Need Suggestions on which Musicology PhD program to choose

Hi all. I am international applicant. I have been accepted to PhD in Musicology programs at McGill, UMich, and Stony Brook. I am debating what would be the best choice for me. It would be great to hear your thoughts.

McGill is offering 3-years of funding (bummer!), but the program really aligns with my interests and I would love to live in Montreal. I would defo need to apply for external scholarships (most probably Quebec scholarships) if I go there.

UMich is giving a good package, but it is a very classically oriented program (I am doing a combination of Voice & Gender Studies. Professors generally do not have that kind of a focus as far as I understand). Also, I am quite to used to living in big cities so I am not sure how fulfilling life would be there. Besides, students finish their program in 6 years on average, which I think is super long as opposed to some other unis in the States.

Stony Brook does not have a good ranking though it is good. My research interests align with the faculty, but I am not sure how much I should care about the reputation as long as the program is a good fit. On the downside, I heard that social life was not so great there despite its proximity to NYC.

You might want to post this on the music major forum, which can be helpful.

Do you have a master’s? Are there particular teachers you were looking for?

I think of UMichigan as fairly progressive musically.

If you don’t have a master’s, 6 years isn’t long and even if you do, it seems like a normal length of time.

Are you interested in teaching and will you be a TA right away?

Do McGill and UMichigan have gender studies programs? Are your interests in voice and gender studies connected in some way? Sounds like a good area for a dissertation regardless.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about music, so just a random opinion.

McGill - Too risky.

If it were me and the faculty were willing to work with me in spite of it not being their focus, I’d spend the extra year for the UMich name. It is not unheard of to have faculty from other universities and departments (gender studies) on your committee. Ann Arbor is a lively college town (or it was pre-covid) and Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland and Chicago are accessible for weekend trips.

Yes you can have faculty from other departments on your committee. And take classes in other departments as well.

Here is UMichigan’s dept, of Women’s and Gender Studies ( started in 1973, interdisciplinary, and originally feminist-focused)



Here is McGill’s Gender, Sexuality, Feminist and Social Justice Studies dept/

Gender, Sexuality, Feminist, and Social Justice Studies is an interdisciplinary program that centrally engages contemporary and historical issues centered on gender, sexuality, feminism, and social justice. The program provides students with opportunities to explore the meanings and intersections of such categories as gender, race, class, sexual identification, age, ability, citizenship, and national identity, for example, and to examine how such categories might inform, reproduce, and challenge existing power relationships


Why do you think McGill is too risky? I think either Montreal or Ann Arbor are great places to be and both McGill and Michigan are great choices for this combination of interests.

Because OP only has 3 years of funding and will need to find outside funding for the last 2 years.

I am wondering what other funding resources there might be. TA in another department? Research assistant? teaching? Three years of funding for a doctorate is not enough, for sure. I just wanted to know what you were referring to :slight_smile:

McGill looks like a great fit but I think Michigan is too. I only know about percussion at Stony Brook and if the OP likes to live right in cities, I think the other two are better choices.

On top of the secure funding, UMich ranks higher than McGill in world rankings (17 vs. 51 US News 21 vs 31 QS Global), fwiw.

Not sure why the reply was to me…wondering what that ranking is for. For doctoral programs in music, funding comes first, then aesthetic/intellectual fit and teachers are most important.

That is ranking is overall.
I was just adding data to your comparison of McGill and UMich.
Based on that criteria, assuming OP got full funding from Stony Brook which he implies, Stony Brook wins.

I presented info on gender studies at the two schools, which the OP probably has. Otherwise I cannot and did not compare, other than the city locations. I have a PhD music kid but I would not make comparisons on a public forum.

Hello. Thanks for the suggestions!! I was not getting the notifications for some reason, so it took me a while to see this thread. McGill offers TAships, but they are not guaranteed. They are probably high in demand, and POI says that most students get them at some point (but not all of them). TAship brings an extra 3K per term, but of course that is only for the terms you get TAships. I will not be paying any tuition for Year 4, but I will not be getting any stipend either. Also, if I extend my stay to Year 5 or 6 at McGill, I will need to pay extra 5K from my pocket for each year I will be staying (Ouch!), which seems very likely because that is how long most PhDs take.

UMich is a great college town. But knowing that my whole life will revolve around campus for the next 6 (or 7 years) is too big of a commitment, I think. While applying, I had a positive opinion about Detroit, but I have been hearing very strange things, which make me unsure of committing there. Since I have never been to the state of Michigan before, I am not sure how lively the music or social scene is going to be there. (I am gay also, I have not heard great things about Michigan about gay life in general).

Stony Brook is actually pretty good research interests-wise (I got full funding also - 22.5K). However, I feel like it would be stupid to choose SB over UMich given UMich’s global reputation, but I also think it should come down to my research and not necessarily the name of the uni in the end.

I have two master’s (Musicology and Voice), and I am currently enrolled in PhD in Music program elsewhere.

I wouldn’t want to live in Detroit either, but you should be able to find clubs, bars, and music venues that play your kind of music and cater to your desired clientele.

A program that guarantees only 3 years of funding may not be too risky - it entirely depends on what that means to the program. I chose to attend a PhD program that only guaranteed 3 years of funding as well - but before I accepted it, I asked about how often students in years 4+ were able to secure full funding, and was told that nearly all students were easily able to find other sources of funding - not just TAships but fellowships, working on a professor’s grant, GAships, etc. They were right; I didn’t have any trouble finding funding for years 4-6. BUT I also studied in a social science field that is heavily funded by the U.S. federal government, and all of my funding came from sources like that.

The realities may be very different in humanities/musicology. Guaranteed for 3 years could mean anything from “we only guarantee departmental funding for that long, but after that pretty much everyone is teaching or on a fellowship from elsewhere within the institution/world” or it could mean “we only guarantee 3 years and a ton of people wash out because they can’t find funding after that.” I’d ask the departmental secretary or one of the professors or grad students you’re talking to as part of the process. (Being international may complicate things: be sure to ask what you’re eligible for.)

Six years is not super long for a PhD program. That’s about average. The median time to degree in the U.S. for all fields is about 5.7 years. The days in which most students finished in 4-5 years are mostly gone - it’s actually closer to 7 years, on average, in the humanities and arts. (Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2019 | NSF - National Science Foundation). Besides, trust me, it’s better to spend six years at a PhD program that will help you accomplish your research and career goals than to spend five years somewhere that won’t. The additional year really isn’t that big a deal, in hindsight. (I’d planned to take 5 years and decided to take an extra one to give myself some breathing room. It was a great idea.)

The concern is more the research focus, but I would talk to your potential advisor/PI a bit about crafting something interdisciplinary for you. Michigan is strong across many fields, including gender studies I believe, so you could come up with a co-advising agreement with a professor in another department (even unofficially) to do what you want to do. PhDs have a ton of flexibility that way. I’ve never been to Ann Arbor, but I feel like 37% of my friends are Michigan grads at some level and all of them stan for Ann Arbor. I did a postdoc in a smaller college town (State College, PA) and it was actually quite nice: I prefer urban environments, but there’s something nice about a small college town. And it’s way cheaper than living in a large city. I got to live in a pretty nice apartment close to campus, by myself (in NYC, where I did my grad school, living by oneself was a luxury).

The social life on Long Island is not great, and even though it is technically close to NYC, it’s actually kind of a pain in the butt to get from LI to NYC and back - it’s 1.5-2 hours depending on traffic by car, longer by train. But I’d focus on that less than the school’s reputation - not ranking necessarily, but how it is thought of by other scholars in your field. Is your goal academia? If so, the humanities are already so competitive that you want to give yourself the best edge you can, and that can mean attending a better program.

Personally, of the choices you have, I’d pick Michigan assuming I could confirm the flexibility of your future advisors.


I also think it should come down to my research and not necessarily the name of the uni in the end.

Nope - in academia, the institution and program you attended is very important as well. It’s both things. Especially if you want an academic job after finishing.

While applying, I had a positive opinion about Detroit, but I have been hearing very strange things, which make me unsure of committing there.

But you won’t be in Detroit. You’ll be in Ann Arbor, which is 45 minutes away. Yes, it’s theoretically in the metro area, but from everything I’ve heard about Ann Arbor (and my own experience in a small college town) you don’t ever have to go to Detroit if you don’t want to.

But knowing that my whole life will revolve around campus for the next 6 (or 7 years) is too big of a commitment, I think

Most of your life is going to revolve around campus even if you go to school in a very large city, too.

I’m a big proponent that the years you spend in a PhD program count just as much as anything else (I’ve told my story of not sleeping much for the first 2 years of my PhD - studying all day, partying in NYC all night, lmao!), and you should be happy in your location. But academics really do need to be the first consideration - and you’d be surprised how much even a city person can really thrive in a small town. I had a lot of fun in State College, and although I wouldn’t want to live there my whole life I totally would’ve been open to living there for 5-6 years. And Ann Arbor is bigger with more resources, from what I hear.