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despairtowhere

Please help me decide where to go!

10 posts in this topic

Hi everyone, looking for advice on which graduate school to pick... I've been very blessed (and extremely lucky) to be accepted to two schools, but I have no idea where to go. I don't know anyone doing a PhD at all, don't know anyone outside of my professors who have ever done a PhD and all my knowledge of PhDs is from this website! So I would love your advice. My field is social psychology and my long-term plan is to stay in academia.

School #1

- Top 5 in the world, top 5 in psychology, household name

- Well known, well-established adviser

- Where I did my undergrad and I am not excited at the idea of going back

- Research topic I personally find interesting, but one that is no longer very relevant or popular

- Low research budget and stipend. I can live on it, but only just

School #2

- Top 25 in the world, top 10 in psychology, still very good but not as well-known, especially internationally

- Really enjoyed my recruitment visit, loved the city and the students, had a great time

- First time adviser who has never studied a student before. Which to me is not ideal in terms of connections but possibly a good thing as he is incredibly enthusiastic for me to be there

- Research topic is not currently my personal preference, although it is very cutting edge

- Great research budget and reasonable, although not high, stipend

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45 minutes ago, despairtowhere said:

My field is social psychology and my long-term plan is to stay in academia.

School #1

- Top 5 in the world, top 5 in psychology, household name

- Well known, well-established adviser

- Where I did my undergrad and I am not excited at the idea of going back

- Research topic I personally find interesting, but one that is no longer very relevant or popular

- Low research budget and stipend. I can live on it, but only just

Why are you not excited to go back? Is it solely because you did your undergrad there and want a change of scenery, or was there something about your undergrad that you didn't enjoy and that is not something that can be changed? Also, how compatible do you think you would be with your potential adviser? Since your goal is staying in academia, does your adviser have a good record of placing advisees into tenure track positions? As for research, would it be possible to stay within the broad area of the adviser's research while branching out into something more "popular/relevant?" And what do you mean by low research budget? Is the adviser running low or currently without grant money? I'm assuming the department itself should have no problem with funding since it's top 5 world & psychology. If you look at influential psychologists in any subfield, but especially in social psychology, the majority of influential research and tenure track graduates come from the top 5-10 schools. The productivity of both faculty and students at these schools can often rival that of an entire department at a "lower ranked" school.

53 minutes ago, despairtowhere said:

 

School #2

- Top 25 in the world, top 10 in psychology, still very good but not as well-known, especially internationally

- Really enjoyed my recruitment visit, loved the city and the students, had a great time

- First time adviser who has never studied a student before. Which to me is not ideal in terms of connections but possibly a good thing as he is incredibly enthusiastic for me to be there

- Research topic is not currently my personal preference, although it is very cutting edge

- Great research budget and reasonable, although not high, stipend

Top 10 in psychology makes this difficult... even though there does appear to be a slight drop off in productivity and tenure track placement between the top 5 schools and then the following 5-10 schools, it's not enough of a difference to make it an easy or clear cut decision. Enjoying the recruitment visit is a plus, although I'm sometimes skeptical of how much predictive value a visit of 1-3 days is of long term (5-7 year) QoL (though clearly it's much better than not having enjoyed the visit). The major risk factor and the thing that stands out for me the most here is the first-time adviser. Advising a graduate student through to completion of a PhD, and not just completion but preparing that advisee for a tenure track faculty position can be quite challenging. If the research is cutting edge and high quality enough, it might not matter so much in terms of publications, presentations, and how you look on paper. Why is the research budget better with this adviser? Recent large grant? You also describe your stipend here as reasonable, and the stipend at school #1 as only just livable. Is it mostly a cost of living difference? I thought schools in the top 5 - top 10 range all provided adequate stipends. Is one of the schools in an ultra high COL area like Boston, NYC, or the SF Bay Area? 

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Hi, thanks for the comments hh0505, that's really helpful. I appreciate you taking the time out to do that.

RE: School #1 , it's purely change of scenery reasons, I feel like I did that and am reticent to go back, it doesn't excite me or feel like progress even though the rational part of my brain says I should be really happy about it. My adviser was my undergraduate adviser and we get along really well. If I had a slight criticism it's that he is maybe a little too hands off? He definitely would be open for me branching into more relevant work and I'm not sure about tenure track positions, that's a great thing to ask. The honest answer about the financial issues, which are also great points, is I don't know why the budget is low. I don't know if it's an issue with this school or this adviser. I need to look into that.

RE: School #2, the first time adviser to me seems like a double-edged sword. On one hand, he has little experience and few contacts, on the other hand, being his first ever student and he is pre-tenure, surely how I do as a student will impact his tenure in the future and he would be motivated to do his best for me? His area of research is currently very niche but I am certain by the time I graduate it will no longer be, and it has lots of transferable skills. And yes, School #1 is in a super high COL area. There is no doubt that #1 prestigious... but #2 excites me more. I don't know which matters more.

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In my opinion I actually think the clear choice is #1. Typically people are stuck between deciding to go to a better school with moderate research fit versus a worse school with a perfect research fit. I don't think #1's research being out of date matters enough. If #1's entire research career is coming under fire from replications, that is a NO-NO (although it's not).

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On March 16, 2017 at 9:44 PM, hh0505 said:

 If you look at influential psychologists in any subfield, but especially in social psychology, the majority of influential research and tenure track graduates come from the top 5-10 schools.

Would you say this is generally true for developmental psychology as well? 

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Posted (edited)

I think that's pretty much true for most of the social sciences (for example, I know from my Political Science friends that they have a pretty similar heuristic).

That's not saying you can't go to a lower ranked program and do well (which would be ridiculous), but academia is pretty big on claiming status based on where you got your PhD (and universities take status based on institution pretty seriously as well).

As a comparison, I attend a big R1 Public University, and most of our faculty are either from programs that are very near or better than the Top 15 ranking (or they are from programs that are considered very good for a particular subfield).

Edited by C is for Caps Locks

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I think it depends on how bearable you find staying at School #1. Of course it's true that potentially the brand name and your adviser's network can get you somewhere after graduation, but you cannot ignore the 5-7 years you're gonna spend on working toward your PhD. It can be difficult to endure without passion for what you do or where you stay for that matter.

I also agree that the adviser at School #2 is both an opportunity and a risk. You never know what may happen. So obviously School #1 is the safer choice, but if you want to experience something new, School #2 won't be a wrong choice either, especially when diverse experiences are valued

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Posted (edited)

On 17/03/2017 at 3:12 PM, almondicecream said:

In my opinion I actually think the clear choice is #1. Typically people are stuck between deciding to go to a better school with moderate research fit versus a worse school with a perfect research fit. I don't think #1's research being out of date matters enough. If #1's entire research career is coming under fire from replications, that is a NO-NO (although it's not).

Thank you for the advice. And it is definitely is not under fire, it's really solid and valuable work, just perhaps a little less technologically advanced than a lot of the work I'm seeing published at the moment. I suppose I need to look into whether I can change that while I am there, be a trendsetter.

1 hour ago, transfatfree said:

I think it depends on how bearable you find staying at School #1. Of course it's true that potentially the brand name and your adviser's network can get you somewhere after graduation, but you cannot ignore the 5-7 years you're gonna spend on working toward your PhD. It can be difficult to endure without passion for what you do or where you stay for that matter.

I also agree that the adviser at School #2 is both an opportunity and a risk. You never know what may happen. So obviously School #1 is the safer choice, but if you want to experience something new, School #2 won't be a wrong choice either, especially when diverse experiences are valued

Thank you for this as well! I think with this advice ultimately it comes down to pragmatism. School #1 on paper is the better bet on paper, for a myriad of factors but ultimately that's not what a decision made by a human and not a robot needs to be solely about. I need to think about that. Shame April 15th is coming round fast!

Edited by despairtowhere
typo

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Posted (edited)

10 hours ago, C is for Caps Locks said:

I think that's pretty much true for most of the social sciences (for example, I know from my Political Science friends that they have a pretty similar heuristic).

That's not saying you can't go to a lower ranked program and do well (which would be ridiculous), but academia is pretty big on claiming status based on where you got your PhD (and universities take status based on institution pretty seriously as well).

As a comparison, I attend a big R1 Public University, and most of our faculty are either from programs that are very near or better than the Top 15 ranking (or they are from programs that are considered very good for a particular subfield).

Sadly, it seems to be the case not just for social sciences. Here's an interesting article from 2015, titled "Systematic inequality and hierarchy in faculty hiring networks," which examines faculty hiring in three very different disciplines--History, Business, and Computer Science:

http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/1/e1400005

Makes tenure track faculty hiring (and later research outcomes) seem like an incestuous affair that's still quite the "old boys' club" of the top 10, maybe 15 schools in each discipline.

All things considered, if your complaints with regards to school #1 aren't deal-breakers, I would stick with the safety afforded by the institution's prestige and your potential adviser's experience and track record. I would be less hesitant to recommend school #2 if it weren't for the fact that your potential adviser there has never supervised a graduate student before... that's really the big unknown factor that makes me hesitate. It could be that the adviser at school #2 turns out to be brilliant and you would be that person's first advisee, placing you both on the fast track to academic stardom.

If all else fails, go with your gut. Reduce any cognitive dissonance that might result from the decision and you'll be fine ;)

Edited by hh0505
typo

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