher and adjunct professor at a community college. I've been so happy with my jobs, but I still want to pursue a PhD. It has been a personal goal of mine for quite some time.

    I got into an unfunded PhD program in Philadelphia, but I cannot attend because the class times conflict with my job. I know it sounds crazy, but I really want to keep my jobs while pursuing my doctorate. Therefore, a distance-learning PhD seemed like the perfect route for me.

    Has anyone ever heard of, or graduated from, Old Dominion University in Virginia? It seems like a wonderful idea, but I'm scared. I'm scared because I went to a top-ten university and many users on another forum told me I would be "downgrading" or "settling for a bus pass instead of a Maserati." I thought about doing a distance PhD in the UK, but I actually want to take more literary classes, since my MA was in humanities. I want to catch up on the works of literature I missed out on in graduate school.

    I apologize for this long post, but I guess my main questions are:

    1. Would it be "downgrading" or "settling for a bus pass" if I go to Old Dominion University?

    2. I don't really want a job as a professor. I'm happy being a high school teacher, but I've always wanted my doctorate. Would it matter if I get a degree from a lesser-known school?

    Thank you so much in advance. :)
  2. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    I wonder if the users on "another forum" have their PhD degrees. Having been through the process, my instinct is to have healthy respect for anyone who did the same. Even at "a lesser-known school". My good friend had an ex-wife who teased him for his degree from U. South Florida, "less prestigious" than her degree from UF. Except she had a BA in Advertising, and he had an MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering. I always thought that it's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

    I do not know much about ODU, but certainly have heard of it. Seems to be a good school. Quick search reveals several full-time faculty members at our regional university with ODU degrees. If you like the content, can handle the workload, and have a plan to pay for it, you can't go wrong with ODU.
  3. Rachel83az

    Rachel83az Active Member

    If you're happy where you are and just want a doctorate for your own personal desires, I say go for it! The people who are telling you not to sound like snobs and you shouldn't listen to them. You found a school that seems to fit your needs. As long as it is properly accredited, you should go to the school that works best for YOU. Just as there is no shame in attending a trade school when college isn't right for you, there's absolutely nothing wrong with getting a degree from a so-called "lesser" school if the "lesser" school is a better fit than a top-tier one. (The exception would, of course, be schools that have a reputation for being diploma mills, but that's a completely different topic than this one.)
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  4. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    There's nothing wrong with "lesser" schools if there's a fit. I only tease Steve about his PhD because of his bizarre attacks on students and graduates of other online schools. In isolation, getting a PhD from Union (innovative non-for-profit) can be a terrific idea. ODU is a public, brich-and-mortar, 90-year-old, research, solid Tier 2 school; describing it as "lesser" speaks less about ODU and more about the describer's insecurities.
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  5. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    I can't help but wonder what other forum this is so that I can be sure to avoid it. Chasing other people's perceptions of prestige may be a common trait in academia, but it's a dreadfully shallow and unrewarding one.

    ODU is a perfectly serviceable institution. If your goal were to find a tenure track position in an English department, then I might not recommend it, but only because competition for those jobs is so ridiculous that even tier one grads often go without. But since your goal is merely to cross "doctorate" off your bucket list, ODU will do as well as anywhere and probably better than most.

    (Also, for what it's worth, Stanislav isn't referring to me and I totally agree with his take on this.)
  6. sideman

    sideman Active Member

    If this contributed to the break-up of a marriage I'd certainly agree that this is indeed one of the dumbest things I've ever heard of (and believe me I've heard a lot of dumb things). And regardless of what majors were chosen by each student at said school, everyone should try to live up to their potential. As a society do we really want only brain surgeons and rocket scientists running the world? Who's going to score those all important touchdowns?! But I digress. In Florida, of which I am formerly from, these two universities are rivals. But of course, they would be---perpetuated by their football teams jockeying for the number one position every season. And most of the time it's just friendly rivalry, especially amongst couples here in my current state of domicile (i.e. University of Texas grad and Texas A & M grad). To take it this far, per Stanislav's example, would just go to show that some alumnus could conceivably become so brainwashed that they lose their sense of logic. Then it becomes a slippery slope as to who races the quickest to the bottom of illogical groupthink.

    TEKMAN Semper Fi!

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  8. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    It was more of a character indicator. She left him for a wealthy older man.

    I think you are thinking UF vs FSU rivalry. USF does have a football team, but I don't think they're seen as rivals to either Gators or Seminoles.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2021
  9. sideman

    sideman Active Member

    I see. Thanks for the clarification. Unfortunate for your friend, but time wounds all heels.

    Good catch. That's what I get for getting distracted as I post.
  10. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    These rankings are always a hoot to me because of how wildly impractical they are.

    Imperial College London is #8 in the world? Awesome. And if you apply for a job in Philadelphia it's taking a backseat to UPenn, Penn State, Temple and a dozen other schools that have strong local and regional pull. These rankings are fine and they can give an idea of scope but don't expect an employer to follow the same ranking system.

    ODU is a perfectly fine school. Even more perfectly fine if you're within its sphere of influence. It's also, in my mind, a perfectly acceptable sort of school for a high school teacher to have a diploma from.

    This may be cynical of me but if I saw one of my kids' teachers, in their perfectly ordinary public school in our perfectly ordinary, slightly dirty, upstate New York town was sporting a PhD from Stanford, I would have some very serious concerns about what they had done to get there. This is a person I would be feverishly googling to see if they left behind a massive scandal some place else.

    Degrees and degree colleges are like suits. You need one to be at the party. But if you're incredibly over or under dressed it will draw attention and not the sort you want. What's the under in this scenario? Probably UPhoenix. Maybe one of the other more badly named ones like American InterContinental or another one that just screams "ONLINE UNIVERSITY." It isn't about profit status it's about presentation. So throw SNHU into that mix as well. That is your low end. That is your list of schools that people will look at and most decidedly not be impressed with and less mature folks might actively make fun of. On the opposite end of hte spectrum we have your Ivy League, your other elites like Duke, Stanford etc. As well as schools that have a nationwide name recognition that is generally positive such as UNC Chapel Hill, Texas A&M, Penn State, Notre Dame etc.

    Nestled in the middle is the vast majority of schools. State schools, private schools, religious schools, secular schools all bundled together by their positive to neutral reputations in most circles. Here is your Syracuse University, University of Scranton, Old Dominion and so on down the list. There is nothing wrong with being in the middle. Most people who have degrees get them from schools in the middle. It's not a lesser school and it isn't a compromise.

    The fact is, your publication history and teaching experience is going to drive college employment much more than the name of your alma mater. It just so happens, however, that if you go to those top shelf schools you have, ostensibly, better faculty preparing you for serious publication in more prestigious journals. Saying you were a TA at Harvard or Yale is going to help you as you launch into your first job, for sure. But, at the end of the day, if the person with a PhD from the University of Wisconsin has a more impressive publication history than you and is specialized in an area that school is looking for an expert in then they are going to walk their Wisconsin selves right past you and into the job. Don't believe me? Look at prestigious schools that announce waves of incoming faculty and see where they are from. The last list I looked at from Cornell had graduates of Binghamton University and state schools from around the country. I recall seeing only one or two Harvard PhDs. But you only need to google the names you find to discover that these are not people relying on their school name to get a job.
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  11. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    Just to have closure on this story: the guy is thriving. Rebuilt his credit, re-married, works as an executive for a very promising Silicon Valley microchip start-up. His gold-digging ex might have had second thoughts about her choice now.
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  12. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    I agree. This is good, practical way of looking at it. To make slightly finer distinction, I'd say places like University of Scranton or ODU is in the somewhat-above-the-middle category. I brought up USF, and I think ODU is perceived in a very similar way - a state school that's just below the flagship campus in standing. USF is technically ranked higher, but not in a way most people will notice. Having Division I sports teams helps as well :).
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  13. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    There's nothing wrong with ODU, but there is some misleading information in this thread.

    Outside of academia, there are only a few industries with a handful of employers that care about rankings. Everywhere else, no one cares.

    Inside academia, the top schools do care because where their faculty members graduated can affect some factors in their U.S. News rankings. Let me be clear, no one cares about overall ranking. They care about program ranking. There are low-ranked and unranked podunk state universities that are ranked high in a particular field. However, University of Wisconsin is not a Podunk State University. It has many, many graduate programs ranked in the top 10. University of Wisconsin - Madison is ranked higher than Harvard in some fields. Harvard is not the end all be all in academia.

    I looked at a few dozen profiles for incoming faculty at Cornell in their engineering and Arts and Sciences departments, and those schools are nothing to sneeze at. Just because a school is a state university doesn't mean that it is not on par with an Ivy League school. In many cases, a school with a lower overall ranking will beat out Ivy League schools in a particular field.

    In criminology, there are no ranked Ivy Plus schools. University of Pennsylvania used to be ranked in criminology, but it's dropped off the current rankings for some reason. While most wouldn't think that a school like Arizona State University is prestigious, in criminology, it is prestigious.

    By the way, ODU is ranked #32 in criminology. Not too shabby.
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  14. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    That's true. In instructional design, for example, Boise State University is very well regarded. I'm not sure that's true for them in anything else.

    Welcome back, by the way.
  15. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    I got to ask: why did TAMU (I assume this refers to the mother ship at College Station) make this list and not UT-Austin? Texas is a weird state with several public systems, and flagships, but I got a feeling the locals consider UT to be the top dog (or at the very least a top dog). Higher stats for admission, too (I believe it's the only campus where being in the top 10% of your HS class does not guarantee admission; they have 6% cutoff instead). A lot of respect for TAMU, of course.
  16. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    I mean, I listed like four schools I thought it was pretty obvious that it wasn't meant to be an all inclusive list.

    But, since you asked, in terms of pure name recognition if you pull some random person off of the street across the far corners of the country, Texas A&M is going to have a broader name recognition than UT-Austin.

    I think we can pretty much assume that the reason would be because of football. And we can argue that football should not drive college reputations but, let's face it, it really does. Notre Dame is a fine school and one of, I think, three operated by the Congregation of the Holy Cross. The other two being Stonehill College in MA and Kings College in my former residence of Wilkes-Barre, PA. All are fine schools. And given that Holy Cross routinely shuffles its priests and brothers (as academics and administrators) between their schools there's no reason to think that this is a situation where one school is just hands down better than the others and that's just the way it is.

    Kings has a solid regional reputation for its Physician Assistant program, for example. But Notre Dame has football. They got to be the good guys in Rudy and everything. Ask someone in San Diego which school is "better" Notre Dame or Stonehill College and you'll get your answer. And maybe it's true. But people are going to reach their conclusion because of the fame brought by football and not because they did a side by side comparison of facilities, student outcomes and academics.

    Oh, and since we're on the subject, rankings are nonsense. They rely on self-reported information and the schools pay to be considered. Why would Penn stop paying to be ranked for Criminology? Probably because it's Penn and it doesn't need to try to entice people there. You hit a diminishing return with program quality above a certain tier. Your medical school can only get so good by any objective measure and the rankings that take place after a certain point are really just, well, made up. US News and World Reports also made themselves a bigger cash cow, and reduced controversy, by offering more nuanced rankings that no one cares about. It's what allows them to put the University of Washington at the top of a best medical schools list (Primary Care) or Harvard above Hopkins (Research) or Yale above Harvard (Psychiatry).

    And what, really, does it matter? Are you not going to go to a physician because they went to a school that was number 7 on the list instead of number 5? Are you going to go into historical rankings to see if your doctor graduated during a time when the school was higher ranked than at other times? Are Hopkins graduates unlikely to match with a psychiatry residency because they fall to a lowly three on the psychiatry rankings? No. Because residency matches are not based on a magazine's rankings. Employers are not hiring based on a magazine's rankings. It's paid advertising and nothing more.

    The simple reality is that, while some schools would have us believe that transferring in English Comp 1 would degrade their sterling academics it's probably fine whether you took the course at Harvard or a community college. In fact, given the reliance on adjuncts it's quite possible that some community college in or near Boston is having that course taught by the same adjunct who is teaching it at Harvard or MIT (or both).

    My point is with all of this that the rankings are what they are. But people form their own ranking system in their minds. It's the reason why I have managers who prefer engineering graduates from Binghamton University over Cornell or Clarkson over either. These preferences and biases are not limited to one company (mine). They exist everywhere in some form. And they always trump USNWR.
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  17. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    I think I made it pretty clear that most employers outside of academia do not care about rankings. Some exceptions would be law and the big accounting firms. When it comes to hiring tenure-track professors, the top-ranked programs or schools seeking a high ranking do care about which school you graduated from. You can like it or not, but it's reality.

    Did Penn stop paying for the criminology ranking? Penn does send stats for a bunch of other programs, so they obviously do care. I know that U.S. News changed their methodology, so there were major shifts this year.
  18. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    Since this thread is about English programs, I'll post a list of faculty from Yale. Yale is ranked #2 in English; I didn't choose #1 Berkeley since they don't list much information about their faculty. The only person on the list who did not graduate from a top English program is Dr. Cajetan Iheka. He graduated from Michigan State University (#53), but he completed a fellowship at UT Austin (#17).

    Wai Chee Dimock – Harvard

    Anastasia Eccles – Stanford

    Marcel Elias – University of Cambridge

    Marta Figlerowicz – Berkeley

    Roberta Frank – Harvard

    Paul Fry - Harvard

    Ben Glaser – Cornell

    Jacqueline Goldsby – Yale

    Jessica Brantley – UCLA

    Leslie Brisman – Cornell

    Ardis Butterfield – Cambridge

    Janice Carlisle – Cornell

    Joseph Cleary – Columbia

    Sara Suleri Goodyear – Indiana University

    Langdon Hammer – Yale

    Alanna Hickey – Northwestern

    Margaret Homans – Yale

    Cajetan Iheka – Michigan State University

    David Kastan – University of Chicago

    Jonathan Kramnick – John Hopkins

    Traugott Lawler – Harvard

    Naomi Levine – Rutgers

    Pericles Lewis – Stanford

    Lawrence Manley – Harvard

    Stefanie Markovits – Yale

    Alastair Minnis – Queen’s University of Belfast

    Feisal Mohamed – University of Toronto

    Priyasha Mukhopadhyay – Oxford

    Stephanie Newell – University of Birmingham

    Catherine Nicholson – University of Pennsylvania

    Joseph North – Columbia

    Annabel Patterson – University of London

    John Durham Peters – Stanford

    Caryl Phillips – BA from Oxford and six honorary doctorates (award-winning novelist and playwright)

    David Quint – Yale

    Claude Rawson – Keele University

    Jill Richards – Berkeley

    Joseph Roach – Northwestern

    Marc Robinson – Yale

    John Rogers – Yale

    Caleb Smith – Duke

    Robert Stepto – Stanford

    Fred Strebeigh (lecturer) – BA from Yale

    Emily Thornbury – Cambridge

    Katie Trumpener – Stanford

    Michael Warner – Johns Hopkins

    R. John Williams – UC Irvine

    Sunny Xiang – Berkeley

    Ruth Yeazell – Yale
  19. sideman

    sideman Active Member

    The locals consider both TAMU and UT-Austin the top of the heap here in Texas. And of course the alumnus feel they rank above the rest, even Rice and SMU. If you're in the top 6% you are guaranteed admission (not difficult to do according to my daughter, a UT-Austin grad). And of course these two are rivals, just not in football anymore. However, during games they still diss each other, even when they no longer play against each other. Tradition runs deep here.

    In my daughter's consulting company, they will only hire UT-Austin grads and WSU grads. Anyone else will have to have 5-10 years experience. My daughter and I both consider this narrow-minded and inclusive. Frankly, to me, it would be more advantageous to draw from multiple sources to get different points of view, perspective, etc. In other words, instead of everyone following along to get along, conflict can be enlightening and cause change for the better.
  20. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    I'm not sure if this was in reference to my comment but I was not responding to you earlier.

    There are two possibilities as it relates to criminology; either Penn's program took such a nosedive that it just didn't warrant any ranking or Penn just stopped sending them data for ranking of that program. Perhaps one led to the other. I don't know.

    Nor did I say that Penn didn't care about rankings. what I said was that they likely dropped a specific ranking when it didn't serve their interests. These rankings are, after all, advertising. You do it to showcase your prominent engineering program. If, for whatever reason, your criminology program is coming in at #38 then it's less of a brag. But it's also Penn and a degree from there is going to carry Penn weight.

    As for Yale's professors all having top flight degrees, yeah, of course. I never said otherwise. What I said was that we cannot know if that results from "rankings" or simply because of higher profile faculty, in general, making a candidate attractive in a world that is fairly small. In other words, did I get hired because I have a PhD from Harvard or because Dr. X was my advisor. If Dr. X is a Nobel laureate then the latter might carry more weight. And the reality is that a Nobel laureate is more likely to work at an elite school. But it creates a cart before horse sort of situation. And the fact that it is not an absolute should demonstrate that hiring committees are not trashing resumes exclusively because of school name.

    Put more succinctly, I strongly suspect the rankings are following academia and not academia following the rankings.

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