I am currently a Ph.D. student at a U.S. university (oe of the top 10 public universities) I am taking my final modules to complete my program, (after this semester, only two courses left) after which based on the U.S. PhD system I would have taken my complementary exams and submitted my dissertation proposal in Fall 2016. Then, I would have to carry out my dissertation project for about 6 months (part of my data collection has already started in U.S, my study is a comparative analysis of U.S and UK) and finally I would have had my dissertation oral defense in Spring 2017.

However, my husband and I will be moving back to the UK soon due to recent circumstances beyond our control, (as we are both EU Citizens, we are here in the United States on a VISA which in my husband’s case is due to expire soon along with his Post-Doctoral contract). We had hoped for my husband to find another temporary position here in U.S. so that I could complete my PhD program, however, being Europeans here in the States implies the need for any company or university to sponsor or cover our permanence in the U.S. thus making it harder to find a position.

Currently, I need know if UK universities accept PhD graduate credit transfers and the possibility of any UK professor/advisor willing to support me towards the PhD program completion in a UK university. Alternatively, I would like to know if there is the possibility of a UK advisor cooperating with my U.S. university committee and willing to offer a basic supervision during dissertation/data collection period in UK schools, in order for me to come back here for complementary exams in Fall ’16 and final dissertation in Spring 2017. Also, as mentioned above, I am enrolled at a U.S. university, but I am an EU citizen. Before moving to U.S. we have lived in the UK for 8 years (I graduated with a British PGCE and my husband with a PhD).

In particular, I would like to know if this kind of transfers are possible, and if so:

• Which universities would you suggest that can accept the transfer of my PhD graduate modules? • How can I find out what level are my U.S credits and qualifications in relation to the UK PhD system? • Finally: I would like to know how can this level of qualification help my progress to a full PhD degree completion in UK?

• Or, alternatively, which universities in UK could be willing to offer a basic supervision throughout my dissertation and thus allow me to complete my Complementary exams and dissertation defense here in the United States.

Most of all, after many efforts, two years of my life working hard, completing advanced courses, it would be devastating for me if I cannot complete my PhD due to the fact that we need to move. As time is of the essence for us, I would be extremely grateful if anyone can provide me with any information or suggestion.

REPLY to Contributors'suggestions:

Dear All,

I need to add my reply here due to its length.

I would like to thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my queries. I truly appreciate it and all your comments are extremely valuable to me. @Alexandros and @ Gnometorule: As explained above my comparative study has already begun three months ago through data collection and analyses here in U.S, thus, based on my study timeline and progress (and under initial advisor supervision) I will need other 6 to 8 months to collect data/analyze and writing period in UK. As suggested from my professors at my department the dissertation proposal submission can easily take place immediately after oral comps and, if needed, be amended according to complementary exams results.

The reason why I need to move back with my husband is because I am pregnant with my first child and the amount of financial and health insurance support that I will require here in the U.S. it’s going to be significant. Having been not pregnant I could have certainly considered remaining here in U.S on my own to complete my degree. However, that would be very hard financially since my department struggles to provide funding and stipend for all of us PhD students (particularly internationals) during the academic year, and during the summer RAs or TAs positions are literally nonexistent (which means no health insurance provided) thus my husband has always supported both of us with living expenses and paid my health insurance in summer.

Regarding my current U.S. institution, unfortunately, they have not been supportive. I have spent three months waiting for a solution in the hope they could find an advisor willing to follow my dissertation progress from abroad on a two to three weeks’ basis, which as suggested by many it is a pretty fair and common choice according to many professors from other different departments, also considering that this is a qualitative ethnographic study in social sciences that does not require any lab facility or strict supervision. However, after three months the department final decision is that they are unable to provide me with a supervisor as my current one is very young (new hired this year) they explained me “it is not fair to assign him the supervision of a student from abroad” also they cannot confirm the budget availability for the fall semester (even while doing complementary exams in Fall I have to be enrolled and tuition for an international student like me is extremely high).

Every year we need to wait until the end of summer and only then we will know if we are funded for the following semester, this is also something that we struggled to understand as we are told from the general Graduate School and from other departments that when a department offers you a spot in a PhD program and is aware of your lack of personal funds but still offers you the PhD, it means that they are taking the responsibility of covering that program for the time required to complete it.

I know students' life events can be challenging for the student and for all the people involved. However, such events or any potential challenging circumstance should not compromise a student’s ability to complete an academic program and the right to succeed. In 2016, we should never find ourselves constraint to choose between family and career… :(

Finally, I have now contacted the British Council which suggests to get in touch with single UK universities and professors, thus for the time being I can only hope that some reasonable professor in UK will accept to at least look at my transcripts, at all the work I have done in two years (48 credits) and at my first part of data collected and dissertation plan.

Again, I would like to thank you all for your contributions and willingness to help.

  • 1
    Does your supervisor have collaborators in the UK? Have you asked them about your situation? – MJeffryes Apr 14 '16 at 15:33
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    "Then, I would have to carry out my dissertation project for about 6 months". What kind of PhD is this that 6 months of research + coursework equals PhD. – Alexandros Apr 14 '16 at 16:47
  • If your PhD is nearly finished (this isn't very clear), then I suspect that the simpler approach would be finding a UK academic who was willing to join a supervisory team to help you finish your existing PhD, awarded by your US university, while living in the UK. Many (most?) UK universities would, in this scenario, have an arrangement whereby you could pay a small fee to have access to library, lab and IT facilities. The key is probably finding a suitable UK supervisor, but hopefully your US supervisors can help with that. – Flyto Apr 15 '16 at 11:44
  • Just want to point out, you will likely run into funding problems in the UK because you have been a resident in another country for a long time, in spite of your citizenship. But the UK and US systems are very different. If you've only just passed your quals, have you begun research yet? Since UK PHD goes directly into research, it might be easier to start over, or stay in the US on a student visa. – la femme cosmique Apr 15 '16 at 14:47

i dont quite understand your description of a 'typical U.S. Ph.D.,' in particular the casual "it's only gonna take 6 months to begin and finish my actual thesis." You seem to be almost done with coursework (and haven't submitted a thesis proposal yet), and are considering to leave before it ends, and want to transfer these credits to a UK school, ideally one that has formalized this transfer process - is that correct? If yes, here are some thoughts...

  1. If your program is not massively different from any U.S. one I'm familiar with, you are vastly overestimating how deep you are into it. This is relevant as one possible step forward would be to simply start from scratch in the UK. You benefited from those classes (I hope); now you can enter a program light on or with no coursework in the UK.

  2. I'm going to be bald and say that there is not one school in Europe (or the U.S.) that has formalized accepting another school's partial coursework, to integrate it into degree progress at the new school. If you get accepted into a program with coursework, you can probably negotiate skipping some; but I don't think more is realistic.

  3. If you do not want to start anew, then, in practice, the only way to work this is to find someone abroad who is willing to advise you at their school, while you stay formally at your old one. They'd then likely be part of your committee, probably as a co-adviser. This again is only likely to work if that person is either a personal friend, or a close collaborator/friend of your adviser...which might be a problem again: as I parse your question, I don't think you have one? If you can make this idea work (it can work - I had a foreign co-adviser: he was a close friend, and we enjoyed writing a paper at his school while I was at graduate school), then I would warmly suggest to only consider the move after finishing your coursework. There wouldn't be a transfer as you stay subject to the degree requirements of your current school; finding what exactly is missing at a new school sounds messy, and certainly makes this even more complicated (==unlikely to find support for). Your visa situation seems to be fine, and it sounds as if it would only imply a few months of separation from your husband. In a worst case scenario (simply dropping out), you could probably have your faculty confer you an M.Sc. for it, maybe for a little extra work.

  4. Just putting it out here: as your visa situation is fine, I'd at least consider to temporarily live in different places. I've seen plenty of this in grad school, also for married couples. It isn't easy, but if your time-to-graduation estimate is correct (which I very much doubt), it would be only a bit more than a year. That said, it's your life, and none of my business. :)

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    'There is not one school in Europe (or the U.S.) that has formalized accepting another school's partial coursework,' is just wrong. In the 1990s I spent five years working analytically on refining this (already well established) practice at the UK's largest university, and said practice is now widely accepted here (although not generally on the scale of the operation I was working on). To some extent our model was derived from the fairly portable US credit system, at undergraduate level (but was essentially Scottish). It gets massively weirder at postgrad level, but is far from unknown. – Captain Cranium Apr 14 '16 at 19:01
  • @CaptainCranium: Very interesting! I'm surprised, but that's laudable, and kudos for having been involved. – gnometorule Apr 14 '16 at 19:22

I have two main points: I have a nasty feeling that the transfer that you are thinking about might not be as smooth and simple as you hope; and I do not see why you need to transfer at all. As a seasoned university administrator as well as an academic, my initial instinct is that you would be best-off finishing the programme that you are on, wherever you end up living.

Actually three points, really. The third is that you seem not to be approaching the UK system as it really is. It would be best to address and explore it for what it really can do, not to try to get it to solve the problem as you currently see it. (And even then, you might find it advising you not to transfer formally at all, no matter where you are moving to.)


Yours seems to be a fairly unusual Ph.D, by UK standards. There are doctoral-level awards that can involve passing some classes (the EdD sometimes, for example, can require attendance for research methods), but generally the Ph.D is typically awarded following submission of a thesis detailing your original research over a period of time.

For that reason, if for no other, transferring in the manner you suggest seems a bit unlikely. There will certainly not be many (perhaps no) UK university programme structures shaped to accept seamlessly the kind of work you are talking about. If you really must transfer to a British institution, then your best bet might be to apply for funding on the basis of proven ability at that level (although that might also involve complications in terms of residency).

In any case, my instinct is that you seem to be approaching the problem backwards. If you really must transfer to a British university, the main task would surely be to identify a few compatible departments, with suitable supervisors who might help you towards completion, and then see what possible leeway might be available in each case, in terms of timing and content. That might well vary from one university to another, perhaps depending on how each one sees you contributing to its culture and mission.

I believe that the broad rules for my Ph.D (University of Reading) were and are pretty standard for the UK: for full-time students the work must be accomplished, and the thesis submitted, in no less than three years and no more than four. (Part-time, depending on circumstances, that four-year limit can stretch quite a bit.)

Then again, one can be approved for a Ph.D ‘by publication’, meaning that you essentially write an Introduction and a Conclusion, sandwiching influential material that you have already published. That takes approximately no time at all.

Amongst those structures, you might find that you can negotiate something on grounds of existing work. If you are still pursuing your work, though, a UK university is likely to want to see evidence of it in progress, followed by a solidly substantial and firmly-structured thesis (90,000 words or so, in the humanities, which your ‘comparative analysis’ sounds like). Frankly, you might not be as close to the end of this process as you think you are.

However... Why can you not complete your studies with your current university? Many Ph.D students (this was my situation) live a long way from their host departments. I lived near enough to get to mine occasionally for meetings, which was simply comfortable and nice, and also yielded my teaching training... but for the most part I might as well have been living on Mars. If some force had shipped me overseas, I could still have completed, so long as I kept producing material at a reasonable pace. Some hardy souls undertake Ph.Ds while nowhere-at-all on military submarines. Can you not simply finish the programme that you are already on?

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