Degrees from 2 different universities

Not many people are reading this blog, which may actually be quite a good thing since it is turning into a bit of a personal core dump. Someone did, however, end up here after doing a search about whether or not they should get degrees from 2 different universities. I don’t know the answer to this, but it did remind me of some discussions I’ve had in my own department about attracting and keeping good PhD students.

A few years ago – prior to my arrival back in the UK – it was apparently fairly common to encourage students not to apply for a PhD place at the same university from which they got their undergraduate degree. The idea, which is probably quite reasonable, is that it would be advantageous to study at more than one university and if everyone does this, good students will ultimately be shared around evenly. This, however, seems to have changed a little. More and more departments are starting to offer PhD places to their own good students. This is probably because we have many more places to fill than was the case a decade or so ago. Trying to fill these places with potentially good students can be hard, and so if you can attract a few good students from different universities, and offer places to some of your own good undergraduates, you will do better than if you encourage your own students to go elsewhere.

Of course, the above policy will only work for a short while, since eventually all departments will be trying to keep as many of their own good students as possible. This may not seem to make much difference but I think it has the potential to make future generations very narrow. Not only do different departments focus in slightly different areas, they also have different research philosophies and practices. Exposing students to a wide range of different topics and different research practices and styles will help our future research leaders to have both a broad understanding of their general area, as well as a detailed understanding of their particular topic. It’s not that those remaining at a single university will not have a broad understanding, but it may be harder to gain that if they’ve never been anywhere else.

I should at least acknowledge that I actually did all my degrees at a single university, but did hold postdoctoral and faculty positions at a number of different universities and in a number of different countries. This too can help – I think – develop breadth and an understanding of different possible research styles. I do think that studying and working in different universities and countries can be very advantageous. It does, however, have some side effects and can disadvantage those who are not able to easily move around – although that is probably a topic for a future post.

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