Written on: 28/01/2004 by NewAmusements (27 reviews written)
Great library, great access to archival materials locally, great city to live in
Very poor support from the department for research students
The University of Manchester has a well-deserved reputation for producing outstanding historians based on the number of scholars to have graced its halls in the past (Harold Perkin and AJP Taylor to name a couple). As a research student, I found the material available to me outstanding with extensive collections in the John Rylands University Library as well as the John Rylands special collections unit at Deansgate. The Manchester Central Library also housed a good number of resources and there are a number of more specialised archives around the city including a Labour History collection, a Jewish collection and a Police Museum. If you have to travel further afield however yo uare likely to have to do it off your own back as there is not much grant money about to help with expenses.
The department does to its utmost to provide postgrads with a number of opportunities to present papers in departmental seminars and lecture series as well as with good opportunities to pick up relevant teaching experience. If you take advantage of all these things, you are going to be very well placed to find work after finishing as most of my peers going into academia have found.
On the other hand...the quality of your experience really will depend almost entirely on the quality of your supervisor. Those students who had supervisors dedicated to the success of their research students had a very easy time outlining their research projects, keeping to a tight timeline and writing up smoothly. Those students with less dedicated supervisors, such as myself, found the road a bit more rocky. My personal experience was in dealing with a supervisor unwilling to provide assistance unless the topic for discussion related directly to his own research interests, who found it frustrating to guide me through the learning process of putting together a book-length research paper and who simply did not want to take the time to provide constructive or useful criticism. There was no recourse to help from the department, however, as the checks put in place to make certain that supervisors stuck to a certain standard did not function properly - I was only required to meet with a three-person panel to mark my progress twice over four years and when I complained that for the last 6 months of my writing-up period my supervisor often failed to even answer emails the only response was that someone would tell him to check his email but that there wasn't much more they could do as it was summertime and everyone was on holiday. This resulted in his not reading the final draft of the dissertation. Unfortunately it was not a unique experience as several of those of my peers with the misfortune to be studying under the same professor experienced similar problems and had to apply for numerous extensions.
It is appalling that at the PhD level of study there is so little attention paid to the quality of teaching and to the standards maintained by the department so that research students are left to fend for themselves and often having to beg to receive any feedback from the department. A student is still a student even at such a high level, and writing a dissertation is a learning process, not something you will inherently know how to outline and complete perfectly. My successful completion of the course was due to my own ability to beg help from anyone who would listen rather than from the quality of what was provided by the department. That said, I'm not certain that it's much different at any other UK university or department.
Manchester is a good school provided that choose your subjects and your supervisory panel wisely.
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