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I'm in a difficult situation, although I understand that I'm very lucky to be in this position.

I'm a final year UK chemical engineering student expecting a mid-high first class B.Eng degree from a fairly decent Russel Group university.

I'm looking for graduate studies and I have managed to secure 2 places:

The first is a fully funded 4 year PhD as part of a CDT in synthetic biology. My first year would be spent at Oxford and my final 3 years would be spent at Bristol University, which I will graduate from after that.

My second offer is for an MPhil in a similar subject at Cambridge University which they have offered to fully fund also.

I'm very unsure as to what to take. I cannot defer my PhD offer. On the one hand, Cambridge is a very good university but my fear is that if I do the masters there, I may have thrown away my only chance at a PhD, and that I won't be able to get one after that - And ideally I'd like to do a PhD at a top tier institution such as Oxford or Cambridge. On the other hand, the PhD at Bristol as a CDT, so I won't be choosing my supervisor until my second year after I finish my first year at Oxford, and I'm locking myself into a particular discipline, and to a specific list of potential supervisors for 4 years directly after my bachelors.

Again I'm well aware that I'm extremely lucky to be in this position, but any advice on what path might be the best one would be greatly appreciated.

EDIT: The specific PhD that I applied is entirely taught for its first year, which is why I am not worried about the jump from the bachelors straight to PhD.

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    This statement is very weird to me: "I may have thrown away my only chance at a PhD, and that I won't be able to get one after that." Why do you think this is your only chance? Is it not possible to do a PhD at Cambridge (or anywhere) after getting an MPhil? I know you'd probably have to go through the entire application process again, etc., but to say there's no chance? I think the ease of being accepted into a PhD program "later in life" really depends on what you do in the interim, but I should point out that I'm from the US, so things may be very different here. – tilper Mar 13 '18 at 16:43
  • I see what you are saying. What I mean to say is that I've got such a good PhD offer already, in that it's funded for 4 years, and any future offers will probably only be funded for 3-3.5 years, and may be very hard to come by. – difficultychoosing Mar 13 '18 at 16:45
  • Hmm... the idea of a non-fully-funded PhD program in the sciences is also unusual to me, but, again... geography. I'd say it really depends on your goals. Make your decision based on which degree is more appropriate for your career and personal goals, regardless of tiers, rankings, etc. – tilper Mar 13 '18 at 16:47
  • They are "fully funded" but in the UK it seems that most PhDs are funded for 3-3.5 years out of 4 years. – difficultychoosing Mar 13 '18 at 16:49
  • @difficultychoosing the unspoken rule is that you save up what you can from your 3.5 year stipend and use that to support yourself for the final 6 months/ however long it takes. – astronat Mar 13 '18 at 18:15
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On balance, I'd say go to Cambridge. If you do good research and write a high quality MPhil thesis, it is very unlikely that you will not get an opportunity to stay on for a PhD.

  • Thanks for your advice. The MPhil is mainly taught, but there is a small research component. My worry is that I might not get the grades in this MPhil, which may exclude me from may PhDs, whereas I have one secure right now and basically won't ever need to sit an exam again. – difficultychoosing Mar 13 '18 at 17:48
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    I agree with this answer. You'd have to do catastrophically badly in the MPhil to end up reducing your chances of a PhD the following year. – astronat Mar 13 '18 at 18:17
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    @difficultychoosing Any relevant experience improves your CV and does not invalidate your BSc grades. Perhaps the only risk is that lecturers from your current course may forget about you and not give you as good reference, but then it will be outweighed by good references from your MPhil lecturers. Another point is that not everyone thinks that students are prepared for a PhD right after BSc. This may be a reason why you're not getting many offers now, and the one that you got has one taught year. After doing MPhil in a top uni, your chances to get a PhD position should increase. – Alexey B. Mar 14 '18 at 1:57

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